Many people prefer the look and smell of a "real" Christmas tree. And, there are those who are drawn to a living Christmas tree. These are often small, container grown evergreens that are brought indoors around Christmas. What makes them appealing is the fact that once their time indoors is done, they can be planted into the landscape as a lasting legacy of Christmas' past. With living Christmas trees, their time indoors must be short (maybe a week). And, you need a well planned exit strategy. This consists of a hole already dug in the landscape before the soil freezes and back-fill soil stored somewhere so it doesn't freeze. Attempting to be sure the tree survives the winter can be a lot of work for a limited amount of enjoyment indoors.
The Norfolk Island Pine is another option for having a living Christmas tree. While not anywhere near the same as a typical pine, spruce or fir used as a Christmas tree, this could be a unique alternative or maybe an addition to your traditional tree.
The Norfolk Island pine is not a true pine. This graceful tropical houseplant bears little resemblance to the 200 foot plus giants that Captain James Cook first saw in 1774 on the tiny island of Norfolk near New Zealand. A few years later, the British Royal Navy considered these majestic trees for use as mainmasts when the supply of ship building timber from the New England colonies was halted during the revolutionary war. Unfortunately, the Norfolk Island pine's wood proved to be too brittle for this use. Today, it is a popular houseplant and in warmer regions of the world a popular ornamental landscape tree. One interesting note. Because of its vulnerability to lightning and tendency to snap in high winds, plant is often restricted in some hurricane prone areas.
As an indoor plant they can remain attractive for years. When you get your plant home, place it in a bright, well lighted location. While tolerant of low light levels, you'll have a much better looking plant given more light. Also, to keep the plant from leaning towards the light and becoming tilted, turn the plant regularly to maintain a straight trunk. During the summer, place the plant outdoors after danger of frost is past. Place it in a semi-shaded area and bring it back indoors before temperatures dip into the 50's.
Norfolks prefer soils that are kept moist but not wet. When the top 2-3 inches of soil dries, water thoroughly allowing excess water to drain out of the pot. These plants also like a higher humidity. In dry homes that can be a challenge. Try grouping your plants together, placing them on a saucer filled with pebbles and water or use a humidifier. It is typical for a few needles on the lowest branches to turn brown and drop. If this happens slowly over time, it's likely just normal aging of the branches or possibly from lower light levels. However, if many needles are browning, or if the problem appears more widely distributed among the branches, look to problems of either too much water, hot or cold drafts or too little humidity. Norfolk's don't need a lot of fertilizer. Feed when actively growing (April - September) using a regular houseplant fertilizer once every six weeks or so.
These attractive indoor trees lend themselves nicely to decorating. They can be placed on tables either singly or grouped for greater impact. As a holiday project, children can decorate their own tree with miniature lights and ornaments.
Norfolks make thoughtful and lasting gifts for students or apartment dwellers with limited space for a traditional Christmas tree.