Have you heard about growing your own pineapple? It can be done almost anywhere with just a few supplies. If you live in USDA zones 9 or higher, you can grow pineapple in the garden. For everyone else, this is more often one of those grow from scrap projects that starts with a store-bought pineapple, a sharp knife, a large pot and some potting soil. It's also an opportunity to step up your thumb twiddling technique. What's needed most for this project is patience because it takes, on average, three years for your plant to produce a fragrant, juicy, edible fruit.
Amount of Time it Takes to Grow a Pineapple
Anyone can grow pineapple as a houseplant and, if you live in a climate that stays warm year round, you can plant outdoors with success. Purchased slips or seedlings give a bit of a headstart but not enough to reduce time to harvest by much. Once a rooted crown is planted it begins to grow within two to three weeks in either location, Getting started is the easy part. Waiting for your plant to actually do something besides get bigger requires a long-term commitment.
Potted pineapple plants can grow up to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. They require lots of sun, at least 6 hours daily, and temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees F., so you need to dedicate an indoor spot for a large plant, for at least the next three years. One advantage of a potted plant is greater control over the growing environment. You can move it outdoors during warmer weather.
Climate is the biggest variable for success growing pineapple in the garden whether you start with purchased slips or a rooted crown. Even if you live in zone 9 or higher, temperatures need to remain consistent. When the mercury drops to 50 degrees F. plants can go into dormancy which means you'll be waiting even longer for fruit. Spring plantings mature to bloom more reliably than pineapples planted in fall, but it still takes from 16 to 28 months for flowers to appear. Fruit development begins about six months after flowering and can take another six months for fruit to develop and ripen for a total growing time of up to 34 months.
How Pineapples Grow
Pineapples are perhaps the best known plant of more than 3000 plants in the Bromeliaceae family. From tillandsias (air plants) to the pineapple, itself, bromeliads have some of the most interesting growing habits in the plant kingdom.
Pineapples are not propagated from seed. Wild plants grown from seed are pollinated by hummingbirds and bats but resulting fruits are small, seedy and of lesser quality. Seeds also are small, hard and difficult to germinate so growers start with slips, suckers,and crowns. A ratoon crop (second fruiting) also can develop on some pineapple varieties.
Once planted in the ground or in a pot, the pineapple develops through three growth phases with the first phase lasting longest. Fruit characteristics depend on variety and growing conditions but most plants are short-lived and die back after three years.
Once rooted in, the pineapple plant begins to grow quickly, developing long, waxy green leaves (up to 6 feet) that can be spiny or smooth. This stage lasts longest, up to 24 months, and is most likely to leave you wondering if your plant will ever do anything besides produce leaves.
When the plant is mature at 16 to 24 months the stem grows longer with an enlarged tip. Your plant is entering into fruiting stage. Flowerbuds appear surrounded by smaller, tighter leaves, called bracts, Encouraging flowering can be a little tricky and you want as many flowers to develop as possible. A slight drop in temperature helps initiate this phase. A ripe apple placed in the leaves produces ethylene gas which is also called the "ripening hormone." Commercial growers use similar hormone or chemical solutions to hasten flowering. The bloom is an inflorescence of up to 200 individual self-sterile flowers that produce fruit without pollination. The syncarp (fruit) is made up of more than 100 individual flower ovaries (berries) fused together. After flowering, it takes an additional six months for the fruit to fully develop, and only one fruit is produced per year.
Sucker Growth Phase
The parent or original plant does not, technically, produce a second fruit. However, slips or suckers can develop and produce a second fruiting in about 18 months. If allowed to remain on the parent plant, the second fruiting is called a ratoon crop. Secondary fruits are smaller so this method is not commonly used by commercial growers. Removed two to three weeks after the initial harvest, pups produce a better quality fruit when grown out as new plants.
Methods for Growing Pineapple
Commercial pineapple production is big business with standardized methods cycling constantly to yield an annual harvest. Some of this methodology could be applied by home growers, but getting started with your first harvest still takes about three years.
Growing Pineapple from Crowns
The pineapple crown already has roots that can be encouraged to grow a new plant. A store-bought pineapple works fine but choose a ripe fruit with healthy, green leaves and avoid those with dried, brown tips. Sometime the crown can be twisted off by hand but slicing if off with a sharp knife might be easier. Fleshy fruit and bottom leaves are removed exposing the central stem or core. The crown is then left in a shaded spot to cure for about a week.
The cured crown can be rooted in water but this step isn't necessary unless you want to watch the roots develop. They will grow in soil with the stem planted 3 to 4 inches deep. In six to eight weeks, roots develop and the pineapple can be transplanted outdoors in zones 9 or higher or potted up into a large 3 to 7 gallon container. The size of the pot often determines the size of the fruit. A planted crown moves into the flowering stage in about 24 months depending on conditions.
Growing Pineapple from Slips and Suckers (Pups)
Mature plants produce several type of offshoots including slips and suckers. Both are small plantlets that develop as the parent plant matures. Slips grow near the base of the stem and don't regrow after they're removed which also directs the parent plant's energy into developing fruit. Suckers continue to develop in the leaf axils of the parent plant. Both slips and suckers are easily twisted or pulled off and immediately transplanted. Waiting until they grow to 6 to 8 inches long usually results in a new plant that matures more quickly and can move into the flowering stage at 14 to 16 months, six or more months earlier than a planted crown.
Growing Pineapple from Ratoons
Depending on variety, pineapple plants may die back after initial harvest or they can produce a second fruit called a ratoon. This fruit develops from a slip or sucker left on the parent plant. Fruit development takes about 14 months producing a smaller fruit that is often sweeter. All other pups can be removed from the original plant to direct energy into the second crop. If more are left on the parent plant, multiple smaller fruits develop. A ratoon crop can be ready to harvest about one year after the initial harvest. A third harvest is not recommended due to the decreased size of the fruit, so plants are usually cut down after producing a single ratoon crop.
How do Fruits Ripen, Frontiers for Young Minds
Growing Pineapples in Guam, University of Guam