Norfolk pine dropping branches

Colorado State University

Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla, is a tropical evergreen tree that is adaptable to indoor gardening. In its native habitat, Norfolk Island which lies off the coast of Australia, it can grow up to 200 feet tall. As a houseplant it can reach a height of 20 feet with good care and ideal conditions but more often it grows to six feet tall or less.

The Norfolk Island pine is not a true pine and is not hardy in Colorado climates. The small trees are uniform in appearance and have branches that are parallel to the ground. They are often marketed as an alternative to a typical Christmas tree.

Norfolk Island pines need at least two hours of bright, indirect sunlight daily to maintain their bright green foliage color. To ensure symmetrical, upright growth, rotate the plant weekly to keep it from permanently bending toward the light source. Temperatures of 60-72°F during the day and slightly cooler at night are optimum.

These houseplants require consistent moisture and high humidity. When the top inch of soil is dry to the touch, water thoroughly allowing excess water to drain out of the container. Discard the excess; to avoid root rot do not let the plant sit in water. The plant will require a bit less water in the winter months. In our dry Colorado climate, supplying adequate humidity for this plant is a challenge. Norfolk Island pines prefer an environment with about 50 percent humidity. Clustering plants, setting the growing container on a saucer filled with gravel and water or using a humidifier are a few options to increase the relative humidity around houseplants.

Only feed or transplant Araucaria when they are actively growing (March through September). To supply nutrients any standard soluble fertilizer formulated for houseplants will do. Araucaria are slow growers and only need to be transplanted when they show signs of being root bound or have roots growing out the base of the container.

Excessive browning of needles can be a sign of too little humidity, too little or too much water, or drafts from a furnace, air conditioner or outside door.

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Branches, needles or branch tips falling off Norfolk pine is a regular occurrence with these plants, even when conditions are ideal. As Norfolk Island pines grow, they may shed a few needles or even entire lower branches – this type of loss is natural, however widespread branch drop in Norfolk pines is usually caused by incorrect growing conditions. Low humidity, improper fertilization and improper watering are the typical culprits

When caring for indoor plants whether they are tropicals, catci, succulents, or Norfolk Island pines, understanding the native environment of the plant in question helps ensure success. In their native environment Norfolks grow in well drained soil rocky sandy soil and full sun.

Tropical plants prefer to be in a south-facing window which receives several hours of direct, bright light, if this is not possible they will also tolerate full indirect, bright light as well.

Normal indoor temperatures are fine for this plant just take care not to place your plant near drafty areas or heating /cooling ducts. If you need to reposition your plant make sure to do this gradually so that the plant becomes accostumed to its new location. Failing to do this may result in it dropping it’s lower branches.

Water your Norfolk Island pine whenever the soil feels dry to the touch, and always empty the saucer. If the soil pulls away from the pot’s edge as it dries, gently press it back in place with your thumb. This keeps water headed toward roots instead of running down the pot’s sides.

If your home’s humidity runs below 50 percent, your plant will appreciate a boost. Mist it regularly using a spray bottle, or place a pebble-filled saucer beneath it. Add water to the saucer, but keep the water level below the top of the pebbles, so the bottom of the pot stays dry. A home humidifier also works well.

Make sure to fertilize your plant every six weeks during the active growing season from spring until fall using a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer make sure to follow instructions on the label for proper dilution.

The root system of Norfolk pines is slow growing and as a result repotting is not required until roots peek through the container’s bottom. When repotting time comes, choose a deep container with good drainage holes, and then fill it with coarse, fast-draining potting mix, a soil used for cacti will work well.

Good Luck.

Norfolk Island Pine Scale

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Norfolk Pine Dropping Branches: What To Do For Branch Tips Falling Off Norfolk Pine

It just doesn’t seem quite like the holidays without a brightly decorated tree sitting in the corner of the living room. Some people go with plastic trees that they can collapse into a box and others choose freshly cut pines, but gardeners in the know often choose Norfolk Island pines. Although not a true pine, Norfolk Island pines produce beautiful, scaly branches and leaves and adapts well to indoor life, making them true, living Christmas trees.

These trees require special care to look their best. High humidity, plenty of bright light and reasonable fertilization are on the menu and any Norfolk Island pine trouble shooting should start by examining these key ingredients. Branch drop in Norfolk pines is common and happens for a couple of reasons.

Norfolk Dropping Branches

Branches, needles or branch tips falling off Norfolk pine is a regular occurrence with these plants, even when conditions are ideal. As Norfolk Island pines grow, they may shed a few needles or even entire lower branches – this type of loss is natural and shouldn’t cause too much concern. However, if brown, dry needles or branches appear widespread on your tree, you definitely need to pay attention.

Widespread branch drop

in Norfolk pines is usually caused by incorrect growing conditions. Low humidity, improper fertilization and improper watering are the typical culprits. Norfolk Island pines are tropical plants, originating in an environment where it rains frequently and the humidity stays high. You can replicate these conditions indoors, but it will take some effort on your part – Norfolk Island pines aren’t plants that will thrive on neglect.

Correcting Branch Drop in Norfolk Pines

Norfolk Island pine trouble shooting begins with correcting environmental issues like water, humidity and fertilizer.


When troubleshooting your Norfolk Island pine, start by examining your watering habits. Do you water frequently, but just a little bit at a time? Is your plant always standing in a pool of water in a saucer? Either of these situations can lead to problems.

Before watering a Norfolk Island pine, check the soil moisture with your finger. If it feels dry about one inch below the surface, you need to water. Water your plant well when you do, providing enough irrigation that water runs out the holes in the bottom of the pot. Never leave them soaking in water, as this can lead to root rot. Always empty saucers right away or water your plants outside or in the sink.


Even when watering is right, Norfolk dropping branches can be caused by improper humidity levels. Norfolk Island pines need approximately 50 percent relative humidity, which is difficult to achieve in many homes. Use a hygrometer to measure the humidity around your tree, as most homes will only be in the 15 to 20 percent range.

You can increase humidity with a humidifier if your plant is in a sunroom, or add a basin of water filled with pebbles below your plant. The addition of large pebbles or rocks moves your plant out of direct contact with the water, keeping root rot at bay. If this still doesn’t help, you may need to relocate the plant.


A much less common problem for Norfolks is a lack of fertilization. Older plants need to be fertilized once every three or four months, where new plants or those recently repotted can wait four to six months for fertilizer.

Repotting once every three or four years should be sufficient for most Norfolk Island pines.

Yellow/Brown Norfolk Pine Leaves: My Norfolk Pine Is Turning Brown

Many folks seeking a little potted evergreen for the holidays buy Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). These Christmas-tree look alikes are very popular as houseplants, although they can also present as stately outdoor trees in appropriate hardiness zones.

If the foliage of your lovely Norfolk pine is turning brown or yellow, jump in and try to determine the cause. Although most browning Norfolk pine foliage results from problems with cultural care, it may also indicate diseases or pests. Read on for information on how to figure out the cause of yellow/brown Norfolk pine branches.

Yellow/Brown Norfolk Pine Troubleshooting

Whenever you spot yellow/brown Norfolk pine foliage, your first best step is to walk through the cultural care you are giving your houseplant. These trees can live a long time in pots indoors or out, but they need very specific conditions to thrive.

Every tree has a hot/cold temperature range that it prefers, and those forced into winter or summer conditions outside their tolerance won’t grow happily. If you notice your Norfolk pine with yellow leaves, the temperature is the first suspect.


These trees thrive outdoors in U.S. Department of Agricultural plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. All Norfolk pines are sensitive to frost and branches yellow and die as temperatures dip below freezing.

Likewise, very high temperatures can also cause yellow/brown Norfolk pine foliage. If your tree was outdoors (potted or not) in these extreme temperatures, you have likely found why your Norfolk pine is turning brown.


Temperature is not the only potential cause of yellowing or browning Norfolk pine foliage. The amount and type of sunlight is also important.

Norfolk pines require ample sunlight, but they don’t like direct sun. Your Norfolk pine with yellow leaves might be suffering from either too much direct sun or too little rays. Move it to a spot where it gets plenty of indirect light. In the summers, try moving your houseplant Norfolk outside beneath a tall tree.

Irrigation is important to Norfolk pines, especially when the weather is warm. Winters you can back off irrigation a little, but when you see browning Norfolk pine foliage, you might want to start watering a little more generously. Humidity is also important.

Pests and Disease

Pests and diseases can also cause browning or yellowing Norfolk pine. A Norfolk pine with yellow leaves might have developed a fungal disease, like anthracnose. You’ll know your tree has this disease if you first see spots on the leaves, then entire branch sections yellow, brown and die.

Often, the real problem when your Norfolk pine is turning brown from anthracnose is that you are keeping the foliage too wet. Stop all overhead irrigation and allow the foliage to dry out. You can also spray the tree with a fungicide.

On the other hand, if your Norfolk pine with yellow leaves has mites, you’ll need to raise the humidity. Mites are pests that hide in the foliage, but you can discover them by shaking the tree over a sheet of paper. If raising the humidity doesn’t get rid of the mites, use insecticidal soap spray.

How to Grow and Care for Norfolk Island Pines

Norfolks should be watered thoroughly every week during the summer to keep the potting mix slightly moist (never soggy!) Water more often if your plant is drying out earlier. During the winter months allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. Preferably, you should use rainwater or water which has set for 24 hours to protect your tree from chemicals.
Feed monthly in the summer with a half strength solution of a soluble house plant fertilizer.

Maintaining your Norfolk Island Pine

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 Norfolk Pine, followed by any other method which would add humidity to the room like a humidifier or aquarium.
Norfolk Pines are one of the very few plants who enjoy being misted with COOL water, rather than room temperature water.

Pruning and Potting Norfolk Pine Trees

Do Not Prune Norfolk Island Pines! The only pruning that should ever 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.
Water thoroughly before starting the potting process.
Use a fast-draining, sterile, commercial potting soil mix.

Norfolk Island Pines as Christmas Trees

If you should decide to decorate and use your Norfolk Pine as a living Christmas tree, be sure that the soil is kept sufficiently moist during that time when it is decorated.
Electric 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!
Norfolk Island Pine
Araucaria heterophylla

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