How To Grow A Pineapple
Pineapples are bromeliads. Herbaceous plants from the new world tropics that grow berries. Each bract on the outside of a pineapple represents one flower. Each flower produces a berry, and the berries coalesce to seemingly form one large fruit. While it's true that pineapple plants produce only one fruit, new plants grow around the original creating a perennial feel.
Pineapples (Ananas comosus) grow up to five feet high and three to four feet wide. The foliage includes long sword-like leaves that are spiky or smooth depending on variety. The leaves emerge from a central stalk which will also produce a flowering shoot after 18 months of growth.
The flowering shoot will bloom with up to 200 blossoms. Growing unpollinated fruit means fruit without seeds, so most pineapples are prevented from becoming pollinated. In the wild hummingbirds are the pineapples more active pollinator. It takes 24 months to grow a pineapple plant to harvest.
Pineapples should be left to ripen on the plant. Most commercial harvests occur when the fruit is still green in order to gain a longer shelf-life. Fruit will sweeten off of the plant, but it won’t ripen into a mature flavor.
In USDA zones 10 and 11, plant pineapples directly into the garden at any time of year. If you are fortunate enough to know where pineapples are growing, cut off the new shoots or slips from around the central stalk. These are propagative growth and when planted will form a new pineapple plant. Commercial growers mainly propagate using vegetative slips.
Another way to propagate pineapple plants is from the tops of the fruit. The gree pineapple top that is usually cut off and discarded can become a new pineapple plant.
Propagating from tops
Choose a fruit from the store or market with a green top that looks alive. It should not have yellowing or broken leaves. Check for insects in the pockets of the crown, and lightly tug on the leaves to make sure they won’t come off.
The size of the fruit attached isn’t necessarily an example of what you can achieve by growing them. Fruit size is dependent on many factors including quality of growing conditions, time of year planted, and whether it was a central fruit or an offshoot.
Take the fruit home and twist off the green top. Use the fruit in endless ways. It can be eaten raw, juiced, baked, grilled, candied, and more. Around the base of the top are leaves that come off of a central crown in layers. Remove several layers of leaves from around the base. This exposes small white nubbins, which are going to become new roots.
Gardeners prepare the pineapple top for planting in different ways. First, leave it on the counter for five to seven days to harden off. Once hardened, you can pot it directly into the soil or you can sprout roots in a bowl of water.
Use toothpicks to suspend the plant above the bottom of a bowl. Stick three to four of them into the sides until it rests on the rim of the dish with the exposed bottom part below the rim.
Fill the bowl so the white nubbins are under water. Replace the water every few days to keep in fresh. Leave the plant in a sunny window with plenty of warmth. Within two weeks it will begin to grow roots.
Many gardeners claim that not soaking the top and planting it directly into soil gets the best results. It is a fun experiment to do with kids, and the plant will grow after being soaked. It is not necessary to root a new pineapple plant.
Plant pineapples in cultivated, well-draining soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. Lightly set them into place, do not pack the soil down or bury them. Being related to air-plants, they use their roots mainly for stabilization and less for nutrient collection. Some compost mixed into the soil helps to feed them over time.
If planting in a container, use a well-draining potting soil that has compost pre-mixed. Begin with a six-inch garden pot, knowing that you’ll need to transplant the pineapple as it grows.
Pineapple plants need full sun or six hours of direct light per day. If you don’t have a window that receives direct sunlight, you may have to supplement lighting with artificial bulbs.
Plants can be shuffled out into the garden during warm seasons when there is no danger of frost. Bring them inside during the winter. Pineapples grown in containers take up to three years to fruit. Pineapples in the ground can fruit in 24 months.
Pineapples prefer two types of feeding. Twice a month they enjoy a soil soak with a half-strength well balanced organic liquid fertilizer. Then three times a year it’s beneficial to do a foliar spray.
Purchase excellent organic products at garden supply stores. You can also make compost tea from some balanced, aerobic compost. Dilute the tea to half-strength using any number of available recipes. Use this as your one or twice a month feed.
Foliar sprays are effective for pest and disease prevention as well as nutrient intake. Bromeliads like pineapples take in a lot of nutrients and moisture through their leaves. Some great ingredients for a foliar spray include:
- Compost Tea: In addition to regular soil soaks, adding some compost tea to a foliar spray helps to protect and feed the plant.
- Espom Salt: These natural minerals add manganese and sulfur to your foliar feed. Manganese is particularly beneficial for pineapples.
- Iron: Ferrous iron sulfate is a supplement that is available in liquid for and can be added to a foliar spray. Pineapples like slightly acidic and iron rich environments.
- Urine: If a nitrogen boost is needed, urine is an excellent source. It is sterile and easy to dilute and deliver.
Keep soil relatively moist allowing it to get dry occasionally. A high-humidity environment best mimicks the pineapples natural habitat. When watering, pour the water over the foliage and allow it to fill the pockets at the base of the leave.
To see if a plant needs water, check the leaf pockets. If they are full, then it can still get a drink.
Harvesting and Propagation
You’ve put two or three years into this plant, and it is time to harvest a pineapple. Allow the fruit to ripen on the plant for the best flavor. Ripening will begin at the bottom of the fruit and move upward. It will turn from green to golden, bronze, or yellow depending on the variety grown. The small bracts will flatten signaling that it’s harvest time.
Cut the pineapple at the base but leave as much stem as possible on the plant. More plants will grow from this stem. Many home gardeners leave the plant as-is and allow the slips and suckers located at the base of the plant to grow in place.
Other gardeners remove this growth and plant it separately. Each new shoot will become a new pineapple. Once you’ve got a garden of them, you’ll never have to go without pineapples. Time your plantings to produce a continuous harvest.
Storage and Preservation
Ripe pineapples will keep on the counter for up to a week. Pineapples from the store will only keep for three days. If they are not eaten by this time, they should be stored in the fridge. Core them, peel them, skin them, and cut the fruit into shapes that are easy to work with. Store cut fruit in the fridge for a week and a half.
Preserve pineapple in a variety of ways. The most common method is canning in a light sugar syrup. This does not require a pressure cooker only a water-bath method. Canned pineapple is a delight that will keep in the pantry for years to come.
Freeze pineapple for a wonderful summer popsicle or to use later. Frozen fruit will keep for up to a year depending on the freezing method.
Dried pineapple is potentially the most economical method. It will keep for years with no electricity required. Dried pineapple is like a sweet, chewy candy. You can dry fruit in a dehydrator or simply in the sun.