If you need a Christmas present for a gardener or someone who is house bound you might consider a tree that also makes a good houseplant. One that can also work for a small Christmas Tree is the Norfolk Island Pine. The Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) comes of course from Norfolk Island which is close to Australia.  Captain Cook found them and made new spars for his ship.  The islanders were using them for canoes as in their native habitat they grow two hundred feet high and ten feet thick.

          In their native habitat the baby pines grow up under their parents so do well in a not so high light place. So each spring I put mine in a partially shaded area or the branches will burn. As they get between 5 and 6 feet tall and quite wide I put them in the insulated garage only bringing them out as a Christmas tree during December. Over the years I have had several for my house. Here they do fine with barely damp soil and no fertilizer until the days start getting longer. When they get too large I usually take it outside and let it freeze.

          As a houseplant they usually grow only about 6 to 12 inches a year. If you try starting a new one from a branch, you may get a root but you will also get just a branch. You can cut the top out, put rooting hormone on it, and if you are lucky to have the right humidity, may have a shortened tree.  Where you cut the top off, you may get several new tops that may root for you.  The Norfolk Island Pine is an easy tree to grow once you get it started. I usually just get a new one from the garden center.  

          One of the most common trees I see in the house is the Benjamin Fig, also call a Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamini). It is listed as one of the twelve best houseplants for reducing pollutants in the air of houses.  These plants absorb through their leaves and breakdown the chemicals. NASA was involved with much of the research in finding what is best to remove pollutants from the space ships.  Plants use the carbon dioxide that people breathe out and put oxygen and moisture into the air.

          In the South Pacific, Asia and Australia from which it comes, the Fig Tree grows to a 100 foot tree.  For us it is usually 2 to 18 feet tall.  It does not like to be moved. If you purchased one from a garden center you know they shed its leaves as soon as you got it home. They also will do the same thing when irritated or moved from one room to another. But have patience.  It will replace them shortly. “Ben” is also likely to drop its leaves when you repot. You can prune it back if it gets too large for your space.  Fertilize it during the long days of summer and let it dry slightly between waterings and don’t repot unless absolutely necessary.  Being a tropical plant, it is of course not frost hardy. It can be moved outside during the summer but be sure and bring back in before the night  time temperatures get below 45 or 50 degrees F.

          Jade Tree (Crassula ovata) is a shrub rather than a tree.  Of all the house plants we have, this one has probably survived the most neglect and still lived. The one sure way to destroy it is too much water! As a house plant it generally gets about 3 to 4 feet high and wide.  A native of Africa it will bloom in the late fall or early winter and is stimulated to do so by the shortening days.  Blooms last about four weeks. It is almost as temperamental about flowering as the Poinsettia if its long nights are disturbed.

          If the soil is too dry or doesn’t have enough light, it will drop some of its leaves.  Usually a plant will be about ten years old before it blooms.  They are heavy plants and will tip a plastic pot over.  If a leaf or an end “twig” drops into    your pot a new plant will grow.  Mealy bugs and scale enjoy living on a Jade.  They are happiest in a south window.  Both their branches and leaves are thick and juicy.

Copyright 2015