Botanically known as Araucaria heterophylla, the Norfolk pine is one of the most unique houseplants you can own. Not only does this lightly-fragranced tree look and behave like an outdoor evergreen pine—it has fine, shiny needles and a textural barked stem—but according to Heather Wheatley, CPH, CBLP, the director of education at Homestead Gardens, it's also a living fossil. Here's what you need to know about caring for one of these beauties.
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Replicate the Norfolk pine's native conditions.
Replicate this variety's natural habitat as much as possible to ensure its success in your home. "For this specific plant, it is ideal to have six-plus hours of bright, indirect sunlight, generous humidity, and moist, but not sopping-wet soil," Wheatley says, adding that the soil should be sandy and well-draining. "You can build up any standard potting soil with light grit to aid draining and coconut coir to hold onto more nutrients," she says. "If you find the mix too heavy, then add a bit more grit and voila—job done!" Pro tip: Wheatley says oyster shells or granite grit can do the trick, while offering your pine all the support it needs as it matures.
Fertilize your pine to make up for environmental deficiencies.
Even if you achieve the perfect baseline of light and water, fertilizer is still necessary; according to Wheatley, nothing in your home that will naturally replace the nutrients found in the plant's native environment. "Plants grab nutrients and minerals from the tropical air, foliage decay on the forest floor, shrimp shells, and even scat from native animals—the Norfolk Island green parrot, in this case," she says. "Fertilizer helps build up the plants' health and fills deficiencies that result from being containerized indoors." Keep yours happy and healthy with a 20-20-20 all-purpose feed; apply it once per month from autumn through early spring. "Increase to every other watering session when the days are longer and more light is available," Wheatley adds.
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Identify and solve any pain points.
Some common issues that occur with this variety? Limbs that turn yellow or brown and needle drop. "My go-to for corrections is to increase the humidity if I'm already sure that I've watered well and I have the right light and soil," Wheatley says. "Although it's not a true evergreen, it will show symptoms as an evergreen would."
Purchase an established plant.
If you want to add a Norfolk pine to your indoor greenery collection, Wheatley suggests buying an established plant from a reputable garden center. "The plant should appear crisp green with a shine to the needle. New tip growth should be more kiwi green," she says, adding that, over the Christmas holidays, these plants are occasionally painted green to make them appear more colorful. This is a red flag: "The telltale sign is that you can often see the overspray," she says, adding that you can check the bark, which should be brown and textured. "The best centers refuse to sell painted plants, which is an issue with this variety."