How can I make this plant happy?
June 17, 2013 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I thought Norfolk Island Pines were supposed to be relatively easy!

I have a NIP that I got around Christmas time, of course, and I just can't seem to keep it from a steady decline. It's around 2-2.5 feet tall and I repotted it to a larger pot a couple months after I got it. I only have East facing windows in my apartment or an Eastern balcony. It's currently on the balcony because it looked pretty droopy after winter and I thought it needed more sun, but it's doing worse out there than inside (browning). I've read up on them a bit and some guides suggested they like relatively large amounts of sun and high humidity. I water it a couple times a week now that it's outside and the soil dries out faster. I live in Michigan and the environment I can offer is pretty much set as far as both humidity and sun exposure; can I make it happier or is it doomed?

As an aside, are there other small trees/houseplants that would thrive in this situation?
posted by rawralphadawg to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Best answer: My experience with Norfolk pine is that they look amazing when you take one home at Christmas, but very soon after they take a slow downward spiral. They need a whole lot of bright indirect light (no direct whatsoever), soil that's peaty, loose and kept barely moist (they don't like a lot of water, but will die off if you let them dry out), and a temperate humid atmosphere. So they aren't the easiest of houseplants.
For an eastern window, you would do best to stick with succulents, cacti, and herbs. I would personally recommend a jade plant. They are hard to kill and grow like crazy even with neglect and dryness. Not to mention, they are absolutely beautiful.
If your apartment also gets a lot of indirect light, you cant go wrong with pothos, spider plants, umbrella trees, Chinese evergreens, dracaena and peace lilies- all of which are pretty much indestructible and immune to neglect. Just don't put them in any direct light!
As for your balcony, you could visit a garden center and get a few potted annuals that enjoy the outdoors.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:38 AM on June 17, 2013

Norfolk Island pines grow easily over 50- 60metres tall, I have sat under ones so large that 2 people could barely join arms around them, it's not going to grow well in a pot for long. They like well drained soils, they thrive in coastal areas, and I've always been told they need the salt in the air that living near the sea provides or at the least a greenhouse. I've nursed one to about 5 foot high, in a huge pot but I lived in a frost free area near the beach and in Australia, they are a pine but they cannot handle the cold at all well, and even low temps above freezing will mean they need a greenhouse and they frost damage really easily. They are not a good plant if you live pretty much anywhere in the US, except Hawaii I imagine.

Short answer, the plant is most likely doomed and it is in no way your fault, my biggest gardening gripe is stores selling plants that won't grow in the area they are being sold.

I am not an expert on gardening in the US as I have only recently moved here and am still on a steep learning curve for the climate here so I'll leave others to recommend something for on your balcony. I grow African violets in Northern Indiana on a sunny east facing windows sill and those babies have been flowering non stop since January.
posted by wwax at 8:40 AM on June 17, 2013

I've kept 4 foot NI Pines going for up to 5 years, but always felt it was just a slower death. High plains desert is not the right climate for them, even when misted daily (a major PITA.) Just minor household temperature swings was enough to make them unhappy. They're touchy about watering, too. Too much--too little, they croak.

If you have light and space in your bathroom, you might give that a try.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:08 PM on June 17, 2013

Best answer: I have a very happy Norfolk that is 4 years old; it has grown a foot every year since I got it. I am not so great with plants and have not been following the earlier posters' advice. My plant gets approx 6 hours direct sunlight every day. I water it once a week really thoroughly. A lot of weeks i put a 1/4tsp miracle gro in the water. I think it's gotten too much water on occasion because every now and then, a toadstool pops up. I also feel that it's in a pot that's way too small but since it seems so happy, I'm afraid to move it. In the past, I've had Norfolk pines wither a slow death in front of me and I think the difference was a lot less sun in those situations. I also was taught the the pines don't like much variation; it makes me think that maybe your porch is too variable ( night time vs day time temps, etc.), although the extra sun is probably desirable vs where it was withering inside. To me, it is very much a houseplant (inthe northeast) but that's just lore passed down from my mother. Could you keep it just inside your porch window so it doesn't experience the temp and Rh variability?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:10 PM on June 17, 2013

So whose idea was it to sell Norfolk Island pines in Michigan? Isn't it really cold there? They're a coastal plant. They grow near beaches in warm climates. Your pine is crying and it wants to go home. :(
posted by inkypinky at 1:35 AM on June 18, 2013

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