Sweet, juicy pineapples are fun to grow, easy to propagate, and you can even start one off from a discarded top, writes KARYN COUPER-SMITH
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is the most economically significant member of the 2000-plus species in the bromeliad family, and probably the best known. It’s a plant that produces only one fruit, or at least that’s what it looks like on the surface. What we generally regard as the fruit of the pineapple is in fact lots of singular fruits that have fused together to form what’s known as a multiple fruit or syncarp. Those five-sided shapes that you can see spiralling around the pineapple skin each represent one individual fruit.
Christopher Columbus introduced pineapple to Europe after tasting the fruit on a voyage to the Caribbean’s Guadeloupe Islands in 1493. This led to fierce competition among elite gardeners, as growing and exhibiting these exotic beauties became an obsession. While some of you may think this is silly, all those obsessed gardeners among us who have grown and crowed about their rare, unusual or difficult-to-grow successes – you know who you are – will understand this rivalry completely.
The popularity of the pineapple spread rapidly through most tropical countries, and it was well established around the globe by the end of the 16th century.
While pineapples are considered a tropical fruit, they grow well in the subtropics and can be grown in warm temperate areas with protection from frosts. Their optimal daytime temperature range is 25–32˚C, and they struggle where temperatures sit below 10˚C for prolonged periods.
When propagating pineapple from store-bought fruit (see step-by-step overpage), you have limited access to different varieties. Most commercial pineapples are the smooth-leafed Cayenne, however more varieties are
being developed for the Australian market. You may be able to find Red Spanish and Queen at farmers’ markets.
Different varieties are sweeter or more acidic. Queen has spiky leaves but its sweeter flesh makes up for its scratches. Dwarf pineapples (A. nanus) put on a striking display in the garden and in floral arrangements, but are mostly considered ornamental as they have little flesh.
growing & harvesting
Pineapples like acid soil and are happiest in a pH range of 4.5–5.5 but will still grow well in up to pH 6.5 – anything higher and you will need to add sulfur to lower the pH. Well-drained soil is essential otherwise they will rot. Pineapples grow well in 30–40cm pots as long as they are watered regularly.
Compost that includes animal manures makes the best fertiliser for pineapples. Avoid fertilisers high in phosphorus. Your plant will also appreciate weekly foliar feeds of liquid seaweed or worm wee.
It takes two years (less in the tropics) for pineapples to form on plants grown from fruit tops or crowns. Like most bromeliads, mature pineapple plants form suckers at their base. They also produce little plantlets or ‘slips’ below the fruit. Slips and suckers can be carefully removed and planted. They only take 12 months or so to fruit so, if you can’t wait the two years for a crown to fruit, ask a pineapple-growing friend for a spare sucker or slip.
Pick the fruit when it smells sweet, the skin has tints of yellow, and the leaves from the crown pull out easily. If left on the plant too long, the aroma brings ants, which love ripe pineapples. Harvest by cutting the stalk under the fruit. Once picked, leave it on the kitchen bench for a week or so for its flavour to fully develop.
pests & diseases
Mealy bug is by the far the most prevalent pest and can spread mealy bug wilt. They are highly visible, so simply remove with a damp tissue. Pineapple butt rot, root/heart rot and root rot nematode can be an issue if the soil is of poor quality or too wet. To prevent this, ensure the soil is well drained, and improve poor soils by adding plenty of compost before planting. Pineapple scale and mites are easily controlled with organic horticultural oils.
FROM LEFT Pineapple grows year-round in many areas; Red Spanish has spiny leaves and showy flowers; dwarf forms are mainly ornamental; pineapple is much loved for its sweet flesh.