Norfolk Island Pine - Needles & Tips Gradually Dying

Mark234(3a)March 18, 2014

This is my first time posting on this site (or any site for that matter). I've appreciated some of the excellent posts I've read here.
I have a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) that someone gave to me last year. It was in need of a repotting. After some research to find if this type of plant has any special soil requirements I came across Al's Gritty Mix elsewhere on this site and decided to give it a try. I now have several plants potted in this mix (a schlumbergera, several spider plants, an aloe vera, and a dwarf schefflera) and most of these are doing really well. However the Norfolk has been suffering both prior to and after the repotting. What has been happening is that the needles on the top stem started to turn brown. Then along the sides of the plant one by one some needles have also turned brown. Lately the tips, where growth normally is observed, are turning a sort of greyish color, like something is impairing their attempted new growth. In a few places the grayish tip growth has turned brown.

The following summarizes what I have tried and how I have been caring for this plant:
- Feeding every watering ( at 1 tsp per 3 liters (their recommended rate). I adjust pH of water/plant food mix to about 5.8 (phosphoric acid pH-Down) and use Brita-filtered water.
- I bought 2 humidifiers for my plants and that with humidity trays keeps RH at about 55%.
- The Norfolk is misted about 3 times per day.
- I allow top inch of gritty mix to get dry between waterings and then do a drench watering and allow the excess to drain (works out to about 1 drench watering/week).
- I bought 3 grow lights for my plants (SunBlaster T5HO, 4' 54 watt) which provides about 200 ft-ca of supplemental light in winter. I have them on for about 14 hrs/day. The Norfolk also gets partial sunlight. Total light probably ranges from 200 to 1000 ft-ca of light on an average winter day.
- Since the plants are in front of a bay window which otherwise gets cool in the winter, I have two supplemental heaters for my houseplants to keep winter temperature between 18-22 celsius (64-72 F). Heaters are radiant oil (not forced air) and put out a very gentle heat.
- A couple of times I tried adding a little SuperThrive to the Norfolk's plant food to see if that would help, but I don't think it has.
- I also tried putting the Norfolk in front of a different window but that hasn't made any difference.
- I also tried upping the dosage of plant food to 2 tsp per liter and I think (but am not sure) that the problem has got a little worse.

I'm using basically the same caring regiment with most of my plants (including the gritty mix) and they have all been doing well considering that I live in zone 3a (north-central Alberta). However I'm getting very concerned about my Norfolk. I'm hoping someone can take a look at some pictures of the plant and maybe from past experience observe what might be causing the deterioration & growth problems.

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Welcome Mark! Welcome to garden web. From what you have said it seems you really care for your plants. That being said Norfolks do not always show their love for their owners as fast as we would like. You are in zone 3a I see so your plant will grow very very slowly. What you are doing so far is great except for moving it! Once you pick an ideal location (free from drafts, good lighting, etc) NEVER move the plant as that is the fastest way of killing it. NIPs (Norfolk Island Pine) grow slow and you will not see any improvement for weeks, months, maybe even a year. Pick one location and stick with it. If it's a warm bright spot, stay on top of watering. If it's a cool bright spot, you can let the soil dry a bit.

I had a beautiful one I bought after Christmas December 2010. I put it outside every summer under the shade of large maple trees and a cedar hedge. In 2012 it was getting late in the season and in late September I didn't want to bring it inside yet and stuck it in my Dad's greenhouse for the night. The next day was unseasonably warm and sunny and I was at work and didn't get to it in time and by 4 o'clock the damage had been done at one side turned brown. It's still recovering from that to this day but slowly is getting better.

Tip: they like to be showered with COLD water. I put mine in the bath tube once a week and turn the water all the way to cold and use the shower head and spray it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 6:09PM
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Hi Mark,
Oh my.. I don't give even a third of the care to my NIP as you give to yours. :) I never repotted it and mist it maybe twice a week. :)
How many stalks does it have? They are usually packed for Christmas 5-8 stalks in one pot, and then stalks start gradually dying until one strongest survives ( I still have two major stalks now). So if this is the case just cut the dying stalks at root level so the others have more room. BTW on my tree the stalks that died were the widest ones.
And yes - like somebody already mentioned - they LOVE showers! I shower mine once in 2-3 weeks.
Then my other thought is - could you be possible overfeeding? And is the soil 'sour' enough? NIPs like acidic soil as far as I know. I read some people even recommended to squeeze a bit of lemon juice to a watering can once in a while (I never did that).
Then check the location for cold and hot drafts. One of my friends had a gorgeous NIP for years, and it it froze to death just being too close to the window in winter. So they are pretty sensitive creatures. :)
Good luck!
Oh, and I forgot one very important thing - they HATE being touched! So make sure that your NIP is in a off-traffic location where people don't touch it while they walk by.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 6:55PM
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Thanks for the detailed replies. I will start doing the cold shower regimen regularly. And I will leave the plant in the one spot rather than trying different locations. They seem to have a delayed response to stress. I wonder if the stress signs am seeing now are not a response to the current conditions but rather a delayed response to something problematic from a while back, like maybe getting too cold near a window or before I bought the humidifiers. Last week I gave the branches a mild soap wash, then did a cold shower and then did a soil flush (2% citric acid). Now he is sitting back in his regular spot. I was concerned that the calcium dust from the ultrasonic humidifiers may have been accumulating on the foliage. I have ordered a reverse osmosis system to supply the humidifiers to alleviate that. Here are a few pictures of what has been happening the last few months.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 4:15PM
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Another photo

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 4:18PM
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Photo 3

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 4:19PM
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Photo 4

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 4:20PM
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Photo 5

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 4:21PM
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