Norfolk Island Pine problems
I live in Galveston, Texas. 1/4 miles from Gulf of Mexico, I have an in-ground 2-3 yr-old Norfolk Island Pine that is not thriving. 4+ ft tall. In full sun 1/2+ day, good drainage, occasional Miracle-Grow All Purpose fertilizer, thorough watering in dry times. Problems: Lower branches turning brown & drying out; browning and desiccation is creeping up toward the crown; good branches are pale green. Poor growth rate? Red ants near base. Base surrounded by dollar weed. Norfolk Island Pines grow tall and lush and dark green on the Island. What's wrong with my little tree?
Sorry to say, Galveston is just barely on the edge of this plant's comfort zone. In its home range it lives in a very narrow zone 10-11. Galveston is zone 9. This means in a series of good years the tree might be able to handle life on the edge. However those recent mid-November lows in the low 40's and high 30's were just too cold for this tropical.
From the photo it looks like there is a slope to your yard. Cold can flow across the landscape just like water, and even "puddle" in low areas. If you give that little tree some better shelter and protection from flowing cold, it might recover. Unfortunately, those damaged lower branches won't recover, but the tip seems to still be doing well. An older, stronger, larger Norfolk Pine might be able to handle the recent cold better. Just be aware that Galveston is still really out of this plant's zone.
However, they do make excellent houseplants and can be grown in large pots outdoors most of the year and covered or wheeled inside during those very rare cold snaps.
Here is an article from your local Texas Extension Agent on the drawbacks of Norfolk Pines in Galveston: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCwQFjAC...
Hope that helps.
Thank you for your help. I can see how you perceive a slope on my yard; it's actually not sloped - something about my photo makes it looks that way.
I'm afraid my Norfolk Island pine will have to be put down. It quickly deteriorated after I posted my question and photo. It is browning up to the tip. No hope, I'm afraid. I am still mystified, however, that these trees are all over town but not in my back yard! (There is rumor that my landlady sprays weed killer...)
Thank you again.
Sorry the Norfolk Pine isn't going to make it. Older trees have more resources to deal with stress that the young trees don't. This one might have made it if it had a few more years before the cold hit.
However, the cold was only the most likely possible cause. As long as you are removing it anyway, you might also check the root system for insects or signs of stress. There are so many reasons it could have been which more information could help narrow down.
If you would like a more definitive answer, I would suggest you take a sample of the branches and roots into your local Extension Office and allow the researchers there get a good look at the plant. The Galveston Master Gardeners are also a very good group to consult -- also at the Extension office. This service is usually free. Having an actual plant sample provides much more information than even a photo.
If you'd like to select a new tree that is better suited to the area, plese check out this guide to the best trees for Texas: http://texastreeplanting.tamu.edu/