How to Propagate a Norfolk Pine Houseplant

by M.H. Dyer

Native to Australia, Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) grows relatively quickly. Although the tree reaches great heights in its natural environment, it is often grown in containers for several years, making an attractive houseplant or living Christmas tree for the kids to decorate. Norfolk Island pine is suitable for growing outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. Getting a Norfolk Island pine to take root is challenging and not always successful. The peak time for rooting is early to mid autumn.

1 Cut several, 2- to 3-inch stems from a healthy, vigorous Norfolk Island pine, using a sharp knife or pruners. Look for young shoots that are flexible but firm enough to break with a snap. Avoid thin stems or those that are hard and woody.

2 Sprinkle a pinch of general-purpose, slow-release fertilizer in the bottom of a 3-inch pot. Don't mix the fertilizer into the soil because direct contact may scorch the cuttings. Fill the pot with equal parts fine pine bark, perlite and peat moss. Be sure the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom; otherwise, the cuttings are likely to rot quickly.

3 Pull the side shoots and needles from the bottom one-third of each cutting and then dip the bottom 1/2 inch of the cuttings in powdered or liquid plant hormone.

4 Make planting holes in the moist potting mixture with a small stick, pencil or similar object and then plant the cuttings in the holes. You can plant several cuttings in the pot but allow about 1 1/4 inch between each stem. Water to settle the potting mixture, but don't firm or compact the mixture around the cuttings.

5 Slide the pot into a clear plastic bag to create a greenhouse environment that keeps the cuttings moist and warm. If needed, place plastic drinking straws or sticks in the corners of the pot to keep the plastic from touching the cuttings.

6 Place the pot in low light because strong, direct light may scorch the tender cuttings. Warmth will speed rooting. If you have a heat mat, set it to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, place the pot in a warm room or on top of a refrigerator or other warm appliance.

7 Check the cuttings at least once every week and water lightly if the potting mix feels slightly dry. The cuttings may require water more often if the pot is on a heat mat. Usually, Norfolk Island pine develops roots slowly over the winter months and doesn't display new growth until the following spring or early summer.

8 Remove the plastic when the cuttings display new growth and then transplant each cutting into a 4-inch pot filled with regular potting soil. Place the pot in low light for about a week so the roots have a chance to settle into the drier, cooler environment and then move the pot into bright light.

9 Transplant Norfolk Island pine into gradually larger containers as the plant grows. Use a container only slightly larger than the root ball because large containers contain an overabundance of moist soil that can cause root rot.

Items you will need

  • Sharp knife or pruners
  • Slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer
  • 3-inch pot with drainage hole
  • Gloves
  • Pine bark
  • Perlite
  • Peat moss
  • Powdered or liquid plant hormone
  • Small stick or pencil
  • Clear plastic bag
  • Plastic drinking straws or sticks
  • Heat mat
  • 4-inch pots
  • Commercial potting soil
  • Larger containers

Tip

  • Although the Norfolk Island pine is a conifer, the tree isn't a true pine. Norfolk Island pine belongs to the Araucariaceae plant family, which includes unusually shaped trees such as the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), which is hardy in USDA zones 7b through 11 and the bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii), hardy in USDA zones 9a through 11.

Warnings

  • Norfolk Island pine is considered a nontoxic plant safe for growing in the home. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals indicates that ingesting the plant may cause vomiting in cats and dogs.
  • Wear gloves when working with soil to avoid soil-borne pathogens.
  • Keep knives or pruners in an area out of the reach of small children.