What's wrong with this pine?

USCG82April 24, 2014


I'm new to the forum and new to plant care as well. A friend gave me this Island Pine which isn't doing so well. The needles are turning dry and brown before falling off.
I have it out on my patio where it gets light from sunrise until about 11:00am, then it's shaded.
I re-potted it into a much larger pot and have been watering it, but my friend admitted that they didn't water it regularly.

Any ideas on how to save this guy?

I did prune off the dead branches. I hope that wasn't a mistake.

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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

First, that its not pine (Pinus) it is Northolk island Pine(Araucaria heterophylla ). Second, the soil seems soaked, how often do you water the plant?...

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Just a thought-many new growers think the bigger the pot the better. Your pot size must be in relation to your plant size. A too-big pot will result in saturated soil and root rot and then a dead plant. Most plants must be dried out a bit to allow a gas exchange at the roots. This cannot happen when all the pores in the soil are filled with water.

Also-next time-ask before you act, not after, as in "I pruned the dead branches. I hope that is okay". In this case, it is okay but often people do detrimental things to their plant and then ask.

Your plant needs less water and more sun.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:16PM
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Thank you Teengardener and Linda.

I had just watered it before taking the picture, hence the soaked soil look. I water her twice a week when the first couple of inches of soil feel dry.

I've moved her to a sunnier location and will cut back on the watering. Hopefully the pot isn't too big. The guy at Home Depot Gardening Center told me it was the perfect size.

I am new to gardening so I apologize for the incorrect naming of the Northolk Island Pine and I will certainly ask in the future before pruning or taking other drastic measures.

I'll keep you updated as to her progress.

Thanks again.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 2:47PM
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Jon, I used to work at Home Depot.

Never, ever listen to a Home Depot employee. Their job is to sell large pots. The larger the better..More $.
Is it ceramic? Bet you paid 20.00+.

Does the pot have drainage holes?

Did the clerk at HD re-pot your Norfolk Pine?

The reason I asked if the employee re-potted...When I worked at a HD, they wanted us to pot a certain way. The plant, 'despite size,' was potted up high, so it was made to look like pot size was accurate.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 3:13PM
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Your photo doesn't show the top portion of the NIP, so it is hard to get a read on the health of the tree. A healthy growing tip is critical.

Unnecessary repotting is the single most common cause of plant problems. As whitelavcey indicated, the excess soil retains moisture around the roots for too long and ultimately causes the roots to rot. I suggest that you undo the repotting. Remove all soil that was added below, on top of and around the rootball. Put the original rootball in a pot that is just large enough to hold it with little or any new soil added. Make sure the pot has a drain hole.

When properly potted a NIP should be watered when the top half-inch of soil feels dry.

Your NIP is not adapted to handle ANY direct outdoor sunlight. I suggest that you keep it indoors in front of a sunny window. Indoor light is many times less intense than outdoor sun.

It is rare that HD personnel have any professional training, so it is best not to rely on them for advice.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 8:37PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

I will disagree with much of what others have said here. A bit of a caveat is required.

Before doing so, I would like to point out that you have not told us anything about your growing conditions nor that of your friend. This is an issue which needs addressed.
*Where are you located?
*Is/was your friend located in the same area/region/state?
*Are you looking at growing it outdoors year round?
*Did your friend grow it indoors/outdoors?
*What temperature range will the plant experience outdoors?
*What humidity range and what rainfall will the plant experience outdoors?
*What media are you using as potting mix?
Such information is very important in enabling others to give the best/most accurate advice possible. If you could do so, sir, that would be helpful all the way around.

"NIP is not adapted to handle ANY direct outdoor sunlight."

Without any knowledge of the type mentioned above, and as a general blanket statement, that is pure hokum. NIP ARE outdoor plants and in nature can grow in part shade -- which does not preclude in any way getting some direct sun -- or FULL sun all day long.

Now, for a bit of clarification.
IF the NIP has previously been grown indoors for any length of time, it will need to be hardened off to life outdoors. It is not unlike people with fair skin in temperate climes. After a long winter of being indoors, a fair complected person who suddenly stays outside in direct sun for a number of hours will typically get sunburned ... perhaps quite badly. In order to avoid such, that person would be better off sticking to the shade most of the time at first, while exposing themselves gradually over a matter of weeks to longer and stronger sun exposure. Plants which have been grown indoors for a length of time require the same process of gradually being exposed to direct sun outdoors for increasingly longer periods of time. This is referred to as "hardening off". (NOTE: Not all plant species are created equal -- some plants in the wild grow only in shady or part shade conditions and will not acclimate to direct sun.) Assuming your plant had originally been grown indoors, putting it out in direct sun likely burned it ... hence the sudden dead branches.

Now if you live in a hot and very arid area, such as Arizona, then outdoor life is not likely the way to go for your new charge. If you live in an area like Florida, it could do very well for you outside.

Having said all that, it looks like much of the plant is doing fine -- even the new growth at the base. So it is possible it has already started to acclimate. To be safe, though, I would move it to a location wherein it would only get very early morning or very late evening sun for a week before "stepping it up."

"When properly potted a NIP should be watered when the top half-inch of soil feels dry. "

According to the OP, he is waiting until the top couple inches feels dry so that greatly lessons the odds of his overwatering.

"Put the original rootball in a pot that is just large enough to hold it with little or any new soil added."

I disagree. No plant "enjoys" being pot-bound. Nor does being pot-bound lend itself to optimal growth. The only advantages to keeping to small pots is:
1) stunting the plant's growth (assuming that is desired)
2) taking up less space on the floor/shelf/sill
3) less chance of overwatering if one is using a media that is highly water retentive.
A pot the size shown is not "too large" PROVIDED that an appropriate, well draining mix is used. Whether the OP is using such a mix is currently an unknown.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 5:17PM
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I have the same thing happening with my Norfolk Island Pine. It is typical for a few needles on the lowest branches to turn brown and drop. If this happens slowly over time, it’s likely just normal aging of the branches.

They drop their lower branches in response to low light and dry conditions as well. They also do not like root disturbances - so repot carefully and not too often.

A couple more bits of growing advice that will not address your problem directly, but are useful to know when growing these.

Turn it 1/4 turn at every watering - it will prevent it from leaning towards the light.

Norfolk Island pines are known for their fragile root system. It’s important to keep the plant stable. It may need staking to help keep it upright and prevent unintentional movement that could injure the root system. Use a mix with plenty of heavy material in the mix, such as potting sand, to provide enough weight to keep the plant upright.

When I was repotting my plant (it was leaning badly and in a bad soil), the root system was really small in relation to the huge/wide canopy of the tree. My mix is relatively heavy (1/3rd small granite chips), which came in handy, and I also chose clay pot rather than plastic, also to help stabilize the plant. You might also want to put some large pebbles on top of the soil against the trunk to help stabilize it further.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 12:49PM
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