If you don’t have time or space for a large Christmas tree, Pat Miller, University of Missouri Extension Agronomist, says to consider a Norfolk Island pine. These houseplants are readily available around the holidays. Some may come already decorated or you can add your own small ornaments, lights or garland.

These plants are slow growing so that they seldom need repotting. An extremely tolerant plant, it will survive in cool, warm, light or dark locations. But they prefer diffused sunlight or partial shade with full sun in the winter. In low light conditions the branches will droop. Keep the soil uniformly moist but not wet and fertilize lightly every one to two months.

Many come with several stems in a pot so you may want to prune it at soil level to one stem. As they grow, the lower limbs will drop off, so don’t be concerned when this happens.

Plants just brought home from the greenhouse or store seldom need immediate repotting. Many will not require potting for some time. A newly acquired plant must make adjustments to its new environment, and repotting immediately puts added strain on the plant.

When a plant is potbound (roots are too extensive for the pot) it may require too frequent watering and makes poor growth. This is a time for repotting.

A good potting mixture for most houseplants consists of a blend of three parts sphagnum peat, one part vermiculite and one part perlite. Many commercially available “peat-lite” mixes are ideal for houseplants. In most cases it is wise to avoid the addition of soil to a potting medium, as this often leads to poor drainage, over watering and root diseases..When repotting, avoid excessive damage to the root system. Firm the soil gently around the root ball, but do not press so hard that the soil becomes compacted. Allow enough space at the top of the pot so that water can be added easily. Water newly potted plants thoroughly, drain and do not water again until necessary.

With minimal care, the Norfolk Island pine can provide you with not only a small Christmas tree but an interesting evergreen house plant year round.

For more information, contact Pat Miller, University of Missouri Extension Agronomy specialist at 417-448-2560. Pick up Extension guide G6510, Caring for House Plants at your local Extension Center or view it on line at http://extension.missouri.edu/explorepdf/agguides/hort/G06510.pdf.