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

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

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.

get­ting started

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.

Hawai­ian pineap­ple

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