Norfolk pine is drying up - HELP

Daliah(zone 5)January 14, 2007

Hi All,

My bf got me a lovely norfolk before christmas. It is starting to dry up and I'm not sure of what I am doing wrong. What is the usual care? Are they considered tropical? Please also indicate the proper potting, soil type, watering schedule...etc.

Many THanks

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Norfolk Island Pine need high humidity and moderate amounts of water to keep them from drying out. It might be too late but you can try misting a few times per day and don't let the soil dry out completely between watering. If it comes back you can then mist once a day. I suspect its not the soil. Janet

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 1:24PM
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bonniepunch(USDAz4 AgCanz5a)

Ditto on what janet_grower said. Including the 'it might be too late' part. Norfolk Island Pines are a hard plant to grow in our northern climate - they are indeed a tropical tree and reach 150+ feet in nature. They are a poor choice for a houseplant, but because they look so neat when small they're frequently sold to people as houseplants. They need much more light than we can give them indoors (even in a sunny window), and our dry homes in the winter are lethal. Many people grow them well enough to be happy with them, but it takes really good plant care habits, some luck, and maybe a bit of both :-)

Usually when this plant looks like it's starting to dry up, it's dead already and just starting to look like it. Even if yours is not dead, it is unlikely to do well after this close call. They will not 'bush out' or regrow lost branches. I'm not sure if I would recommend repotting the one you have into better soil right now. Normally with a dying houseplant, better soil might save it, stimulating new root growth, but with this one, the shock to the roots of knocking all that old soil out might be the final straw...

If this one does die and you want to try again with another one, re-pot it in fresh soil as soon as you get home. The stuff from the store probably has was too much peat in it. It stays too wet when it's wet, leading to fungus gnats and rotting roots, and when it dries out it becomes almost impossible to re-wet properly. You'll want a nice well draining mix of approximately 1/3 perlite, 1/3 peat and 1/3 regular commercial soil. For my own plants, I omit the soil and use pine bark fines (or fine orchid bark), but that means you'd have to water more often.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 5:31PM
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sammyqc(NE Quebec/zn 4/5a)

Ditto the others, that being said, you can try to save it if you are diligent watering and misting, and hope for the best. It might not be totally dead yet. But don't kill it with kindness either i.e overwatering.
I have one that I put outside every summer, and then kind of ignore inside for the winter. I've had it for over 7 years, but I don't do anything special for it. Winter months it does not get a lot of light, I have to many other plants who demand the closest spots to the windows. In summer, it is in partial shade, and I try to really water it when I do. But I think that is the key, putting it outside for the summer.
I've seen one in an office that was 8 or 9 feet tall, just beautiful, and I was told it was over 15 years old, so they do take their time as a potted plant to grow. Mine is only about 5 feet, but give it a couple more years and it'll be our permanent Christmas tree.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 11:14PM
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They are quite popular in San Diego, CA., where I enjoyed looking at some large specimens over the holidays (they decorate the smaller ones as outdoor x-mas trees).
I'm a bit puzzled about the "misting" bit -- despite being a coastal city, San Diego weather is fairly desert-like, with very dry air, that makes for big temperature differences between nights/mornings and mid-days.
Precipitation is minimal - which would make me think that over-watering might be good way to kill these plants.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 8:26PM
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A couple of photos, from late December, area just north of San Diego, CA.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 8:36PM
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San Diego is in a desert but it does receive moisture from it's close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and at night it does get cool and dewey - enough water to keep the coastal areas green.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 2:03PM
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sammyqc(NE Quebec/zn 4/5a)

Those are some beautiful trees. Makes me so jealous of the nice warm weather where people can grow some fantastic plants!
The thing about misting is that the insides of our home are usually so dry, especially in the winter, that it makes a desert look moist. And, yes, you can kill them by overwatering as well as underwatering. And the symptoms are pretty much the same in both cases. If it is overwatered, and you've drowned the root system, then there is pretty much no hope. If it is underwatered, you might still have a chance to save it as long as some of the roots are still kicking. The misting also helps the plant by adding moisture to the needles/leaves, which it then doesn't have to provide itself, and can concentrate on healing. Putting it outside in the summer at least mimics the natural conditions of higher light and higher humidity that it would normally grow in.
But I'm sure if you do a google search, you could find some really good info.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 6:53PM
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In the North we have forced indoor heat which will be very drying to a Norfolk Island Pine and other plants like ferns, if you don't mist you might get spider mites. I found this on a Google search; I hope this clears up any confusion as to why they do need to be misted and kept at a higher humidity through misting.

"Norfolk Island Pines may be grown in most temperature ranges which are suitable for people. However, they will do better when grown in cooler temperatures of about 65 degrees f., with slightly cooler night temperatures (never below 50 degrees). Extremes in temperature, either hot or cold should be avoided.
Norfolk Pines need bright light (but never full sun), preferably a spot within four feet of a large window. These plants can survive, with only household incandescent or fluorescent lighting if they receive a minimum of 16 hours of light each day. Although this will be effective in keeping the plant alive for a year or two, there is no substitute for bright, natural light. Turn the plant frequently to keep it symmetrical.
They should be thoroughly watered (preferably with rainwater or water which has set for 24 hours or longer) weekly in the summer to keep it slightly moist, never soggy. (Water more often if the plant is drying out earlier). In the winter, allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. Feed monthly in the summer with a diluted (half strength), soluble house plant food.
Humidity is very important. Lack of sufficient moisture in the air will cause tip browning, needle drop, and eventually, the lower branches to die off. Misting is the best thing you could do for your tree, followed by any other method which would add humidity to the room (humidifier or aquarium?) Norfolk Pines are one of the very few plants who enjoy being misted with COOL water, rather than room temperature water.
The only pruning that should be done is snipping off brown tips and dead branches. Brown tips will never turn back to green, and unfortunately, once they have turned brown, growth will stop from that point. Any other pruning you may decide to do will have the same effect... no new growth from that point.
Norfolks resent replanting, so they should only be repotted every 3-4 years, in the spring. Use a fast-draining, sterile, commercial potting soil mix.

Should you decide to decorate and use your Norfolk as a Christmas tree, be sure that the soil is kept sufficiently moist during that time when it is decorated.
Lights have a severe drying effect on plants. Be sure to mist your tree daily, or provide other sources of ADDITIONAL humidity.
DON'T leave the decorations in place any longer than necessary!"

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 9:17AM
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This quote is interesting :

Norfolk Pines need bright light (but never full sun)

I wonder how they avoid full sun in the San Diego area, where cloudy days are very rare.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 12:36PM
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They avoid full sun in San Diago the same way they do anywhere else in the world, plant or position the pot in partial shade! Janet

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 12:59PM
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Yes, of course -- sorry, I should have said that I was refering to my photos, above....

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 1:44PM
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Actually, since this is a semi tropical environment, the plants receive a form of protection from the amount of humidity in the air which is significantly higher there in San Diego compared to our climate indoors in Canada. Ever wonder why some tropical plants that are full sun plants in the tropics, can easily get burnt up here in Northern Ontario? Same reason, the humidity in the air, however invisible, does protect those plants from harmful uv rays.

May I suggest too that if you are interested in keeping the plant moist through the winter months, to use a large humidity tray (a large plate filled with pebbles and water). The plant can sit on the tray but slightly just above the water (hence no risk of root rot). As the water evaporates, it creates moisture around the plant. Another trick I use for my tropicals is to get a large plastic bag and to loosely cover the plant starting at it's base and over the top portion of the pot. This should help slow down the evaporation rate. Leave the rest of the plant uncovered and you should still mist the needles to prevent spider mites and also because water is also lost via it's leaves.

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 2:43PM
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Try putting it in the bathroom. I have had great luck with certain plants (ie staghorn fern, norfolk pine). The humidity created from the shower goes along way. The light is lower but that is okay in the winter months. Lower light- less water. Putting it in bright indirect light in the winter usually means main floor and heating vents.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2007 at 8:04AM
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tbenton(Z7 VA)

I had a NIP for 30 years and kept in sunporch in winter and by the pool in shady corner in summer. It was 3" tall when I got it so I was always proud of how large it got. It got too big and top heavy to move inside so we finally had to 'let it go'. I bought a new one in Dec '07 and its about 3' tall and appears there are more than one in the pot. The soil looks more like large bark and I left it in the thin nursery pot it came in. Its under ceiling plant lights with other tropicals in my living room where the other one lived until it got too tall. Living room gets light from sunporch skylight too. I water every week and it drains well but now new 'tufts' of growth at the top ar 'hanging over' and when I check with moisture meter its VERY wet. Some pieces of inner branches are drying out and falling off but most of it is still green/soft but hew top growth is droopping. I have not watered it two weeks and I mist it but still drooping at the top. I want to repot in good soil to get it out of the wet but wondered if this might save it. Thanks.
Terri B

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 9:10AM
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It does seem to be root bound and possibly already some parts have suffered damages. Once the plant receives too much or too little water, some cells will die off. I suspect that the top has been affected in this manner. Or perhaps you have root damage and water isn't being circulated as it should be.

You have to try to repot and to try to handle the plant as carefully as you can. Repot it in a well draining container. Remove rotted roots. I also suggest that you use a heavy container, already set on wheels so you can move the plant easily.

Although I have no expertise in stunting the growth of a norway pine, I suppose you could try to limit the growth by limiting the size of the container. In bonsai, tree growth are limited in this manner. It also involves root pruning to encourage younger roots. Perhaps it's something worthwhile for you to research.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 3:44PM
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I do interior plant care. I an working with Atriums that have alot of mature Norfolk pines in them. These trees have been planted in this indoor enviorment for about 20 years, and are the avergage height of 15-25 feet.

These Norfork pines are dropping soft beautiful healthy looking green leaves. What could be causing this

Any idea what is causing this?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 10:58AM
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I am wondering if anyone can tell me... My pine was moved about two weeks ago, but I did not realize it was right under a heat vent :( it has not browned, but gotten hard... I may have killed it *sigh* ideas?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 4:00PM
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Here's my 2 cents: Contrary to other posters, I have a Norfolk Pine that is growing outside, in the shade, in the Arizona heat. That includes a distinct lack of any real humidity most of the time. Part of the year, yes, there is some humidity, but most of the year it's very low here. Exacerbate that with extremely high temps and one would consider this a climate that this particular tree could not survive in. I can only surmise the following for it's continued existence going on 4 years now: I planted it in the shade. I also planted it right next to the drain pipe for my central AC unit. Not intentionally, just that was the only place to put that tree left that I had out front of my house that was in the shade.

We are in the "humid" time of the year here and the ground is saturated with water to the point of a small amount of standing water - which the tree is sitting in directly, water coming from that AC drain and I also have a drip irrigation system that is also watering it, lol. One would also think root rot, but again, the tree is healthy, with only a few brown spots where the sun has been able to hit it during the daytime.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:36PM
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Thanks TrooperRat, I live in very dry very hot SoCal and wondered if my cheap little christmas tree will survive here. You give me hope since much of AZ is hotter and drier than we are. I have a shady porch it can live on and in the hottest part of summer maybe I'll bring it in.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:46PM
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