What to do this week
by Mark Govan, Host “
There are few fruiting plants that can be grown as easily as the pineapple. Pineapples can be a great specimen plant for the garden or accent for any porch or walkway. I have several pineapples growing in my landscape and they make an attractive border plant. The great thing about pineapples is that not only can you enjoy them while they are growing but when they finally produce a fruit (usually in about twenty-four months) pineapples can be brought in and enjoyed at the table. In this segment we will discuss the proper selection of pineapples, how to plant and care for your pineapples, and when to harvest your pineapples from the garden.
My first introduction to growing pineapples was from a customer of my company who grew all of his pineapples in containers. That day I counted over twenty pineapples lining his small driveway from the curb to his carport. He had at least ten plants on each side and I was impressed because some of the plants even had baby pineapples growing on them. Because I had never grown a pineapple before I was very interested. Since then I have learned a lot about growing pineapples and the first thing you need to learn about is selection.
Because many of us do not like to spend money purchasing pineapples grown from culture, I will start with the typical pineapple you may purchase from the local grocery store. Any pineapple will do. Just pick out a ripe specimen with strong foliage and take the plant home and cut the top of the pineapple off. Many local supermarkets use pineapples to create ready made fruit dishes and if you ask the grocer, he or she may give you several pineapple tops without you having to purchase one. This simple trick will save you a few dollars and you may walk out of the store with a half dozen tops! If you have to purchase one you will need to cut the top off about one half to three quarters of an inch below the foliage. Once this is cut off, set the top portion with the foliage upright on a paper towel. I like to let the fleshy part of the pineapple dry out in a cool spot for a few days.
If you try to plant the top of the pineapple while the pineapple pulp is still moist, you may allow fungi to enter the plant and kill the top. After the pineapple has hardened off for a few days, I like to remove several of the lower leaves from the top. Just pull the leaves straight down and they should tear or rip from the stem. If you look closely at the area where you have removed the leaves you will notice small bumps on the stem in this area. This is where the new roots will emerge when the plant starts to grow. Some people think the roots come from the pulpy area of the pineapple but they do not. Once this pulp area dries out your pineapple top will be supported by this ring during the rooting process.
Those of you that are already growing pineapples may notice growths protruding from the newly formed pineapple. These growths all have separate names. Suckers grow from the axils of the leaves on new pineapples. Slips or hapas grow from the base of the fruit, and ratoons grow from the underground portions of the stem. If you have any of these currently growing then I suggest you cut these off only when they have achieved adequate size for planting. Adequate size means that they need to be at least six to eight inches in size. The ratoons, if left in place, could also produce a second pineapple without having to repot them. Just allow these to continue to grow. Suckers grown from the top foliage of pineapples are not as high of quality for producing large pineapples as the hapas or slips which grow from the bottom of the plant. If you want to grow pineapples from culture, many nurseries carry hybrid varieties such as the Sugarloaf which tends to grow larger pineapples and has a better flavor than the ones purchased from the grocery store.
I like to start all my pineapples in one gallon containers. Use a regular potting soil available at any garden center and fill the pot about three quarters full. Now place the pineapple top in the pot and add enough potting soil to cover about an inch of the foliage. This is the same procedure when planting any of the suckers, slips, or hapas mentioned above. Again, be sure they are at least six to eight inches in size and put each one in an individual one gallon container. Once planted into the container, tamp down the soil around the top to secure the plant from moving. Add water to help settle the plant in place. Place the newly potted plant in a sunny area and remember to water the plant to keep the soil medium moist but not wet. Roots will develop in about six weeks. Once the plant outgrows the one gallon pot (about six to eight months) you will need to repot the plant into a three gallon container. If you prefer, instead of stepping up your one gallon pots to three gallon pots, you can plant your one gallon plants directly into the ground at this point. Note that plants growing in our native soils require more fertilizer, fungicide applications to combat stem rots, and they may develop insect problems. Make sure you plant in full sun and fertilize them every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer such as Peters or Miracle Grow at a one half strength solution.
As your plant continues to grow the leaves will enlarge. Most plants are ready to produce a pineapple in about eighteen to twenty four months. Some plants will produce on their own while others need to be forced into producing a pineapple. If your plant is of size (about three feet across), and has not yet started to produce a pineapple you can help this process along by slicing a ripe apple and placing a quarter section of the apple into the center of the pineapple plant. Cover this apple with a small piece of saran wrap to trap the ethylene gas which is produced by the rotting apple. Ethylene gas is necessary to force the pineapple to bloom which is where your pineapple comes from. You can also use a granular product called Bangsite. Bangsite (Calcium Carbide) is a product sold in sporting goods stores for use in celebratory cannons. Just a few granules placed in the center of the pineapple plant will force the pineapple to go into bloom.
Once the pineapple starts to grow you can expect at least three to four months to pass until the fruit starts to ripen. Pineapples ripen from the bottom up so watch for the slight change of color and the distinct pineapple smell. This is time to pick your fruit before the neighbors or armadillos find it first. The pineapple will finish ripening in the home. One you harvest the pineapple the mother plant will die. Any ratoons left on the plant will continue to grow and may produce a new pineapple depending on time of year.
Problems to look for as your pineapple plant grows are mealy bugs which are tiny white colored insects which suck juice from the plant. They are normally found both on the fruit and on the lower stem and leaves. Use Sevin Dust to control them. Another problem with pineapples planted in our native soils is a fungal rot of the stem. This problem causes the leaves to detach from the stem in mass. A systemic fungicide such as Daconil can help control this problem. Other than these few problems pineapples are fun to grow!
I hope you enjoyed this section on Pineapples and Thank you for your support and remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!