Norfolk pine turning brown

Drying and Dying Branches on Norfolk Island Pine – Knowledgebase Question

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
Posted by bootandall
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) are so pretty and yet they can be a bit difficult to grow successfully.
This plant prefers cooler winter time conditions than are found in the average home, with temperatures ranging from about 40 to a maximum of 60 degrees being the preferred range. Moderate light (generally an east window is recommended) is adequate, as is moderate watering. Fertilizer is not needed during the winter as the plant growth slows in sync with the season.
Based on your description it is difficult to give you a diagnosis, but there are several possible explanations for the problem ranging from general cultural conditions to injury from either insects or decorations.
This tree is a large tree (up to 200 feet!) in nature and some individual plants simply do not tolerate prolonged container culture, particularly if allowed to become terribly rootbound. The plant may have been stressed before and/or after you bought it; most plants suffer to some degree during the retail process and subsequent adjustment to the home environment. Unfortunately, if the plant has been either over-watered or under-watered it may show a delayed die-back response from which it may or may not recover.
It is also possible that the plant is suffering an insect infestation. Two possible culprits would be mealy bug and scale. Mealybugs are easily visible and look like little bits of bright white cottonball dotted on the branches. Scale can be found by inspecting very carefully in a bright light for little flat hard-shelled disks attached tightly and parallel to the surface. As it happens, mid winter is a prime time for scale to be a problem and it can be a difficult one to control. Mealybugs and immature scale can be treated with insecticidal soap according to the label instructions, or can be hand picked if the infestation is somewhat localized on the plant.
Finally, it is possible that the weight of the ornaments (or heat from lights) damaged tissues while the tree was decorated and the damage is only now becoming apparent.
In terms of emergency care, there isn’t really an instant cure-all. Reducing the ambient temperature would probably be the one best thing you could do along with controlling insects if there are any on the tree. Good luck with your tree!

Norfolk Island Pine

An easy-care houseplant, Norfolk Island pine is a festive holiday plant you can enjoy all year long! During the holidays, its needled branches look right at home decorated as a Christmas tree. After the holidays pass, remove the decorations and enjoy its classic look (and air-purifying powers) anywhere in your home.
Though it’s called Norfolk Island pine, it’s not a pine at all. Rather, this stately tree is a tropical plant native to the South Pacific. Indoors, it’s relatively slow-growing, but over the course of several years, this adorable little plant can grow to 6 feet tall or more.
Small, young Norfolk Island pines are perfect for decorating mantles, tabletops, and desks. As this long-lived houseplant grows, it’s becomes better situated as a floor plant and can be used to fill bright corners, flank furniture (such as entertainment centers), or stand alone as a stunning focal point.
If you want to encourage faster growth from your Norfolk Island pine, move it outdoors to a shaded or partly shaded spot during the summer. Because it’s a tropical tree, wait until all danger of frost has passed before moving it out, and bring it back in before the first frost in fall.
Norfolk Island pine grows great with poinsettias and Christmas cactus.
Learn how to make your poinsettias last longer!
Discover the history of Norfolk Island pine!
Celebrate the seasons with Norfolk Island pine.
Norfolk Island Pine Questions?
Just drop us an email; our experts will get back to you! And get tips for growing plants in and out of our home by signing up for our newsletter. It’s packed with gardening information to help you enjoy beautiful, healthy plants.

Q: Why are my pine tree needles turning yellow?

A: When the needles on a pine tree turn yellow, the first reaction is that the tree has a disease or insect problem. But evergreen needles do not stay green forever. The older, inner needles discolor and naturally drop off after one or more years, depending on the species of pine.

Some years, the needles on a pine will yellow and drop unnoticed by the homeowner. In other years, a large number of needles yellow at the same time in late summer or early fall, making for a striking display. Because the condition is triggered by the weather and other stress factors, many evergreens are likely to show symptoms at the same time.

Austrian pines are the most dramatically affected trees in Central Oklahoma. This species typically maintains three years of green needles in the summer. But during a year with stressing weather conditions, the Austrian pine may only maintain the current year’s needle growth. Second- and third-year needles turn yellow throughout the tree. Sometimes, the last two years of growth will remain green with the third year’s growth turning yellow. The tree will appear particularly unhealthy if the yellowed needles outnumber the green ones of the current season.

All of this is a part of the natural needle drop that occurs in pines. Each species of evergreen tends to keep its needles for a defined length of time. Austrian and Scotch pine usually retain needles for three years. Japanese black and red pines will often retain green needles for four years before the needles yellow. Arborvitae needles usually turn brown instead of yellow as they age. This plant will hold needles much longer than pine.

Yew needles turn yellow and drop in the late spring or early summer instead of fall. They usually drop third-year needles unless stressed. It is not uncommon in tight clay soil for a yew to exhibit prominent yellow needles in the spring. These are usually second-year or even third-year needles that yellow and drop due to plant stresses. Spruce and fir needles also yellow and drop with age. But since these trees retain their needles for several years, needle drop is often not visible to the homeowner.

Be careful not to confuse natural seasonal needle drop with various insect and disease problems that might be life threatening to the plant. The fact that needle drop is a seasonal occurrence and that the symptoms are distributed throughout the interior part of the tree helps distinguish natural needle drop from other problems.

There is no way to control or reduce natural needle drop in an evergreen plant. Keep evergreens healthy by following good cultural practices. It is a good practice to irrigate evergreens thoroughly going into the winter. Since evergreens maintain needles year round, the plant continues to lose moisture in the winter. An evergreen plant in dry soil is more prone to winter injury through desiccation. Also, continue to examine evergreens on a regular basis for evidence of disease or insect problems.

RAY RIDLEN is an agriculture/horticulture educator for the OSU Extension Center, 930 N. Portland in Oklahoma City. He may be reached at 713-1125.

Why are my interior conifer needles turning yellow?

Each fall, Michigan State University Extension gets several calls about interior needles shedding on various species of Christmas trees. For some species such as white pine and Scots pine, yellowing of older needles is a natural occurrence. Typically, pines will hold only one to two years of needles (Photo 1). In fall where this needle drop happens over a longer period of time, it becomes more noticeable and can cause concern.

Other conifers like Fraser fir, Concolor fir, Douglas fir and spruces hold their needles for five or more years, so it is unusual to find shedding of interior needles in late September or October. This can be a natural process of shedding the oldest interior needles, but it can also be a symptom caused by several pests or cultural issues. Typically, the main culprits are either damage from spider mite feeding, needlecast diseases, nutrient deficiency or a symptom of trees under stress, such as heat or drought.

To help you diagnose what may be going on in your field, here are some things to look for.

Mite damage

Needles will show the characteristic “stippling.” When mites feed, they empty the cell of the green chlorophyll. This causes yellowish spots along the needles, referred to as stippling (Photo 2).

Photo 2. Mite damage on white spruce needles.

Needlecast diseases

The most common needlecast diseases we see are Rhizosphaera or Stigminia/Mycosphaerella on spruce, and Swiss needlecast on Douglas fir. Using a hand lens, you will see black fruiting bodies protruding through the stomata of the infected needles. In a healthy needle, the stomata will appear white in color (Photos 3-4).

Photo 3. Interior needles turning color due to needlecast disease on spruce.

Photo 4. The needle on the right the shows the healthy needle (white stomata). The needle on the left is infected with Swiss needlecast and shows the black fruiting bodies emerging from the stomata.

Nutrient deficiencies

Nutrient deficiency symptoms can be anything from pale green to needle chlorosis (yellowing) of the needle tips to the entire needle, but can also lead to needle shed. Look for other signs of deficiencies and for patterns of damage across the plantation (Photo 5).

Photo 5. Nutrient deficiency symptoms on Fraser fir.

Heat or water stress

Shedding leaves or needles is a common tree response to heat or drought. Needles may desiccate during extended dry or hot periods in late August and September, turn yellowish-tan yet remain on trees until fall, then come off during harvest and handling. Often, this occurs in pockets or areas in a field and usually affects only 1 to 5 percent of the trees (Photo 6).

Photo 6. Yellowing of older growth of Korean fir grown on very sandy soil site.

If the cause is spider mites or needlecast fungus, you will want to develop a plan to manage these pests next year. For other stress possibilities, evaluate the site and maybe take a soil or foliar sample this fall to determine if you need to adjust your fertilizer program.

Note: MSU Diagnostic Services can help you diagnose the problems with your trees. Visit the MSU Diagnostic Services website for forms and fee information.

  • Why are my evergreens turning brown?
  • Why a Christmas tree is going brown.
  • Is a pine tree dead when it turns brown?
  • Can a brown evergreen come back?
  • Why are my junipers turning brown?
  • How to revive a dying evergreen.
  • Do junipers turn brown in winter?
  • Will evergreen needles grow back?
  • Why is my pine tree losing its needles?

If the older needles on your evergreens are turning yellow and dropping, don’t worry. Nothing’s wrong, and they’re not all dying. We define them as “evergreens,” such as pine, arborvitae, spruce, and juniper, but their old needles in late summer and fall do yellow and begin to drop. For those new to mountain gardening with conifers, this natural cycle can be alarming.

Don’t have time to view the entire article, view the highlights below:

  • Needle dropping on the inside branches of evergreens is to be expected through autumn.
  • Brown needles at the tips and of new growth indicate a dying tree.
  • Evergreens naturally lose some needles to reduce winter snow and ice damage.
  • Evergreen shrubs like Red Tipped photinias, rhododendrons, and euonymuses do the same.
  • Feed with 7-4-4 All Purpose Food and Aluminum Sulfate in October for intense spring colors.
  • Evergreen trees are heavy and awkward to plant. It pays to have Watters planting service install them.
  • Now through October is the best time to plant new evergreens.

This phenomenon should not be confused with browning at the tips or overall yellowing/browning that can happen at other times of the year. The more severe browning of evergreens is often caused by winter desiccation, the effects of roadside salts, pests and diseases, or drought. When needles drop from the branch tips that are dropping back toward the trunk, the tree is almost certainly dead, and will not recover. Once a mountain conifer drops its needles, it rarely comes back to life. However, before digging up your stressed evergreen and planting another, visit us for a proper autopsy and verification. Here’s more on how to help Sick and Dying Trees.

Gardeners new to the area have been noticing the seasonal effect, especially on their Austrian and Ponderosa pines as needles turn to gold or rusty-brown and litter the area around the trees. This needle-drop is a normal part of an evergreen’s life cycle. The drop rate varies by tree and often is accelerated by environmental stresses like dry conditions, grub and gopher pressure, or pest infestation.

Before you call an arborist from Jonny’s Tree & Landscaping, first inspect your trees or bring an example into the garden center for a closer inspection under the microscope. Look at a branch that has new growth to identify where along the branch it has fading foliage.

On a Michigan State University Extension factsheet, I found this helpful info explaining the natural aging and shedding cycle:

The losses should generally be from the inside out, not at the branch tips. Inner needles are the oldest, and as they age, they photosynthesize less effectively and eventually are shed, their functions assumed by newer needles farther out on the branches. Evergreens are smart; they shed these older needles to reduce possible winter snow loads that can gather on the new, longer branches that grew out in spring. The extra needles could quickly load up with too much snow, causing torn and broken limbs. Again, this varies by species, but most Arizona evergreens have a similar needle-drop period.

This same leaf drop is also witnessed on broadleaf evergreens like Red Tipped Photinias, Rhododendrons, and Euonymus pushing off older, damaged, or useless foliage this time of year. Not to worry; as long as this year’s new growth has excellent color and looks healthy. It is essential to keep this leaf and needle-drop cleaned up for health and fire reasons. Diseases like molds and mildews are protected in winter by this leaf litter at the base of the plant and re-infect your shrubs next spring. Now, a few inches of needles around the bases of evergreen trees insulate the roots and reduce water needs for healthier plants, but more than that can cause a wildfire hazard in the landscape. For more on pine needle clean-up visit my article on Are Pine Needles Good or Bad for the Garden ?

Insider Tip – Here’s how to get the best blue, green, and silver colors out of your evergreens: Most conifers produce new growth only in the spring season. Next year’s bud, aka candle growth, has already begun. The stage for the best-colored evergreens is set in the fall of the year. By the end of October feed the entire drip line, or the garden soil under the longest branches of the plant, with 7-4-4 All Purpose Food, but here’s the real secret . . . at the same time spread on a light dose of Aluminum Sulfate. This extra dose of color-enhancing mineral really intensifies the natural colors of mountain evergreens.

Planting & Delivery Service – Autumn is the best time to plant a new evergreen. Spruce, pine, cypress, and juniper are quite bulky and heavy and often inflict bodily damage to the gardener. After planting a mature evergreen tree, it’s possible to look like you’ve been in a catfight . . . and the cat won! So consider having the garden center plant it for you; you will find the money well spent.

Of course, the larger the tree, the bigger the hole and the more it costs to plant, but it’s worth the expense. To plant an average size tree that stands head high costs about $100, and includes the jackhammer, warranty, labor, and all the materials to plant it right.

Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping gardeners get their conifers ready for the seasons ahead.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or .

Watters: Website | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram | Pinterest

Garden Classes

September 21 @ 9:30 am – Top 10 Evergreens for Mountain Landscapes – Evergreens can be the anchor of any landscape, providing color and privacy year-round. We’ll dispel the myth that the only evergreens are pine trees, when in fact they can be a multitude of different shapes, colors, and sizes—there are even evergreens that aren’t green! FREE

September 28 @ 9:30 am – Planting for Success in our Mountain Soil – We’ve planted thousands of plants throughout northern Arizona, and now we’re going to share our secrets with YOU. Watters’ Ella Amos, gets her hands dirty every day planting new landscapes for our wonderful customers. Years of planting success and the knowledge she’s gained through her experience make Ella the perfect Guest Instructor for this class. She’ll share the techniques and trade secrets she’s learned to help you be a smarter, savvier, more successful gardener. FREE



October 5 @ 9:30 am – Gardening for Newcomers Learn all the mountain secrets to local garden success. This is an information-packed class guaranteed to increase garden blooms and fruit this year. Learn about growing zones, frost dates, soils and more; you’ll know exactly what to do in the gardens after this class. FREE

Michele and Doug

October 12 @ 9:30 am – Autumn Colors Best Enjoyed at Home – Landscapes in autumn can be stunning, but only with proper planning. This easy-care advice will bring the silver and blues out of the evergreens, showcasing brilliant bright foliage and crazy colored flowers. Make this the brightest fall of all! FREE

October 19 @ 9:30 am – Top 10 Trees and How to Plant them – Privacy, shade, color, evergreen, and blooms. We cover trees from every angle. With so many choices, picking the perfect tree can seem overwhelming, but not after this class. Our horticultural team will be on-hand after the class to help with individual tree situations. Free tree planting guide to all attendees. FREE

October 25 @ 9:30 pm – Fall ‘To-do‘ list for a Healthy Yard – Get the most out of your landscape with this easy to use checklist of fall care. Bring the color out of your fall gardens, reduce bugs next spring, or simply put your landscape to bed with these easy to use ideas. FREE

Ken Lain

Extreme temperature changes over short periods of time during winter months can leave evergreen trees looking a little yellow and sad. There are a number of different reasons an evergreen tree might be turning yellow/brown and/or dropping needles this time of year. Sometimes it’s perfectly healthy, other times it’s not. How do you tell the difference, and what should you do? Here’s a few tips:

This pine is showing needle cast. Notice the brown needles are lower on the branch while the healthy green needles are closer to the tip.

Needle Cast: If your conifer (pine, spruce, fir, or juniper) is dropping needles, it may be a perfectly normal and healthy occurrence. If the needles that are dropping are only on the interior part of the tree while the needles toward the ends of the branches are still flexible, green, and firmly attached, then your tree is going through a process called “needle cast.” This process is kind of like deciduous trees casting off their leaves every fall – the needles deepest inside the tree no longer receive much in the way of sunlight as they are shaded by the newer exterior needles, so the tree drops them. This is totally normal and you should not be alarmed.

Sun Scald: If the needles on one side of the tree are showing yellow or brown coloration, but the other side of the tree still looks healthy, it could be suffering from sun scald. The exceptionally dry winter air combined with low soil moisture and intense sun causes the needles to dry out. The damage is often only present on the most exposed parts of the tree where prevailing winds or southern sun can have the greatest impact. Often, only the tip of the needle will be discolored while the base of the needle remains green.

Some of this damage may be inevitable, depending on the location of the tree, but it can be mitigated by good winter watering . For particularly sensitive evergreens like boxwoods, arborvitae, and oriental spruce, to name a few, a permeable fabric like burlap can be used to wrap the plants, providing a little extra protection. Trees can also be treated with Wilt-Pruf, a product designed to give evergreen plants an added layer of protection on their needles and leaves. Generally, this type of damage is only short-term. Only in extreme cases do we start to worry about the overall health of the tree.

Freeze Damage: If your tree is dropping needles or yellowing/browning uniformly around the entire plant, there’s a chance the recent deep freeze caused such a shock to your tree that the needles were damaged.

Extended periods of warm weather followed by rapid temperature drops is the perfect formula for evergreen freeze damage.Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is present on the tips of branches while the interior needles remain green.

When plants go through such a rapid change in temperature, they don’t have time to undergo the physiological changes that help them tolerate the cold. Cell walls can rupture when they freeze and the dry air can cause damage more easily than would otherwise be the case. In instances like this, the damage will be most prominent on the outer parts of the branches, causing the tips to discolor and lose needles while inner needles that weren’t as exposed during the freeze remain green.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is not limited to just one side of the tree.

In these cases, the only thing to do is wait and see. It is possible that in the spring, the buds that have already formed on the tips of those branches will still produce a new candle (the growth from which new needles emerge). We encourage you to wait to prune until you are certain a branch has died, as cutting a branch that has a healthy bud on it will result in no growth next season. You can gently pinch the buds on damaged branches to find out if they’re still healthy – a firm bud is a healthy one, while a dried out dead bud will crumble between your finger tips. In this case, as with sun scald, the best treatment is a good deep watering 2 times a month through the winter when possible.

Come spring, even if no new growth emerges, if the remaining needles are still green, you’ve still got a healthy tree. Prune away the dead branches to expose the inner needles to light, give your tree a feeding with Jirdon Tree & Shrub fertilizer, and be sure to tell your tree how much it means to you and how happy you are that it’s still alive!

Originally published on December 8th, 2014. Updated on March 19th, 2015.

What causes pine tree needles to turn yellow-brown? | Belleville News-Democrat

Q: The needles on several limbs on a pine tree in my yard have started to turn yellow-brown. I planted the tree (a variety of white pine) about 15 years ago, and it is about 30 feet tall. The discoloration appears on limbs at different places on the tree. I can see no pattern. I wonder what is happening and how to stop it, if that is possible.

M. R. of Millstadt

A: White pine (Pinus strobus) can be bothered by several conditions — air pollution (ozone and sulfur dioxide) and white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), which is a disease infecting gooseberry plants that spreads the next year to the white pines causing needle destruction. A white pine weevil kills the terminal buds, causing dead branches to form.

Since your symptoms are occurring sporadically and showing up randomly, it suggests the white pine weevil is probably the cause. Check the branches that are affected to find any residue (dung) left on branches or chewed tips off the needles would indicate the weevils. With pollution, there should be a pattern, or all the tips should show some symptoms.

Local News at Your Fingertips

Get unlimited digital access for just $3.99 a month to #ReadLocal anytime, on any device.


Q: We recently noticed that our tulip tree is emitting a terrible sap that is coating our deck and patio. After a little research, we found out it is called tulip scale. Our daughter noticed her tulip tree is also affected. We did see that there is a chemical we could apply (not sure if it is pet friendly). Is there anything else we can do? The information also stated it could take up to four weeks to penetrate the tree.

L. S. of O’Fallon

A: There could be two different insects emitting honeydew from your tuliptree. One is scale, as you have stated, and the other is aphids. To identify scale, you would notice brown turtlelike bumps on the stems, and over time, the branches should die back. A single female can lay as many as 3,000 eggs a year, so the population builds up fast. There is a pet-friendly remedy — dormant oil, which can be applied in early spring before the buds begin to break form leaves. This light oil will suffocate the developing scales before they begin to crawl on the branches. This light oil will also kill the aphids. Make sure to apply this spray before the leaves develop.

There is also another insecticide — Sevin — which could be applied to your Tulip tree in early August to kill the scale insects. But do not allow the pet in the sprayed area for a week or more.

Q: My wife and I recently found a number of creamy blobs in the mulch around our house. There is black underneath them that looks like mold. Any idea what these are? Where they came from? Treatment?

A.C. of O’Fallon

A: The creamy blobs are slime mold, and the black underneath are spores that can spread this condition by wind, water, mowers or foot traffic. They become most common after heavy rains. This can at times spread to turf plants on the leaves. With dry conditions, they will dry up. This problem usually indicates that the slime mold is living on dead debris, such as the mulch or dead grass clippings. You can control them by hitting them with a hard stream of water, which usually breaks them apart. Be careful not to direct the water in a way that small pieces will land on a building structure.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to [email protected]

Things to do this week

  • Check on the number of Japanese beetles, as they are appearing in large numbers in most of our area. They especially love roses, grapes, all types of flowering annuals and even vegetable flowers. (Note: Do not use Japanese beetle traps, as they attract every Japanese beetle in your neighborhood to the trap.)

What makes a white pine turn yellow?

QThe large white pine in our yard tends to turn yellowish every winter. It has not turned as yellow so far this year, perhaps because of the milder weather. Is it normal for white pines to turn yellow? Does the tree need fertilizer?

AThe needles of some white pines (Pinus strobus) do develop a rather unattractive yellowish or olive green color in the winter. Some other evergreens that also tend to show winter discoloration include red or Norway pine (Pinus resinosa), Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis). Most trees that discolor in winter recover a more normal green color in the spring.

There seems to be quite a bit of variability in needle color among individual specimens of any of these evergreens. Summer needle color among white pines can vary from olive green to silvery blue-green. The degree of yellowing in the winter also varies greatly. However, if an individual tree tends to yellow, it seems to do so consistently from year to year. The needle color is determined by genetics, sort of like eye color among humans.

Among these evergreens, a number of cultivars have been selected for good foliage color and resistance to winter discoloration. There are many arborvitae cultivars so selected. Unfortunately, very few white pines have been selected for good foliar color and resistance to winter discoloration. Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis), while not widely available, is gaining popularity in part because most specimens retain a good blue-green color through the winter. This pine has long, thin needles in bunches of five and looks similar to white pine.

If a yellowed evergreen fails to regain a green color in the spring, or if an evergreen starts turning yellow during the growing season, problems may be brewing. Yellowing foliage often indicates root problems, usually overly wet soil. Most evergreens require well-drained soil, although arborvitae is an exception. Check the soil moisture around the tree. Also check to see if the tree is planted too deeply; you should be able to see the roots starting to flare out just at the soil line. Planting too deeply reduces the amount of air reaching the roots, which in turn can kill roots and eventually the whole tree. Also check for trunk injuries and insect or disease symptoms.

Most trees in home landscapes benefit from a yearly application of fertilizer. A tree that is lacking nitrogen may have yellowish foliage. Have your soil tested to find out if fertilizer is needed; often there is plenty of phosphorus and potassium, and all that’s needed is nitrogen. Have the pH of your soil tested also. White pines can develop iron chlorosis (which shows as yellowed foliage) in high pH (above 7.0) soils. If your soil is on the high pH side, use an acid fertilizer and mulch heavily with pine needles and shredded oak leaves, both of which help acidify the soil.

QSome of my crocus and squill started sending up leaves in the warm weather early this month. I was worried about the foliage freezing so I covered it with straw. Is this a good idea? Can bulbs be damaged by having leaves frozen?

AWhile many bulbs are hardy enough to make it through our winters without mulch, I think its a good idea to cover any of those that started sprouting in this oddly warm early winter. Frozen foliage won’t kill the bulb, but it could reduce the bulb’s food reserves, since it will have to produce more foliage in the spring. The bulbs need foliage to produce food reserves during the growing season, which is why you never should cut back bulb foliage when it’s still green.

You can add mulch to garden beds any time during the winter. If you have lavender plants, for example, and you opt to mulch them instead of letting them tough it out, you can still run out and pile some straw around them. A nice way to recycle the Christmas tree is to cut off branches and use those to cover a bulb or perennial bed. Of course, if we’ve already had weeks of subzero temperatures and no snow cover, the damage may already have been done.

Remember that mulch also keeps the ground cool in the early spring; this is a good thing, especially for bulbs and early-emerging perennials. If these plants come up too early, a late cold snap can freeze them. Many gardeners remember the early April temperature plunge several years ago, when many emerging tulips and other bulbs were frozen to the ground.

QWhich ornamental grasses have the showiest seed heads during the winter?

AMost varieties of miscanthus (Miscanthus sp.) grass have fluffy plumes of seeds that stay on the plant most of the winter. Within this genus there are several species and many named cultivars. Cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis are some of the best grasses for winter interest. The cultivars ‘Purpurescens,’ ‘Silberfeder’ (Silverfeather), ‘Autumn Light,’ ‘Malepartus’ and ‘Graziella’ are just some of the miscanthus available. The first two cultivars listed are the hardiest. The species Miscanthus sacchariflorus, Chinese silvergrass, has pretty seed heads, but it spreads aggressively by rhizomes and is too invasive for landscape use.

Though less showy, other ornamental grasses can provide winter interest also. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) has airy seed heads that catch the light nicely. While the seedheads of Karl Foerster feather reedgrass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) fall apart by mid-autumn, its striking bleach-blonde upright foliage provides a highlight in the winter perennial bed. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), silver spikegrass (Spodiopogon sibericus) and moorgrass (Molinia caerulea) are some other possibilities.

Ornamental grasses are gaining in popularity. For more information, check for books on ornamental grasses at the library. The University of Minnesota extension publication Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates is very informative.

–Nancy Rose is a research horticulturist at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. She spends her spare time gardening, inside or outside, depending on the weather. Please address gardening questions to her at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, PO Box 39, Chanhassen MN 55317. She will answer questions in this column only.

Gardening FAQ

A too-small pot may be the cause of a leaning plant. Large plant size relative to pot size can cause uneven weight distribution, allowing the plant to lean. A larger pot (and thus a larger and more stable root system) can compensate for uneven weight. If you do repot your pine, be sure to only go up one pot size (8-inch to 10-inch, 12-inch to 14-inch, etc). It still may not be large enough, but if you go from say an 8-inch pot to a 12-inch, instead of 10-inch, you will create a “moat” of soil around the plant because the new soil won’t have roots in it yet and any water in the soil won’t be absorbed. The new roots have to grow into that new soil to absorb the water. If you increase the pot size too much, the “moat” of new soil will be too large and remain wet, possibly rotting the roots. So if the new pot size is still too small, stake the plant for support and then repot it again next spring.

The browning needles do cause some concern. It’s normal for the older needles on the lower branches to gradually turn brown and drop off. But if large areas or areas other than the lower branches turn brown, then there is probably something else going on. These plants tend to like humid environments and cool temperatures. This is very hard to achieve in human homes because we usually like conditions that the plants don’t like. But here are some possible reason why this might be happening:

  • Water: Overwatering or underwatering can cause brown needles. If you have had the plant for a few years, it’s probably not overwatering, or you would have seen this issue sooner. So it might be underwatering. This would be likely if the pot is too small because it’s probably full of roots and using up the water quickly.
  • Humidity: In most homes the humidity is often too low for the plant. During a cold winter, heaters come on more frequently and really dry things out. You can use pebble trays to increase local humidity. Fill a large tray with pebbles (3/4-1-inch deep) and fill with water. Place the pot and saucer on top of the pebbles. As the water evaporates, it will create a more humid micro climate. Just be sure the water level sits below the top of the pebbles. You never want any of the pot sitting in water.
  • Light: Norfolk pines like lots and lots of bright light. They can take a couple hours of direct sun, as long as it’s not harsh midday sun. Usually an eastern exposure is good, or western as long as the direct light comes later in the day. Too much direct sun can burn the needles.
  • Cold/heat: Blasts of cold air or hot air can brown the needles. So keep the tree away from doors and windows where cold gusts might come in, and away from heating vents and radiators.
  • Spider mites: These plants can be prone to spider mites, which love warm, dry conditions. Inspect the brown areas for any webbing produced by the spider mites. You can use water to rinse them off and try to knock down the populations. More even watering and increased humidity will also help with mites.

For further information, see these pages from NYBG, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Purdue University. For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides. – Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service

Norfolk Island Pine – How to Care Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree

How to Care for an Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree

Norfolk Pine tree is also called star pine tree. Its botanical name is Araucaria Heterophylla and you know it better as a living Christmas tree. The plant prefers bright light for a few hours on a daily basis. The length of the tree depends on you, as you can grow the plant indoor as a tabletop arrangement or as a tree in a corner. It is a slow grower but over the years it can achieve quite a height. The plant thrives amazingly well in bright light, however, be careful as not to dry the soil. If you have tall ceilings, then only go for a tree-like arrangement as Norfolk pine can really grow taller. It is not a true pine and if you are buying it, it needs to make sure that the plant has more than three trunks. Multiple trunks help the plant to look dense and not leggy as it grows.

The plant cannot be pruned without ruining its symmetrical shape. It is an interesting fact to note that the plant’s native habitat is coastal areas where the sea winds are prevalent and can contort even the most flexible of branches but this plant withstand them and out of all, it is the symmetry that makes it much coveted.

The Norfolk Island pine tree needles are poisonous for pets and kids. If ingested, these can cause stomach problems. The plant is called ‘living’ Christmas tree because they resemble a Christmas tree and you can have them all year round! You don’t have to show them the way outside once the festive season is over. Instead, you can have them as a houseplant, which is revered all over the world for its pleasing and exotic appearance. You can find the distribution of the plant alongside Mediterranean coastal area and subtropical humid regions. Since it is a coastal plant, it grows quite well in deep sand. It can withstand winds and saltiness of the water.

As stated the plant can’t survive the frost and cold regions of North America and Europe, making it unfit to grow outdoors, it has been observed that a few specimens can survive in the Northern gardens.

The triangular and symmetrical shape of the plant is very prominent during the young age. As the plant matures, it starts losing out on its shape. The species is grown commercially as houseplants and isn’t treated as a threatened or endangered species. However, the natural strands of the species were restricted for exports and commercial usage and in fact, much reduced since Captain James Cook discovered it first in the year 1774. It is mainly due to poor land management and invasive species that the natural Norfolk Island pine tree has become so rare.

An Overview for Indoor Norfolk Island Pine Tree:

A Norfolk Island tree isn’t a true pine or share any trait of a pine tree, in fact. It isn’t hardy or true pine at all. They are lot closer to orchids or gardenia in terms of care and habitat than a pine. Norfolk Island is a tropical plant and can’t tolerate temperature below 1 degree Celsius. This is why, in colder area, it becomes important to move the plant inside once the temperature starts dipping. High humidity is a prerequisite to keep the plant thriving and flourishing. Light and water are also important criteria to ensure the well-being of the plant.

As opposed to the contrary belief, Norfolk Pine tree isn’t a native to Virginia, Colorado, Mississippi or England. The plant originates from Norfolk Island of South Pacific. The native habitat of the plant lets it grow about 200 feet and sometimes the cones of the plant can be as large as 15 pounds. The plant isn’t a pine either. It is a coniferous perennial and it can grow in areas of hardiness zone 11. The plant is frost-intolerant and can’t take too much heat either.

However, if you can create a compatible habitat, it can survive away from its native habitat.

It prefers the bright source of light with at least 50% of humidity levels.

However, you need to pay attention to the container you would plant it in as the plant is a slow grower but can be very large over the years. It doesn’t like to be repotted due to its fragile root structure. It needs to be planted in well-drained and moist soil. Waterlogged soil can cause root rot in the plant. You don’t have to fertilize it much but if you do, it should be 50% diluted of the recommended level. Bring the plant indoors if the temperature dips below 50degrees at night.

The evergreen foliage, upright and pyramidal shape gives it a gorgeous appearance. In the U.S., the plant can only grow outdoors but gardeners have achieved success in planting it indoors too by following strict care regimen and mimicking the natural habitat. The Department of Agriculture plant has given it out a rating of hardiness zone 10 and 11. The plant doesn’t like to be repotted early and it should be repotted only once in 4 or 5 years.

Norfolk Island Pine Tree Care:


Bright yet indirect light is required for the plant. However, the plant thrives better in a few hours of sun. If the plant is shedding its lower branches, it implies that it isn’t getting enough light. Keep rotating the plant regularly to let it get light on a regular basis.


Since the plant stays in light, the water intake should be much higher than the normal to avoid dryness of the soil. It is recommended to keep the plant moist all the time. The dryness of the soil can be guessed by brittle and grey fronds. However, if you aren’t regular with the water regimen, the pine tree needles will turn yellow. The pine doesn’t like to be waterlogged because too much water can cause root rot.

To avoid overwatering, you can water the plant when the top layer of the soil starts drying. Don’t water the leaves. Water the soil and make sure excess water is drained.

Since it is a coastal plant, it can tolerate a fair amount of salt in water as well as when you fertilize it. However, you shouldn’t over fertilize it or let the salt amount build up in the plant. This is to indicate that the tolerance level for salt and wind is quite high for the plant due to its natural survival traits.


The plant requires a balanced plant food, diluted to half the recommended strength. The plant should be fertilized on every alternate week of summer, spring and fall. Water-based fertilizers work wonder with Norfolk Island pines. Don’t feed the plant with fertilizer in winters.


Norfolk Island Pine Tree prefers cooler temperatures of about 16-24°C.


A Norfolk Island pine tree doesn’t like to be kept near the source of dry air. Keep it away from cold drafts and vents. If you observe the unusual falling of pine needles, it could be because of dry air.


Apart from mealy bugs, nothing much bother Norfolk Island pine tree. You can recognize these pesky bugs from the white and cotton-like residue.


The pine doesn’t grow much over the years. Hence, don’t repot it unless absolutely necessary, which might take 4-5 years before you do.


The pine doesn’t need pruning because it can take away the symmetry of the tree. You can consider removing any dead leaves and branches from the plant. Propagation: The propagation of seeds happens via seeds. If you want to start anew with the Norfolk Island plant that is leggy and thing as it is growing up, it is advised that you cut off the top most part of the trunk by 4”. Yes, to get rid of the straggly nature of the plant, you might have to remove its star-shaped symmetry that gives the plant its Christmas –feel and earned it its nickname, star pine! Once you are through with pruning, you need to put it in a small container that has rich and moist yet well-drained soil.


The plant is a classic case study of heterophylla or different leaves as there is a noticeable difference between young and old leaves. The old leaves are about 2-4mm broad and long whereas the young leaves are awl-shaped and up to 1.5 cm long. The young leaves are often found at the base of the tree and are curved inwards in the beginning.


The cones of Norfolk Island pine are in the upper crown and in globose form. They are in 12-14 cm in diameter. The cones take about 18 months to mature. Once mature, the cones erupt and release edible seeds.

Tips for Festive Decoration with Norfolk Pine Tree:

  • Since Norfolk Island pine also happens to be “living” Christmas tree and one is bound to lit it more with all those lights, which can eventually dry the plant furthermore. Hence, it is better to keep a check on plant’s moisture.
  • Since the pine needles of the plant are poisonous, it is better to keep them away from kids and pets.
  • You can find a large number of Norfolk Island pine trees for sale in South Florida during the month of November. As Christmas approaches, the houseplant industry becomes abuzz with this living Christmas tree and in order to make their tree look appealing and attractive, they coat it with light green color. However, this results in the death of pine plants as they can’t-do photosynthesis properly. Moreover, in areas like Subtropical Florida and in some regions of southern USA deserts, the pine plants can fall due to storm or lightning and hence, it is prohibited to plant them.
  • The timber of the plant is used by Hawaiian artists for craft work and woodwork with a similar plant, Cook pine.

Your Questions. Our Answers about Norfolk Pine Tree

My pine is doing fine if you talk about the topmost part of it. It is the bottom part that is bugging me off as it keeps falling off and dying. It is in a sunny spot and yet it keeps on dying.

The bottom part of the plant keeps dying due to poor lighting. If the top part of your pine is alright, it suggests that the lighting can only reach its upper part. It is very important to understand the tendency of falling off of the lower branches because once they have fallen off, they never grow back. The only way out to let the Island pine not look leggy and spindly after the falling of lower branches is to cut the 4” off the top part and plant in a new container.

I want to re-plant my Norfolk Island tree as it is touching the ceiling now. Shall I cut its tip for a new plant?

Yes, you can if you are willing to risk the star-shaped top part of it! Hence, it is better to cut the plant just where the tip of its new growth is. The new growth usually happens around the star-shaped foliage. Place this growth in the small pot and let it settle. The new growth should be placed in a plastic bag for as long as it develops roots. However, the old plant would never look the same but you have a new plant to flaunt of.

Can I keep my Norfolk Island pine tree outside?

Though the plant is versatile and evergreen, it needs specific requirements to comply with in order to flourish outdoors. Bright light, well-drained, and moist soil, as well as optimum temperatures, is the pre-requisites, to begin with.

The needles of the pine tree are turning brown! Help!

The needles of pine tree turn brown when the air is dry. Make sure you haven’t placed the container anywhere near vents or heating source. The humidity around plant should also be maintained. You can keep the plant under a wet pebble tray or create a mini greenhouse effect for it by keeping a group of likewise plants together and placing a mini room humidifier nearby. Usually people try to place the plant in water but that’s the worst mistake that could happen to it as the plant can finally wilt and die due to root rot.

Unlike most pines that are familiar to Midwesterners, the Norfolk Island pine is far too tender to plant outdoors in our climate and, in fact, is not a true pine at all. But the good news is that it makes an elegant houseplant when given proper care. It also makes a terrific living Christmas tree; its lush green twigs of soft needles provide a lovely backdrop for festive holiday ornaments.

Norfolk Island Pine

Known botanically as Araucaria heterophylla, the plant is native to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific between Australia and New Zealand. The ideal indoor climate for this species is bright and cool, with daytime temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees and slightly cooler at night. Although the Norfolk Island pine will adapt to bright indirect light, the plant will look its best with a couple of hours of direct sunlight daily. If the light source is coming from just one direction, you’ll want to rotate the plant a quarter turn weekly to keep it from tilting toward one side.

When the plant is growing, feed with a fertilizer formulated for indoor foliage plants. It is not unusual for the plant to be in a period of rest during the winter months, at which time there is no need to fertilize.

Water the plant when the top inch or so of the soil in the pot feels dry. Use enough water to allow a little excess to escape through the bottom drainage holes. Discard remaining drained water after about 15 minutes.

What is most challenging for the typical home gardener is giving this plant the high relative humidity it needs. Norfolk Island pine thrives at 50 percent relative humidity, yet it is not unusual for the average house to drop to 15 percent during the winter heating season, unless steps are taken to increase moisture in the air. Running a humidifier will increase the comfort of people and plant and is the most effective way to adequately raise the humidity.

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 availability; however, if many needles are browning, or if the problem appears more widely distributed among the branches, look to problems of either too much or too little water, hot or cold drafts, or too little relative humidity.

Garden centers and mass merchandisers have an impressive selection ranging from compact desktop plants to large floor plants rivaling a traditional holiday tree. When given proper care, the Norfolk Island pine will outgrow most indoor spaces, not surprising when you consider that it can reach up to 200 feet tall in its native habitat!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *