Norfolk Island Pine Bonsai Tree

The Norfolk Island Pine is usually sold in nurseries and grocery stores around Christmas Time because it resembles miniature Christmas tree. Some even go as far as to attach mini ornaments and garland to the branches. The Norfolk Island pine, in its natural habitat, is quite different from these cute little trees.

The origin of the tree is in the South Pacific on a tiny little 13-square foot island between Australia and New Zealand where the tree grows about 200 feet high. Although usual bonsai techniques must be altered, the small tree can be trained into a nice bonsai that will last for several years.

Scientific/Botanical NameAraucaria heterophylla
DescriptionThe evergreen Norfolk Island pine tree is named for the island that lies eastward of Australia, in the southern Pacific Ocean. Norfolk Island pine trees grow tall and straight, and the branching is highly symmetrical. The tree is capable of reaching a height of 200 feet in the wild.
PositionThe tree can be grown indoors, but the plant should be rotated on a weekly basis so that the trunk gets an even exposure to its light source. Failure to rotate the plant will result in a bent trunk. Outdoors, the tree prefers full sun, but it is equally adapted to part-shade. The best outdoor cultivation occurs in USDA planting zones 10 and 11, but the tree does require protection from frigid conditions.
WateringNorfolk pine does not like the soil to be wet, but it also does not like to be totally dry: The ideal watering schedule is one that allows the plant to become just a little dry between each watering. More water will be required during the summer and, conversely, less water will be required during the wintertime.
FeedingThe tree should be fed with a liquid all-purpose fertilizer, but only during the spring and the fall.
Leaf and Branch PruningNorfolk Island pine trees are a challenge to prune, and pruning must be carried out with great care so as not to retard the growth of the plant. The best time to prune the tree is during springtime. The new buds should be pruned while they are still a light-green color.
Re-potting & Growing MediumRe-pot the tree every other year in loose, easy-draining soil. A good bonsai soil mix is recommended.
WiringThe tree can be wired throughout the year, but wires should be removed within four months of being placed.
NotesThe Norfolk Island pine tree is beautifully-suited to any of the classical bonsai styling: The formal and informal upright styles are particularly stunning when used with this tree. Norfolk Island bonsai trees make wonderful tabletop Christmas trees.


Norfolk Island Pines are not actually pine trees, but are conifers with whorled branches and feathery needle-like leaves. The limbs grow in tiers on the thin trunk with five to seven branches in each tier. The sharp little bright green leaves are around ½ inch long and curve slightly.

Height varies from about 1 foot to 10 feet high when used as an indoor plant. The branches, in their natural state, droop gracefully down in an elegant manner.

The scientific name for the tree is Araucaria heterophylla and its growth is relatively slow at 3 to 6 inches a year making it a good candidate for a bonsai.

Light And Temperature Requirements

The Norfolk Island Pine makes a charming and lush houseplant. Basic requirements include about two to three hours direct sunlight on a daily basis and regular watering. The trunk may grow toward the light making it essential to turn the plant a quarter turn every week so it does not curve.

The tree does not tolerate cold temperatures and should never be exposed to any temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It also does not appreciate extremely hot temperatures. It prefers daytime temperatures of about 65 to 70 degrees and nighttime temperatures at about 60 degrees.

The tree can survive outside during the summer as long as temperatures are moderate and they are not placed in a windy area that can dry the tree out and cause breakage. The origin of the tree is unusual in that temperatures on the island do not change much but stay about 70 degrees at all times.

Containers, Potting And Repotting

The roots of a new Norfolk Island Pine are usually very short and shallow and some may not have much root at all. Plant them in a 6 inch pot at first. This allows the roots to expand enough for the plant to grow about 2 feet tall. If a taller plant is desired, wait a few years and repot the tree in an 8 inch pot to allow it to grow another full foot.

A Norfolk Island Pine that graduates to a 24 inch pot will probably grow 12 feet tall and be a little too big to be considered a bonsai. Pots do not have to be tall and can be rather shallow, but should be heavy enough to counterweight the height of the tree so that it will not fall over. Plants should be repotted about every two to four years.

The Norfolk Island Pine does not appreciate root cutting to keep the plant small, as in bonsai culture, because the roots are insignificant to begin with.


Use a commercial houseplant mix in which to plant the Norfolk Island Pine. Make sure there is enough drainage so that any excess water will drain away from the soil. Placing a one inch or more layer of pebbles under the soil mix will make for efficient drainage and will also add weight to the pot.


Norfolk Island Pines prefer even moisture but do not like soggy soil. Let the top 1 inch of the soil dry out between watering times. Check the plant every two to three days as shallow pots do tend to dry out quickly. The best way to water is to place the pot in a sink and apply water until it starts to drain out the bottom.

Put the plant back in its place when thoroughly drained. If moving the plant is not possible water as usual and empty any excess water in the drain saucer by tipping or using a turkey baster. Tap water is acceptable to use, but let it sit out about an hour before watering so the water is room temperature and some of the chlorine has dissipated.


Norfolk Island Pines will dry up and die without proper humidity of about 50 percent. Run a humidifier in the winter or place the pot over a saucer filled with pebbles. Keep water in the saucer that reaches just below the pebbles and when it dries out, add more water.


Norfolk Island Pines do need periodic fertilization especially when being kept as a bonsai. They need fertilization only during the growing period from spring through summer. Never fertilize in the winter dormant months and avoid fertilization 3 to 4 weeks after being potted or repotted.

Use a water-soluble fertilizer for foliage houseplants. A good combination fertilizer is one with the numbers 20-20-20. Use per the package instructions fertilizing every month starting in April or May and continuing until September.

Bonsai Techniques

Regular bonsai, like umbrella trees or ficus, are usually trained by wrapping wire around the branches in order to hold them in place. Eventually the branches will stay in the desired shape and wire is removed. Foliage and trunks are trimmed in order to give the tree an old and gnarled look.

Norfolk Island Pines do not particularly adhere to this type of training because of the nature of the plant. Trunks are relatively thin, often the size of a pencil or thinner, when first planted and even when they grow 200 feet the trunk only grows to 10 feet wide.

The branches are very flexible and feathery and do not usually conform to wire training no matter how long the wire is maintained. Eventually the bottom branches will dry, die, need to be removed and will not grow back. This gives the tree a rather palm-like appearance or a trunk with a pom-pom on top.

Cutting the trunk or most of the foliage usually results in death. Sometimes, when the trunk is cut to encourage alternate growth, it will come back, but it takes quite a long time.

It is best to let the tree grow in its natural shape and allow it to grow slowly in order to make it a bonsai. Another method is to cluster it with several other small Norfolk Island Pines to make forest-like growth in a pot.