HOME FRUIT PRODUCTION-PINEAPPLE
Julian W. Sauls
Professor & Extension Horticulturist
Pineapple is probably native to Brazil but was present throughout the American tropics when Columbus encountered the fruit on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493 on his second voyage. Called "anana" by the natives who grew it, "Pina de Indes" by Spanish explorers and King Pine by European elite who could afford it, the pineapple is today one of the best-known of all tropical fruits.
At the turn of the last century, Florida was the leading producer of pineapples until the industry was decimated by a presumed disease, which later was found to be mealybugs, at which time Hawaii became the leading producer.
Unlike many fruit plants, pineapple is very well adapted to container culture--and the fresh pineapples in the local supermarket have everything you need to get started.
CLIMATE AND SOILS
Pineapple grows best under uniformly warm temperatures year-round. While plants might survive 28 degrees, significant leaf damage would severely weaken the plant. Because of the likelihood of winter cold, pineapple would not be recommended for outdoor planting in Texas except in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
SOIL AND SITE SELECTION
Pineapple plants absolutely require soils with good internal drainage. Because they grow and fruit best in soils which are mildly acidic, pineapples can be problematic in the moderately alkaline soils in the Valley.
Given the small size of the plant, its sensitively to frost and its preference for well-drained, acidic soils, pineapples can be grown in 4- or 5-gallon planters or containers anywhere in Texas--moving the plants indoors next to a sunny window during the colder winter months.
Any good potting medium should be adequate for pineapple culture, as should any container having drainage holes at the bottom.
Smooth Cayenne is a major processing variety that is also found fresh in Texas supermarkets. Its lack of spines on the leaves is advantageous for a container plant that must be moved indoors during cold weather. Fruit of Smooth Cayenne will weigh 5 to 6 pounds under good culture.
Red Spanish is a major fresh market pineapple that is a little hardier than the others. Its fruit will weigh 2 to 4 pounds and its leaves are spiny.
There are varieties of pineapple with much better eating quality than Smooth Cayenne or Red Spanish. However, those with better eating quality do not ship very well, so they are not likely to be encountered in local markets. Among the better pineapples, however, are Natal Queen, weighing 2 to 3 pounds; Pernambuco (Eleuthera), weighing 2 to 4 pounds and Abakka, weighing 3 to 6 pounds. All three of these have spiny leaves. Having eaten all of these varieties at the peak of their maturity, the sweet, melting flesh of Pernambuco is a personal favorite. Sugarloaf is a name that is used for various varieties in Mexico.
There are four kinds of propagation material on pineapple plants: ratoon suckers arise below ground, suckers originate in the leaf axils, slips grow from the fruit itself or along the stalk below the fruit and crowns are the leafy tops of the fruit. All four types work, although slips and suckers are preferred in commerce. Fortunately, each pineapple fruit in the supermarket comes with a crown which can be used to start the plant which will develop slips and suckers for subsequent use.
Propagules should be cut from the mother plant and set aside for a week or two to cure. In the case of crowns, any adhering flesh should be cut away.
PLANTING AND CARE
For initial planting, one-gallon pots are more than adequate, with transfer to a larger container as the need arises. After curing, the lowest leaves should be pulled off so that the base of the propagule can be planted deeply enough that it won't topple over. Water thoroughly at planting and then lightly a couple of times a week. For best results, the plant should be in full sun and best establishment will occur during the warmer months of the year.
Once the propagule begins to put out new leaves, a complete, soluble fertilizer should be applied monthly, according to directions which come with the fertilizer. General houseplant fertilizer is sufficient. Because the propagule will require several months to develop its root system, the water and the soluble fertilizer should be poured or sprayed over the plant so that some of it will collect in the leaf axils. After about six months, however, the fertilizer solution should be poured into the soil and not over the plant as the latter can result in damage to the developing bud.
The time from planting to fruiting is dependent upon temperature, source and size of propagation material. For example, plantings in early spring will fruit in less time than those planted in early fall. Moreover, suckers require less time than slips which require less time than crowns. While part of this difference is because of differences in the propagation material, a major difference is in the size of the propagule, as larger propagation material generally becomes established more readily, which reduces the time to fruiting.
While precise times for fruiting in containers in Texas cannot be given, you can get an idea from the time required under conditions in Hawaii. After early spring planting, a sucker will take about 16 months, a slip about 24 months and a crown may take 28 months to flower. After flowering, the developing fruit will require another 6 months, more or less, to mature. Thus, you should expect to wait 21 to 34 months from planting to enjoy your own home-grown pineapple.
Flowering will last about two weeks, as the basal flowers on the small conelike fruit open first. At flowering, a support stake and loose ties should be installed to prevent the young fruit from being knocked over accidentally.
Fruit quality is best when the fruit is allowed to develop its yellowish orange rind color on the plant, as there is no improvement in quality after the pineapple is harvested. Obviously, those in the supermarket had to be harvested before they had achieved the best eating quality, just like tomatoes, peaches and some other produce.
Pineapple can be "forced" to flower in order to produce fruit sooner than it would under natural conditions. If the plant is large and vigorous, the fruit produced will be about as large as if it had flowered normally; otherwise, fruit size and quality will be reduced by forcing.
If you can find calcium carbide, perhaps in a hobby store, drop three or four small pellets into a cup of ice water. When the solution stops fizzing, pour it into the center of the rosette whorl of leaves.
Naphthaleneacetic acid (about 7 mg per cup of water) poured into the rosette will also induce flowering. B-hydroxyethyl hydrazine (BOH) (5 ml per gallon) also works, as do other products that generate either acetylene or ethylene gas. The forcing treatment should be reapplied one week later.
Because pieces of apple fruit generate ethylene gas and can be used to hasten ripening of bananas, it may be possible to induce flowering of pineapple by placing pieces of an apple on the rosette and adjacent leaf axils. I do not know if this will work, so I would be interested to know of your experience if you try this method of forcing.
If the pineapple mother plant is large and healthy, and if you leave one or two suckers on it while the fruit is developing, additional fruit will form and be ready for harvest about a year after the initial fruit. With good care, most will continue to produce additional fruit every year for several years. If the ratoon fruit is significantly smaller than the original fruit, it is probably best to start over with new suckers taken from the mother plant.
If you don't have the patience to wait two to three years for a pineapple, but would like to grow a miniature pineapple fruit as a novelty, it can be done in about six to eight months. Using one-gallon containers and crowns (or other propagules), grow as previously described until good rooting has occurred, usually in about two or three months. Then force flowering as previously described. In four months, more or less, from forcing, you should have a miniature pineapple plant complete with a miniature pineapple. This fruit is edible, but only barely so, as it is of very poor quality and contains very little flesh relative to the core and rind.
Growing pineapples in containers subjects them to about the same problems that afflict other container-grown plants. For example, too little light results in poor growth, poor color, legginess and a failure to flower without repeated forcing. Overwatering is also typical, causing root damage that results in poor growth, yellowing and dying of leaves, and poor to no fruiting. Typical houseplant insect pests may be encountered, the most serious being mealybug.
Anyone experienced in growing houseplants should not encounter serious problems in growing pineapples in containers.
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