Dealing With Your Ginormous Norfolk Island Pine

When cutting a hole through the roof isn't an option

Norfolk Island Pine
Photo: DEA / G. CIGOLINI/Getty Images

The question isn't whether that Norfolk Island pine you were given at Christmas will press against your ceiling. The question is when.

Not a true pine, Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is a beautiful evergreen tree named for its native home of Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia. It's hardy outdoors in places like south Florida where it doesn't freeze in winter, but most of us grow it as a houseplant. We prize it for its symmetrical shape and graceful, evenly spaced whorls of branches that bear soft, shiny needles. Many people decorate it as an indoor Christmas tree. Others simply value it as a statuesque touch of the tropics.

It's that "statuesque" part that's often the problem. See, in the wild Norfolk Island pine wants to grow 80 feet tall. It still wants to do that inside your house. This poses difficulties for folks who don't have 80-foot ceilings.

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Thus, Norfolk Island pine eventually grows too tall for most houses. That's when people turn to Grumpy, seeking solutions.

The first solution is obvious. Throw it away and start over with a small one. But that might strike you as heartless, as the population of homeless Norfolk Island pines continues to swell and strain local resources.

The second solution is just as obvious. Reduce it to a more manageable size by pruning. Here's how to do this.

First, decide how tall your want your tree to be. Then cut back the top to that height just above a complete whorl of branches. The tree will resume growing from that point.

Now, shorten the side branches to restore the tree's symmetrical shape lost by shortening the top. The shortest branches should be at the top, the longest ones at the bottom, and the middle ones in-between, so that the end product looks something like a Christmas tree.

Whatever you do, don't cut a hole in the ceiling. You'll soon regret it and take your resentment out on the tree. And you'll still have a stupid hole up there.

Growing Tips

Norfolk Island pine needs bright light. Place it near the sunniest windows in your house. If the light isn't bright enough, the tree will drop its lower branches and not replace them, and you will have one homely looking houseplant.

The plant also likes humid air, as most tropical plants do. People don't, however, so indoor air is typically bone dry. Help out your Norfolk Island pine by misting the foliage a couple of times a day or placing it atop a pebble-lined saucer filled with water. Try to keep it away from AC and heating vents.

Make sure the soil is well-drained. Let the top surface go dry between thorough waterings, but never let the soil dry completely or you'll have a dead tree. Fertilize monthly from spring to early fall with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.

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