How Do Pineapples Grow?
Although its name suggests otherwise, a pineapple is neither a pine nor an apple. A pineapple fruit consists of a group of berries that have grown/fused together, so yes, the pineapple is a berry.
Pineapple grows best in a tropical climate where days are sunny and hot and nights are mild.
They have to be carefully planted in well-prepared soil. It takes anywhere from 16 to 24 months to harvest the first ripe and juicy pineapple and another 13 months for the second harvest.
If one wants to grow pineapples in significant numbers, one needs a place that is sunny and warm all year round. But once they are planted at the right spot in such an environment, they multiply quickly with almost no care, and the grower eventually ends up with lots of pineapples. They can even be grown indoors in containers.
Lifecycle of Pineapple
Pineapple (Ananas cosmosus) is a perennial tropical plant belonging to the Bromeliaceae family and grows outdoors in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10, 11, and 12. But it also grows well as a decorative indoor plant in any climate.
Pineapple is reproduced from seeds or the crown of the fruit or the suckers or slips of a mature plant. Knowing about the lifecycle of pineapples can give one a better idea of how to grow their own pineapple at home.
As mentioned earlier, pineapple can be grown from seeds, the crown of the fruit, or suckers or slips, which are tiny plantlets growing from roots and stalks.
Seeds can be germinated by keeping them on a wet paper towel inside a closed glass jar. The top of the fruit can be planted in various ways, i.e., rooting in water, planting directly in the soil, etc. Suckers and slips can be removed from the main plant and planted separately.
Growth of Leaves and Roots
The newly planted crown, suckers, and slips will first form roots, whereas germinated seeds will form leaves and roots and can be planted in soil.
Once the root system develops and starts absorbing water and nutrients from the soil, foliage growth will start. Evenly moist soil is ideal for the best growth of leaves and roots.
The plant should get a good amount of sunlight and a temperature ranging from 65°F to 85°F for healthy growth. Growers can apply a soluble houseplant fertilizer once a month to provide the plant with sufficient nutrients to continue healthy growth.
Flowering and Fruiting
The pineapple plant blooms only after attaining full maturity, which can take 2-3 years. Pineapples, particularly grown as houseplants, may not be willing to bloom and fruit early.
Keeping the pineapple plant and a ripe apple together in a plastic bag for 3-4 days may help forced flowering because the apple will release ethylene gas that stimulates the pineapple to flower. However, this treatment too can make the plant bloom after up to 3 months.
After flowering, a fruit starts forming and becomes ready to pick once its scales turn from green to golden yellow.
Offsets (Suckers and Slips)
Although each pineapple plant can bloom and fruit only once, it often develops offsets once it starts blooming. These offsets are actually small plants growing off the main plant and can grow into mature plants and can bloom and fruit.
Growers should leave the offsets on the plant after they pick the pineapple and the parent plant starts declining. Then they can free the offsets from the parent plant’s root system and plant them in individual pots.
How to Plant a Pineapple?
For planting a pineapple, one can use its seeds or the top of a pineapple fruit or little plantlets, known as “suckers” or “pups”, or “slips” taken from a mature pineapple plant.
Planting with Seeds
Pineapple is rarely grown using seeds because seeds are rare. Most commercial varieties of pineapples are self-incompatible, i.e., they cannot self-pollinate to form seeds (because the production of seeds reduces the quality of the fruit).
If the grower finds a pineapple with seeds, the seeds are found just underneath the fruit’s skin and are typically black or dark brown in color and look like tiny specks.
They can be placed over a wet paper towel kept in a takeaway container. Then the grower should place the lid to avoid dehydration and keep the container out of sunlight, or else the seeds will cook.
Once green leaves start showing, the grower can transplant them into the soil.
Planting with the Top of the Fruit
In this method, there are mainly two approaches one can follow.
One of them is to avoid placing the fruit’s top in a glass of water. In the case of a pineapple top, it should be cured or dried for a couple of days before planting. In this method, the grower should make sure they remove all the fruit flesh from the piece to prevent a bacterial infection.
The remaining stem should be dry, bare, and clean before planting it in the soil if the grower is not going to put it in water. For drying this top, it should be left in an open space for a day or two.
The other approach is to put the pineapple top into the water to get a rooted stalk that can be transplanted eventually. If the grower uses water, they should ensure the bottom is fully immersed in water. They can even use toothpicks to keep it suspended at the mouth of the glass or jar of water. The grower will find roots formed in around 3 weeks.
However, the pineapple plant is so resilient that it grows with either of these approaches. So, the grower can proceed any way they want.
Some growers even prefer to cut an inch of the top of the fruit with a knife, so the top has a disc at its bottom. They plant this disc in the ground and claim that it works. On the other hand, some use the top of the fruit but without cleaning it.
All these methods actually work. Some are quicker, whereas some are cleaner than others. If a grower finds one method not working, they can use another method, and that’s it.
If the pineapple has been bought from a grocery shop, its top may already have a slight rot in the stem. One should cut it if it’s there, but if they cannot do that, they should use another top.
One should also remove all the small bottom leaves if they are there. The same is true for suckers. If they have dead leaves at their bottom, those leaves should be pulled off.
Now the grower should make a small hole in the ground or in the soil in the container and place the stem in it. Then the soil should be put back in the hole and should be firmed around the base so as to let the stem stand straight and not fall over.
In case the soil is dry, the grower should water it a little.
Planting with Suckers and Slips
Suckers or pups and slips are the organs from which too pineapple plants can be grown. Suckers originate from roots near the base of the stalk (also known as peduncles), whereas slips grow out of the stalk. Both these can turn into a fruiting plant.
One can remove them from the plant, root them, and can get a new pineapple plant. Plants grown from suckers and slips produce fruit quicker than that from a crown.
Slips start forming when the parent plant is around half-grown. One can break them off by hand in around 10 to 13 months after planting. Breaking off slips regularly helps the parent plant grow more ratoons.
Slips should be planted as soon as possible and should not be allowed to dry. One can see fruits as soon as 24 months after planting slips in the soil.
Suckers are larger than slips and grow from a bud. Hence one has to remove them with a knife. Since they tend to flower, yield and harvesting may be negatively affected. Thus, one can grow a plant from this stage but should keep in mind that there may be some problems. Also, if suckers are left unattended, a “ratoon crop” develops.
Planting with Hapas
Hapas form at the base of the peduncle and are of intermediate size, i.e., bigger than slips and smaller than suckers. They are much straighter in shape than slips (which are curved) and are easy to remove by hand.
Planting with Ratoons
Ratoons are small plants growing between the mother plant’s leaves and can grow as early as a year. They can be removed from the base of the mother plant with a gentle, twisting motion.
When to Grow a Pineapple?
One can grow pineapples all year round. They can plant them in any season. Pineapples don’t need very hot temperatures, but they should not go down 50-54° F (12° C). The plant may not survive at or below 32°F (0°C) temperature and severe temperature changes.
TIP: If the weather forecast of the grower’s area says that there will be a short period of cold weather, the grower should move their pineapples indoors if possible. They can bring the plants out again when the temperatures come to normal again.
The soil for growing pineapple should have a uniform texture, stability, and good drainage. Growers should ensure there is no fungus in the soil, as some pineapple varieties can be damaged by fungus.
Typically high-quality potting soil works well. The good idea is to use a standard quality potting mix in combination with some coco coir fibers for improved drainage. This combination contains everything that pineapple plants need.
Growers should avoid compacted soils and soils with a high amount of clay because such soils have poor drainage and a high degree of humidity. Pineapple doesn’t like such soils, and the high humidity also provides good ground for fungus growth which is not good for pineapples.
Pineapples prefer slightly acidic soils. The pH levels of the soil should range between 5 and 7. Too acidic or too alkaline soils can promote fungal growth. The exact level of pH needed depends on the variety of pineapple.
If the soil is not amended recently, a dose of calcium in the form of lime or gypsum may be good for pineapples.
Space Needed by a Pineapple Plant
A pineapple plant doesn’t have a big root system. However, the plant itself can grow to a huge size. Plus, the leaves of the plant are pretty spiky. Hence the grower should make sure to plant them in a place where they can spread without causing a problem.
There should be a gap of at least a meter between the plants. One can expect a healthy plant to grow a meter wide and a meter high.
The good news is that pineapple plants don’t need much water. If the grower lives in an area where there is water scarcity, they should just make sure their soil is thickly mulched so as to reduce water loss via evaporation.
A little shade is also preferable. But this depends on where the grower lives. The closer the grower’s area is to the tropical or subtropical region, the more shade their pineapples can handle. But if their climate is such that they need to grow pineapples indoors during winter, they will need all the sun they can receive in the summer.
If the grower’s area receives a lot of water, it’s great. It’s fine if the water sits in the rosette at the center of the plant. All the extra water will run off and drain away. However, it’s a waste, and the grower should avoid overwatering.
Pineapples don’t like soggy, waterlogged soils. Plus, as such, they get a lot of water and nutrition through their leaves. Hence growers should avoid a lot of watering that will stand in the soil. The soil should be well-draining.
As mentioned earlier, leaves are a pineapple’s organ through which it takes most of its water and nutrition. Especially during the first few months after planting, they are dependent only on leaves. Therefore the grower should make sure they spread the plant food on the leaves.
Growers should keep in mind that concentrated fertilizers will burn their pineapple. So, they should avoid them.
Instead, they should use liquid fertilizers such as seaweed extract or fish emulsion. These should be made into a very diluted solution and should be put on the plant and the surrounding soil using a watering can.
If growers use pelleted chicken manure, they should dust it on the soil very close to the plant’s base (as the root system is very small) and should make sure to dust some into the bottom leaves.
The best plant food, however, is a natural and organic one for which the growers don’t need to buy anything. Growers should mix compost in the soil before planting the pineapple and then mulch thickly around it. Mulch and compost sit in the bottom leaves, and as they break down, they feed the plant.
The color of the leaves is an indication of whether the plant is well-fed or not. If the leaves have a purplish red tinge on them, it shows that the pineapple is starving. However, growers need not worry because pineapples are hard to die.
Plus, they usually get the purplish tinge in the first few months and then grow out of it. However, growers should remember that a well-fed plant gives bigger, juicier, and tastier pineapples more quickly.
Flowering and Fruiting Time
The fruiting time of pineapple depends on the variety, the grower’s climate, the care taken, and also whether the grower has planted the top, suckers/pups, or slips.
The flowering starts with a formation growing deep in the leaves. It’s round and textured. It will rise out of the plant and form a stem and then start fattening.
The grower can see small red or pink tendrils grown on the plant that open to form the ridges of the pineapple. As the fruit grows, the grower should keep watering it lightly.
When growers plant the tops of shop-bought fruits, the plant takes around 24 months to fruit and even longer if the climate is cold.
Plants from slips fruit within a year, and that from suckers take around 18 months to fruit.
Usually, a pineapple will bloom once it grows big enough. The better the grower looks after it, the happier it is, and the sooner it will bloom. If a grower grows pineapples outside their ideal (tropical) conditions, they take longer to flower and fruit.
Once a pineapple blooms, the grower needs to wait for another 6 months for the fruit to mature. Growing pineapples for fruit is thus a long-term process.
When the fruit starts turning yellow, it’s ready to harvest. In two situations, i.e., firstly, if the growers have four-legged marauders around and/or secondly, if the fruit seems to be sunburned, they should cut it immediately and leave it in an open and high space inside the house, like the kitchen platform, for a few days.
If there is no such situation, the grower can leave the fruit on the plant until it’s totally ripe and yellow. Now they can cut it, eat it and plant its top again.
Once the grower grows their first few pineapples, the process gets easier and quicker. A fully grown pineapple plant produces a lot of offspring, and the suckers and slips fruit much faster.
If the grower has adequate space, they can literally have hundreds of them within a few years. Once this happens, it no longer matters how long it takes for them to fruit. Some of them will always be fruiting, and the grower will continue to get fruits from some of the other plants.
Pests and Diseases
The smell of pineapples is extremely alluring; no wonder it attracts quite a few pests. Plus, the plant may contract certain diseases too. Growing pineapples thus becomes challenging due to these pests and diseases.
However, if one knows about them and how to deal with them, one can overcome the challenges.
Scale and Mealybugs
These pests love pineapple sap a lot, just like humans. Growers should regularly check the undersides of leaves for them.
Mealybugs are frizzy-looking insects producing wax-like fluffy substances around them. Scales, on the other hand, are not so obvious, as they hide under cottony or waxy covers. Both these pests can be treated with horticultural oil.
Growers can either spray it or dip the entire plant if mealybugs are observed at the bottom of the plant.
Nematodes of various types are attracted to pineapple plants, eventually causing a sickly plant with steadily declining health and reduced fruit production. Once they appear, nematodes are hard to go.
Hence a grower should prevent them in the first place from occurring. This can be achieved by using a clean and sterile growing medium.
For garden-grown pineapples, it’s recommended to have a three-year crop rotation with grasses like green foxtail grass. If nematodes are already present, one should keep on good watering and feeding practices, and then if the plant fruits successfully, dispose of it once the fruit is harvested.
Root Rot and Top Rot
These two are common fungal diseases that can be dealt with in the same way, although they result from different types of fungi.
The only indication of root rot is a distressed plant with drooping leaves, as if the plant is not watered enough. The sign of top rot is dead leaves around the center of the plant.
Both these fungi occur due to overwatering or poorly drained soil. In the case of potted plants, the grower should immediately repot the plant in clean and dry soil and change watering practices. In the case of outdoor plants, the grower should improve bed drainage and apply paper mulch.
Crookneck occurs in plants that are 12 to 15 months old or in suckers. It occurs due to zinc-deficient soil. Leaves at the center turn brittle, twisted, and yellow-green, while the plant may bend over and start growing in an almost horizontal position.
Over time, small blisters will develop, eventually turning into gray-brown sunken pits. The grower should apply a 1% zinc sulfate solution to rectify the mineral deficiency.
Growing Pineapples Hydroponically (without Soil)
Pineapples can also be grown hydroponically, i.e., without soil. In a hydroponic system, a solution of water and nutrients is used to place pineapples, and their roots can directly obtain water and nutrients.
Such a system shortens the time required by growing pineapples conventionally, where they take time to root in the soil and discover water to survive. Soil-borne pests and diseases are also eliminated, and the grower gets better control over nutrient intake.
Since the water and nutrient system is reusable, this system is also environment-friendly.
It’s claimed that hydroponically grown pineapples will mature up to 25% quicker and will produce up to 30% more fruits than pineapples grown in soil. They also use only 10% less water and 20% less space compared to the soil-grown ones.
Pineapples in a Hydroponic System in a Greenhouse
Growers should set up a hydroponic system for pineapples in a greenhouse. Pineapples take nutrients from their leaves. Therefore the grower should set up a system that allows the misting of plants at least 2-3 times per day.
The grower should remember that intense exposure to water can cause root rot. Similarly, the grower should set up high temperatures to get a healthy pineapple plant. Also, the plant should get 8 hours of direct light every day. This means that the grower should use grow lights. The grower should keep in mind that after flowering, the amount of light should be modified and increased.
In general, while growing plants hydroponically, the grower uses a greenhouse. This reduces the risk of pests and diseases. However, using hands without washing or using the same tools used for soil increases the risk of transferring bacteria.
Pineapples love a more acidic environment than several other hydroponically grown plants, and therefore they should not be grown in the same system as other plants with different cultural needs.
Pineapples can be successfully grown in pH in the range of 5 and 6. EC (electrical conductivity) should be between 2 and 2.4. The temperature should be between 59°F and 81°F, and the grower should ensure the plants get light at least 8 hours per day.
Growers can choose a mixture of perlite, gravel, and peat as the growing medium for pineapples. However, the plant's roots should be kept in a well-drained condition as long exposure to this medium may cause root rot.
Temperature and Light
With high temperatures, a grower can imitate the tropical climate that pineapple plants love.
Growing lights are important because they keep the fruit happy. pH levels should be checked regularly because their fluctuations may affect plant growth.
When the plant starts flowering, the grower should give light to plants for an additional period of 3 to 4 hours. Here the growing lights are very useful.
Pests and Diseases
The hydroponic system protects plants from most pests. Still, if the grower finds an infection, they should apply natural methods of pest control, as commercial pesticides are not suitable for the hydroponic system.
Passing the hydroponic solution through an ultraviolet sterilizer is a great way to remove all the fungi, bacteria, viruses, and similar pathogens.
Note: It’s possible to grow pineapples indoors using a hydroponic system instead of a greenhouse. The grower should just provide the plants with the right amount of light, nutrients, and temperature to ensure healthy growth.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
Hydroponic systems are of different types, and some systems even combine multiple different types to form a hybrid hydroponic system.
Deepwater Culture System
DWC, or deepwater culture system, is also called the reservoir method and perhaps the easiest hydroponic method. In this method, the roots are suspended in a nutrient solution. The solution is oxygenated using an aquarium air pump.
Growers should not allow light to penetrate the system as light can promote algae growth. There are no drip or spray emitters in this system to clog which is one of the main benefits. Thus DWC is an ideal choice for organic hydroponics, as hydroponic systems using organic nutrients are prone to clogging.
This is a non-recovery-type passive system that uses no pumps or moving parts. Nutrients are stored in the reservoir and soaked in the root system by capillary action with the help of a wick of a candle or lantern.
The nutrient solution moves up the wick and then into the root system. Wick systems use perlite or sand, vermiculite mix, and a growing medium. This system is very simple and inexpensive to start and maintain.
However, it’s not an efficient hydroponic system as it tends to keep the growing medium wet and thus doesn’t allow an optimum level of oxygen to reach the root system.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
This system allows a constant flow of nutrient solution to pass over the roots. It’s kept slightly tilted so that there can be a flow of the solution from upwards to downwards.
This system is beneficial because the roots get oxygen from the air as well as from the nutrient solution, and thus plants can grow at a faster rate.
Ebb and Flow System
This is a low-cost and low-maintenance system and hence is quite popular. The growing bed is fully filled with nutrient solution and made to drain. How frequently and for how long to fill the solution depend on many factors like the size of the containers, type of growing medium, and water requirements of the plants.
This system is of active recovery type and uses a pump submerged in the reservoir. Plants are in the upper tray. The system works on flood and drains theory. The reservoir contains the nutrient solution and pump.
When the grower turns the pump on, the nutrient solution is pumped up in the upper tray and reaches the plant root system. The pump should work for around 20-30 minutes. This is known as a flood cycle. Once the water reaches a set level, an overflow pipe passes it back to the reservoir.
Long Story Short: Growing pineapples need a lot of patience. However, once the plants provide their first fruit, they continue to bear fruits.
Pineapples are not only tasty but also very decorative plants, and growing them in a large-enough flower pot with a cart, allows the gardener to take the plants indoors during cold nights and decorate the garden/patio during warm days.
And in the end, the taste, aroma, and fragrance of homegrown pineapples are far better than the taste and aroma of the pineapple bought in the supermarket ...