Days to germination: Not started from seed
Days to harvest: Up to 2 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Sparingly once established
Soil: Sandy or well-drained soil
Pineapples are a tropical plant that will only grow in zone 9 or warmer, but it can be grown indoors providing there is enough sun (see container section for more). Regions in the southern USA, Mexico around through southeast Asia are perfect for pineapple crops.
Encased in a distinctive prickly shell, the bright yellow pineapple flesh is very firm and sweet. Most people eat pineapple raw though it can be used in cooked dishes as well. Nutritionally, pineapple is a good source of vitamin C, copper, manganese and fiber. There are enzymes in the juice that can help with digestion, so much so that pieces of fruit are sometimes served between meal courses in Asia.
Starting from Seed
Pineapple plants are propagated by planting the cut-off crowns of a mature fruit (even one purchased from the grocery store). Home growers almost never use seeds.
To start a new pineapple plant, you first have to carefully slice the top or crown off of a mature pineapple. Cut away any actual fruit flesh (it will cause root rot), and you should see brown root buds along the surface of the cut area. If not, cut off thin slices until you do. Don’t plant your crown just yet though. Let it sit somewhere dark for a week, sitting so the cut areas are exposed to the air. This will help it dry so that it doesn’t rot once planted.
You can plant your crown directly into the garden, but most people start their plants in large pots until the root system has taken off. In a 6-inch pot, plant your crown by putting the base of it about 2 inches deep in potting soil. Give it a good watering and keep the pot in a sunny location (inside or out). After about 3 months, you can transplant it out into the garden if you are putting it outside.
Your pineapple plant will need quite a bit of room, so allow for at least 3 feet on all sides of your transplant. Leave extra space if you intend to walk between the plants because their leaves are quite sharp at the tips.
Pineapples don’t need very much water, so you should only give them light waterings when the weather has been dry. They will benefit greatly from a regular feeding with a standard fertilizer, once every 3 months. This is particularly important if you are growing your plant in sandy soil.
Be careful when tending your plants not to break any of the leaves. The sap of the pineapple is very irritating to the skin and can cause a rash.
Pineapples can be grown in containers, and they can even be grown indoors if you live in an area too cool for outdoor plantings. Your pineapples will need to get at least 6 hours of full sun each day, and the temperature can’t drop below 16C (61F) at night.
Start your plants with cut crowns in the same manner described above. You can start your plants in their final containers (at least 5 gallons in size), or transplant them from 6 inch pots after 3 months. Give them some fertilizer every few months, just as you would with a garden plant. Water your plants occasionally, but they usually get enough moisture from regular rainfall.
If you intend to keep your pineapple as an indoor plant, plan a large room for it because it will be at least 3 feet wide when mature. You could always keep your potted pineapple outdoors in the summer weather, and just bring it inside when the colder winter nights move in.
Pests and Diseases
As part of the Bromeliad family of plants, pineapples are very tough and are not bothered by that many pests.
Mealybugs are probably the biggest problem for pineapples. They are odd looking bugs, that seem to be covered in downy fur. A few of them won’t do much harm, but in numbers they can damage the fruit and leaves of your plant. Mealybugs can also transmit various wilt diseases which can cause your plant’s leaves to slowly turn yellow or brown, and it can kill the plant. Insecticides can help, but will need a higher-than-usual does because of the insects heavy covering.
For a more natural approach, you can introduce mealybug predators into your garden such as ladybugs or lacewings.
As for diseases, home gardeners should watch out for core rot once your plant has started to produce its fruit. The eyes of the fruit will start to look sunken, and it starts to rot from the inside. Mealybugs may spread this, so keep them controlled. Also, don’t use a fertilizer with a high-nitrogen content either.
Harvesting and Storage
If you’ve started your plant from a crown cutting, you will have about 20 months to wait before your first fruit will be ready to pick. You’ll first see a pinecone shaped bud form in the center of your plant. About 6 months after that first appears, you should have a pineapple ready to pick. The fruit will be uniformly yellow from top to bottom and have a very sweet smell. Slice it off the stem of the plant.
Don’t try to rush the plant by picking the pineapple early and hope it ripens faster off the plant. Once cut, pineapple fruit will not ripen any further and the taste will not improve. You just have to be patient with your plants.
After the first pineapple has been harvested, your plant may put out more shoots from the cut base. Let them keep growing and you might get a second fruit from the same plant. Also, you may see new shoots or suckers start to grow around where the fruit was attached. You can use these to start new plants much like you did with the crown.
You can store a whole pineapple in the fridge for 4 to 5 days, or cut pineapple pieces in juice for up to a week. If you freeze cut pineapple in its juice, it will soften some when thawed but still retain much of its texture. It will last 6 months frozen.