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This house plant makes an alternative Christmas tree

The Norfolk Island pine is a house plant through the year but can be decorated to make an alternative Christmas tree in December. (DAVID T. FOSTER III / TNS)
The Norfolk Island pine is a house plant through the year but can be decorated to make an alternative Christmas tree in December. (DAVID T. FOSTER III / TNS)
By Nancy Brachey Tribune News Service

Many dwellers of small apartments or condos face an annual problem in December: What do we do about the Christmas tree? Do we take out the odd chair or end table? Do we just forget about a tree and hang a stuffed Santa somewhere? What to do?

Well, first of all, even in the smallest of quarters, you can find room for a Christmas tree, but one that is a little different and one that will last well beyond New Year’s Day.

It is a Norfolk Island pine, growing in a pot of soil and showing up in all sizes, including a short 2 to 3 three-footer that is ideal for a table top in a small apartment or retirement home.

These plants have proven such a success in the marketplace as an alternative Christmas tree that they are sold widely in garden centers and even grocery stores. Some may be quite large, five feet or higher that can sit on the floor in a corner, but it is the shorter ones for table tops that appeal to those with a small home.

This is a basic house plant that will be with you all year, but in December it can be laden with ornaments such as small-beaded garlands, a string of lights and the smallest glass ornaments.

The shape of this tree lends itself to these decorations because the branches tend to be layered horizontally with a nice space between layers. That is why garlands of small beads look so good. This also makes it easy to install a string of small electric lights in the plants interior. If you are not keen to go this far, the simple addition of small red bows or small birds will look seasonal.

This is not a plant to cast off once you take away the decorations. The Norfolk Island pine is a worthy house plant that will look good through the year in a sunny window with regular watering. It is an easy plant that grows rather slowly indoors but requires little fuss or bother.

It is a warm-winter plant having originated in the South Pacific on a place called, of course, Norfolk Island. It will not survive winter outdoors in the Piedmont. But it will prosper given the outdoor treatment with a bit of shade such as a porch from about May to October. That should encourage more robust growth than life indoors by a window. But it is not necessary to put it outdoors.

Correct watering is essential. Make sure the pot is sitting in a saucer so that water will not leak onto the furniture and harm paint or other finishes. Water when the soil dries out and you can judge this by sticking your finger into the top inch or so of the soil in the pot.

Water it thoroughly until water seeps out the bottom of the pot. Do not let water stand in the saucer. Through the winter, this should be needed no more than once a week.

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