Norfolk Island Pine, an Easy plant to Control its Height

Pruning a Norfolk Island Pine

Even thought I have the OH TO BIG garden, I really am not that much into house plants. Years ago, in a different house, I had wide window sills and radiators to grow house plants on. But, it is now a different time, and I only have one house plant, a Norfolk Island Pine. The Norfolk pine was originally given to my sister as a gift. She kept it for a while, and then felt I could manage it better. When I got it, the Norfolk Island Pine was a small plant, about two foot tall. I re-potted it, and over the years it grew into quite a nice 6 foot tall specimen. Or, should I say, the pot and plant reached the 6 foot mark.

One day, I looked at it and thought it had gotten a bit to tall and wide. Since I was now the owner of that plant, and really did not have much emotional attachment to it, I thought I was going to give it a HAIR CUT, and see what happens. I thought, if it lives it lives. If it dies it dies. So this is what I did to it….

First, I decided how tall I only wanted the Norfolk Island Pine to be. I decided that the pot and plant TOGETHER, would be only 4 feet tall. You only have one chance to decide, so choose carefully! Once you make the cut, you can’t glue it back on. The decided height will, most likely, be the height of the plant for the rest of its life.

Second, Cut off the top of the tree, just above, where the branches grow out from the trunk. This will now be the new top of the tree. Don’t worry about the cut, in time it will heal over, and form a kind of scarred ring.

Third, Now it is time to RESHAPE the tree, decreasing the length of ALL, or most of the branches. The branches of the Norfolk Island Pine form a kind of upside down “V“, or chevron pattern, as they grow our from the trunk. Take a pair of sharp scissors, or hand pruners, and coming up from the branch’s END MOST TIP, decide how short you want the branch to be, and clip it at the center of that stem. You can make many short clips, at it, if you are afraid, until you get it the length where you want it to be. The first clip is the scariest, but in no time, you will be a pro. Now work around the tree, from top to bottom, and decrease the length of the branches, making sure to keep its natural cone shape. Think shorter branches at the top, and longer at the bottom. In spots, if you need to, shorten the V-shaped needle growth, reforming the branches to a more natural look. It is like cutting the Norfolk Island Pine’s mustache a bit.

While writing this post, I am thinking about how long ago I trimmed my Norfolk Island Pine? It has been at least ten years, and the plant is still alive. The only growth the plant has made is that its trunk has gotten thicker. On occasion, the Norfolk Island Pine tries to shoot up a new terminal bud (new growth tip, to try to increase its height again), but I pinch it off to keep the plant the same size.

So tell me, have you ever given a Norfolk Island Pine a hair cut? Clipped its mustache?

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Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
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30 Responses to Norfolk Island Pine, an Easy plant to Control its Height

  1. Hi there Everyone. It’s Dec 22, 2012 and the Norfolk Island pine is still doing fine. It was been repotted last summer, Kind A . I really cut back some of its over grown roots, and knocked off a lot of old soil and replanted it with new soil in the pot I had it in from the start. The tree, on occasion still wants to grow a new leader branch, but when I see one starting, I pinch it off. Last Christmas I decorated it for the Holidays, this year, it is up in one of my bedrooms, waiting for me to take down the X’mas tree so it can go back to where it likes spends most of its time in my TV room. I would say, I am not the best of a friend to the poor Norfolk pine. It gets a drink once a week, BUT I never fertilized it since I got it from my sister almost 17 years ago. If it can live with me, the Tree is a survivor. Yours, because you will MOST LIKELY give it more love and attention than I ever will, will do just fine;-},

    • Ana Myers says:

      Hi Fred,
      I have had a Norfolk pine tree for more than ten years. I did not repot it to keep it from growing. That idea did not work, It grew a bit too much. This winter it was so tall that we could not place it inside the house as we have done in previous years. I am going to trim it so I can keep it inside during winter.

      • Hi there Ana, In the last twenty years since I’ve been “gifted” a Norfolk Pine that I really did not want, I’ve only re-potted it once. I give it a clipping here and there as needed. Right before Christmas I really gave it a good once over, since I was moving it to another room. No matter how much you abuse the Norfolk Pine it still keeps growing on. Good luck with your project and thanks for your comment ;-}

  2. Laurie Dunn says:

    I have an almost 6ft Norfolk pine I got from my brothers funeral yesterday. It’s definitely top heavy. while I like the pruning you did I’d like to know if I can take a cutting and root it? That way I could share with my Mom and others. What are you’re thoughts?

    • My sympathy to you Laurie, on the loss of your brother. My Norfolk pine was also a funeral gift to my sister, from an office friend, when my father died. She is not a green thumb, so I ended up with the tree. I don’t know if you can take a cutting of any kind. I would say, go to a good garden center or green house in your area, and talk to them, and get their advice. Is there a Cooperative extension in you area? (Look in the phone book for your county) Some of them have master gardeners who might know if what you want is possible. Call up a Botanical garden in your area, if you have one, they might be able to answer your question. Sorry for you lose and that I could not help you with your project. FG

  3. Gail says:

    The back of my tree has lost all of its branches. Will they grow back? I do have mine facing the East.

    • Hi there Gail, You must have had yours up against at wall, where it got no light on its backside????. In nature, outside, if something is planted up against a house, fence, or another bush, let’s say, the plant looses its leaves/needles in the spot where no light gets to that side of the plant. If you move the plant toward the sun, and turn it so that side gets light, it possibly might try growing new branches, but mine seems to only want to push new growth at the top, which I keep pinching off to keep it small. My plant is tortured by me, as I said in the article, I have no real emotional attachment to it. It will be in my TV room as long as it lives. They day it decides to go to the big garden in the sky, I wish it a fond Good By ;-}

  4. Brad says:

    I’m also not a big fan of house plants. However, we bought a Norfolk Pine 2 years ago as a year round Christmas Tree. I’ve since banzai’d it to have the look of a Canopy Palm, if you can believe that! It is about 3 ft tall and has 4 trunks leading up to a few top branches. It was an experiment that I was willing to lose the plant over, but it has stayed strong. I keep it by the south facing sliding glass doors in indirect light and water just once a month.

    • Hi there Brad, you love your plant as much as I do mine ( don’t care if it lives or dies ;-} ). I water mine weekly, sometimes more, but on occasion I know it is getting too dry when it starts getting golden brown branches that fall off. Even though I have a big garden, I’m not a house plant person either. I think it depends on the house you have. My old house had deep windowsills and radiators to put plants on. This house is a 50’s modern, and even though I have a lot of windows, there are not places for plants. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Leisa & Derek says:

    We had our north fork pine now for over 8 years, we not done any thing special to ours. Every now and then I feed it sugar water, it still as beautiful as day I bought it for my husband.

    • Hi there L & D, mine is almost 21 years old; it was a gift given to my sister when my father died. As much as I like plants outside, I’m not a house plant person, but because of the reason the gift was given, I keep it. I’ve re-potted it once, give it an occasional trimming, and just give it water as needed. I think I’ve gave it fertilizer just once in all the years that I’ve owned it. From my comment you probably realize that I would like it gone, but it still wants to live here, no matter what, so I let it stay ;-}

  6. Angela Jones says:

    I absolutely hate my Norfolk pine. Its roots are devasting, it ripped up my driveway.
    Now have new driveway but I know its roots will come through that like before.
    I want to kill the roots how do it do that. They are the size of my legs so I cannt dig them out.
    Just want a something that I can pour onto it.

    • Hi there Angela, do you have an electric drill? If so, insert a big “bit” in it and make many holes in the roots of the Norfolk Pine. You could possibly then pour some RoundUp in the holes and see if that kills the plant. Good luck with your project, that is the about the best suggestion I can give.

  7. Kathi says:

    Hi, Fred:
    My Norfolk Pine and I have lived together for nearly 35 years, he moves wherever I move. Like your tree, mine was a gift from my sister, therefore, he carries heavy sentimental significance. He is large and healthy. Every May, several strong men move him to my patio and inside, again, in October. I live in PA so he cannot over winter outside. Mr Tree is over nine feet tall and currently needs a trim, which leads me to you. I started looking into what time of year is ideal for giving him a haircut. After reading online that trimming may stop growth, after all of these years I started wondering if he truly is a Norfolk Pine. Here’s the reason I now question his species: about 15 years ago I gave him a severe trim (to 4′ tall) and started with his trunk. Out of that cut came two sprouts of trunk that are now both four feet. Misting, which I started after this dramatic trim, creates continuous new light green sprouts. Over the years I have trimmed his branches and I spray him several times over winter and in summer, and growth continues. So my questions are: is Spring a good time to trim a tree that lives inside but moves outside for warm weather, and do you think it’s likely he is different tree species because he grows after trims? Thank you.

    • Hi there Kathi, all trees, no matter what kind, will try to “right” themselves no matter what. All trees have a terminal bud, which is the main leader of the tree. If the main leader is cut off, the tree will then start forming a new one, or possibly two to keep the plant growing taller. As for trimming a Norfolk Pine, do it anytime of year as you want. I gave mine a hair cut before Christmas, when it was moved to an upstairs bedroom for a month (my real Christmas tree took its place).

      The new light green sprouts that show up are new growth tips that come at the ends of branches that have been trimmed. So I say to you, be brave and slowly trim the Norfolk Pine. Put it in a spot where you can walk around and look at it from every angle as you are giving it a trim. I really neglect my tree, and only re-potted it once, never give it any plant food, and even let it dry out, and the darn thing keeps living on. Kathi good luck with your gardening project!

  8. Karen says:

    Hello Fred,
    I was so happy to read your post about how to trim a Norfolk Pine. All the other info I found online said that they can’t be pruned. My 20+ year-old NIP, at 8.5′, had just hit the ceiling, and something needed to be done.
    Today I nipped of her top, and sculpted her as you suggested. I’m very pleased with how she looks, and I think that she’s happy too. Also, I now have more room for the dining room table. She was starting to reach for the food…

    • Hi there Karen, my Norfolk Island Pine is almost 22 years old, it was a gift for my sister, from a lady that she worked with, when my father died. My sister is not a plant person, so she passed it on to me. I had houseplants at my old house, as I had wide windowsills and radiators to put them on, but in this house I have a lot of big windows, but it is not a plant friendly place. I took the Norfolk Island pine, but never was in “love” with it. It keeps living through multiple branch cuts, not getting a watering all the time, and I’ve only re-potted it once. That plant will not die, no matter what. So your plant will do just fine. Glad you were brave enough to reshape the NIP to what you wanted. Karen, thanks for your comment.

  9. Anthony says:

    Hey Fred! I just bought a Norfolk pine today, its about 2 feet tall without pot, I got it at Walmart. how fast do they grow? how many feet a year?

    • Hi there Anthony, not really fast growing, maybe 6 to 8 inches a year. Really easy to keep compacted as you want. Let it grow to the height that’s right for you, then pinch or snip off the terminal bud, which is the top of the tree. The tree will start to try getting wider and to make a new terminal bud. When it starts to form, pinch it out. Trim branches as needed to keep the shape you want. Mother nature has a way of trying to right, a wrong, as in this case, your pinching and trimming. In a way the Norfolk Island Pine is just the same as any kind of foundation plant that grows outside. Occasionally it needs a neatening up. Happy 2020 to you ;-}

  10. Michael Di Marco says:

    I’m considering planting a Norfolk Island Pine in a 30 gallon pot outside. I’m told the pine likes being rootbound and will stunt its growth. Any idea maximum height will be? Is it true it will be perfectly fine rootbound?

    • Hi there Michael, in the last 24 years, I’ve only replanted my Norfolk Island Pine one time, and no matter how poorly I treat it, it will not die, and keeps trying to send up new growth shoots, no matter how often I give it a hair cut. I don’t know how tall yours might naturally get, but you can grow it as tall as you want, and then give it a trim to keep its shape and size to your liking.

  11. James Dean says:

    My wife’s Norfolk Island Pine is about 25 years old and outgrew the garage’s 13′ ceiling Fall 2019. It is Fall 2020 and dilemma is where to put it. Was thinking of building a large vertical greenhouse and letting it take root in the yard for the Winter. That is getting kind of permanent; we have too much stuff but should we part with our old friend? Was thinking of donating it to a museum.

    • Hi there James, be merciless with it and take a pruning shear to it and cut it down to a size that would now work for you. If you are thinking about giving it away, I would first hack the thing to death, and see how it looks after you trim its height and width. If it looks like hell, or even dies, soo what. It has served you for 25 years, and it might be time for it to change, or make room for something else in your house. Good Luck with the project, and what ever you do, it will be right. Though, forget the greenhouse, if all else fails, buy a new Norfolk Island Pine and start again.

  12. Micheke McCullough says:

    My late brother and sister-in-law have a print of yours signed and dated 1977. It looks like flowers on a porch. I need to know what it is worth? Michele McCullough

  13. Carmel Bechard says:

    Hi! Just thought I’d weigh in on the topic.
    I have a Norfolk Island Pine about 5 and a half feet tall (from the top of the pot to the tip). She was given to me from a close friend almost five years ago. Named her Misty. Last May she started losing her lowest “wheel” of branches. I started freaking out and thought for sure I was going to lose her. Tried everything – fertilizing, a little more watering here, cutting back on water there, misting her, but she she kept losing the lower branches. It was driving me crazy. Then a friend at the local garden store in my town suggested an LED light because she wasn’t getting enough light. I bought the most powerful LED I could find online and I kept a careful watering and feeding schedule. Sure enough, Misty stopped losing branches, although it took a lot of time and patience to see improvement. So since then she has developed a new tip at the top that I know will soon touch the ceiling but the new “wheel” of branches are sprouting out of it nicely! She’s kind of looks like a firework umbrella now, getting a little top heavy since her other wheels of branches seem to be widening out (where the LED light is hitting her).
    She’s now getting to the size of needing a three season room or a conservatory. But right now she’s much happier. I also have a humidifier constantly going near her. But no, I’m NOT cutting off her tip, come heck or hight water. Lol!

  14. Leslie says:

    Hi there. I inherited a large potted Norfolk in my patio from the previous tenant. It’s not in the greatest shape (literally) and while I don’t love the tree, I would like to help it out.

    To start, several lower branches were yellowing and others were growing against the patio fence. I chopped some of the dying branches off before researching how to care for this tree. the lower portion is kinda bare looking now.

    I’ve been considering repotting the tree to correct it’s lean but at 7-8ft tall it’s heavy. The top looks healthy but unfortunately once the trunk bumped against the fence it changed its lean; there’s a curve to the trunk shape. I found your article by researching if it’d be okay to chop some of the top off. I wondered how much would be too much to cut, would it still continue to grow?

    Oonce I finally get around to repotting, it’s location is in a corner and I’d mostly keep it in the same spot except give it more room from the fence (limited area to work with). How likely are new branches to grow from the lower trunk? Can I do something to encourage new branches? Should I consider a container that can be rotated to even its sun exposure?

    Thanks for taking the time to read!

  15. I’ll bet we have the oldest Norfolk Pine where we live. It is 20-25 years old and doesn’t fit in our garage which is very high. Really like to know if I should cut it. After this many years it seems a pity.

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