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I purchased a Norfolk Island Pine that's about 4 feet tall (20 bucks at Home Depot!) to replace the one I got last year, that I put in a large ceramic pot (14 inches high, 15 inches across), because the old one went from being bright green and cherry to a duller tone along with a lot of branches over the past year that have turned brown and fallen off.

When I pulled out the old one, I noticed the soil at the very bottom of the ceramic pot was pretty wet. The pot doesn't have holes for drainage, but I inherited a few nice houseplants from a neighbor that have been in large pots of the same size, that don't have drainage and seem to do pretty well. (Although those are traditional house plants that seem to need to be watered less, and are pretty maintenance free.)

Long story long, I don't want to repeat the same mistake as the one from last year. Any suggestions as to what to do to prevent water build up, as well as tips for keeping this lovely little tree in beautiful condition? I don't know much about gardening, but I really enjoy having plants in my apartment, and the little pine tree is a nice alternative to a Christmas tree, that I can (ideally, with the right care), have and love year round!

Much appreciated!

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As is this is not going to work. Norfolk Island Pines are fussy plants indoors even in the best of environments. Without drainage you will get anaerobic conditions at the bottom of the pot and it will be downhill from there.

Where I have seen them do well is bright diffuse light and cool conditions which mimic the conditions where it grows naturally. I speak from experience when I advise not to let the branches touch a cold window as the ends will die back.

Room temperatures of 18 °C (64 °F) (in summer). In winter, the plant needs a bright room that should be at least between 5 and 10 °C (41 and 50 °F).

To give it the drainage it needs:

  • take it out and plant it in a grower's pot that fits inside the decorative pot. Put some coarse gravel in the bottom of the decorative pot so the grower's pot sits a bit above the bottom of the decorative pot
  • after watering do not let the plant sit in water, drain the pot
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    I agree 100% with kevinsky - repot it into something smaller that has drainage holes. There is one minor option you can try that will lighten the decorative pot/other plant combination—in place of gravel you can use styrofoam packing peanuts. Also, depending on whether you have a water softener or not... if you don't and do have a laundry tub, water the Norfolk Island Pine by taking the grower's pot out of the decorative pot and water it in the laundry tub. Let drain for an hour or so and then put it back into the other pot. – Jurp Dec 1 '20 at 1:37
  • This is fantastic advice, I really appreciate both of you sharing such detailed information. It's a bummer I can't just plop it in the nice ceramic pot the way my houseplants are, but I'd rather learn from both of your experiences and do it right this time! As for the grower's pot to put into the decorative pot - would the plastic pot it came in be sufficient? It has holes for drainage. Although if it stays in the relatively small plastic pot it came in, would that be bad for it, rather than a much larger pot? Thanks again. – Jv74 Dec 3 '20 at 2:18
  • @Jv74 Yes, the plastic pot it came in is just fine. It is not likely to need repotting for a few years so you can plan for that. – kevinskio Dec 3 '20 at 11:34
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Some people love ceramic pots so much, they drill drainage holes into them. I did not try it myself but it can be an option. Although I would highlight the following:

  • It has a risk of ruining the pot which you might not want to take with a large and expensive pot. You can experiment with a smaller pot first you do not mind breaking accidentally.
  • You might need extra equipment, like more special drill bits.
  • Not all ceramic pots are suitable as ones can be more fragile than others.

So stay cautious and safety comes first.

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    I have drilled holes in pots with mixed results. You can use tile or masonry bits but will get better results with diamond tip bits or top of the line hole saw that is diamond tipped. Going too fast or cheap tools can crack the pot or result in a hole that can cause cracks later if water gets in – kevinskio Dec 17 '20 at 14:09
  • @kevinsky Thanks for sharing your experience. I personally always go what you have described in your answer, nursery pot + cover pot but wanted to share that there are other ways if someone is willing to experiment. :) – Bence Kaulics Dec 17 '20 at 14:35

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