Most people are familiar with the pineapple and its juicy fruit. But did you know that you can grow pineapples here in Florida?
Pineapples are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. Understandably, they do best in areas that have consistently warm temperatures and are protected from freezing. However, pineapple plants are grown in protected locations in landscapes throughout Florida. They are a slow-growing crop but, if you have a pineapple top bound for the garbage, growing pineapples can be a tasty experiment.
Pineapple, or piña (Ananas comosus), is a perennial, tropical plant. It is a member of the botanical family Bromeliaceae (bromeliads) and a relative of tillandsia and Spanish moss. Unlike most bromeliads, pineapples are terrestrial, meaning they prefer to grow in soil at ground level. Fully grown pineapples are a rosette of long, sword-like leaves, arranged around a short stem. Mature plants grow to between 3 and 6 feet high and wide. Some varieties have spines along their leaves; others are spineless.
Pineapples propagate vegetatively (without flowers) in a variety ways. The crown of leaves at the top of the fruit can be planted. This is the most common source for home gardeners adding pineapples to their landscape. A number of kinds of pups (offshoots of the parent plant) also grow along a pineapple's stem, below the fruit. These are called slips, suckers, or hapas depending where on the plant they grow. Pups also emerge from the stem below ground and then are called ratoons.
The pineapple fruit itself is a seedless syncarp, a single fruit made up of many individual flowers. Pineapples are self-incompatible and, as a result, generally seedless. Unless you have different pineapple varieties planted closely together your fruit will not have seeds.
There are several varieties of pineapples sold in the U.S. The most common are 'Del Monte Gold'® (also called 'MD2') and 'Tropical Gold'®. 'Smooth Cayenne' was once the most common variety grown and is still found occasionally. Other less common varieties include 'Red Spanish', 'Singapore Spanish', 'Green Spanish', 'Sugarloaf ', and 'Queen'.
Planting and Care
You can start your own pineapple plant by saving the top section of a store-bought pineapple. This is called the crown of the pineapple. First, remove any excess fruit and remove a few of the lower leaves. This should expose the pre-formed roots. Plant the crown 3 to 4 inches deep in a well-drained container with good potting soil.
You can also start a new pineapple plant by planting a pup or by transplanting a ratoon. The larger the pup is when you remove it from the parent plant, the faster it will reach maturity when planted on its own. Air dry pups in the shade for a day or two before planting them.
Plant pineapple pups or crowns in full sun, leaving 1 to 3 feet between individual plants. Pineapples prefer moderately fertile, well-drained, sandy loam soils. Specific directions for planting in sandy, rockland, or mounded soil is available in the UF/IFAS publication, "Pineapple Growing in the Florida Home Landscape." Pineapple plants will also grow happily in 3 to 7 gallon containers. In general, the larger the container, the larger the plant (and the fruit).
Pineapples are fairly drought tolerant but do best when watered during dry periods. In sandy soils you may need to water about once a week. If the older leaves are wilting and drying out, your pineapple is underwatered. Mulching around the plant can suppress weeds and help the soil retain water. Fertilize young plants with a balanced fertilizer about every two months during the dry period of the year.
Freezing temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit will kill a pineapple plant. Protect them from frost or bring containers inside to avoid freeze damage. Temperatures below 60F or above 90F will slow a pineapple's growth but are not damaging.
Pineapples are vulnerable to root rot. This can be prevented by avoiding long periods of high soil moisture. Nematodes, scales, and mealy bugs are the most common pests. Pineapples are also attractive to small mammals; plan ahead to protect the maturing fruit. You may pick the fruit early, when it is full-sized but still green. Allow any underripe fruit to ripen at room temperature.
Waiting for Fruit
Gardeners looking for a lesson in patience will find one as they wait for a pineapple harvest. Plants take about 14 to 18 months to reach mature size. Times vary based on cultural practices and on whether you began with a crown, a sucker, or a slip.
Once the plant is mature and has about 70-80 leaves, a flower stem begins to form. Flowers begin opening after about 50 days. Individual flowers remain open for only a day, but the plant continues flowering for 20-40 days before the fruit begins to develop. Depending on the climate, variety, and care, a home gardener will wait five to seven additional months for the fruit to ripen.
All told, your patience will be rewarded about 18 to 32 months after you plant. When it smells ripe and the peel has changed from green to golden brown, it's ready to eat!
Only one fruit is produced per pineapple plant. Sometimes you can harvest a second crop, the ratoon crop. Remove all pups but one ratoon (a pup emerging from underground). This pup will develop into a mature plant and produce a fruit in the same space. A second harvest gives you time to plant the largest of the pups you removed and bring them to maturity. By alternating between new plants and ratoon harvests you can enjoy a continuous supply of pineapples.
Flowering in pineapples is a response to cold temperatures (below 60 degrees). A pineapple plant can be forced to flower out of season once it is at least 16 months old. You can learn more about forcing pineapples to flower in "Pineapple Growing in the Florida Home Landscape."
For more information about pineapples, contact your local Extension office.