I’ve grown quite a few pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) over the years, both from store-bought fruit and ornamental types I bought as plants. I find them easy to grow and, yes, I’ve always gotten fruit… eventually.
If you’ve ever wondered how to grow your own pineapple, here’s the technique:
At the Supermarket
You’ll want a healthy fruit with no sign of rot or damaged leaves. Since you’ll be eating the fruit (at least I hope you will!), look for the ripest one you can find. Sniff the bottom end: if it smells sweet, it’s ripe enough.
You won’t be able to buy a totally ripe pineapple outside of the tropics, because when they reach perfect ripeness, they don’t ship well, nor do they mature to any significant degree after the harvest. The only way to really taste a pineapple at its best is to eat one in a country that produces them.
I also suggest you buy a spineless variety, as they are less likely to attack you. At any rate, most grocery stores today only carry spineless varieties. I’m sure that younger readers won’t get this reference, but us old folk remember when preparing a pineapple, with its leaves edged in nasty hooked spines, was a blood sport.
When You Get Home
To start your new pineapple plant from a fruit, you’ll be harvesting its crown, that is, the rosette of spiky foliage at its top. This is actually a baby plant. In the wild, when an animal carries the fruit off it eat it, it rejects the spiny crown and knocks it to the ground where it takes root and starts a new plant. You just have to do basically the same thing at home.
You don’t need to rent a tapir to start your new pineapple plant, though. Just grab the fruit in one hand, the crown in the other and just twist: the crown will detach easily.
Some people prefer to free the crown by cutting off the top of the fruit. In this case, you’ll have to spend a bit of time removing any fruit bits that cling to it.
Next remove a few rows of the small leaves found at the base of the crown, thus revealing about an inch (2,5 cm) of bare stem. You’ll will notice small bumps on the exposed stem: these are actually roots just waiting to be planted!
Are You a Wateree or a Soilee?
There are two different schools of thought on what to do next. Some people like to start their pineapple plants in water, others directly in potting soil. And both methods work. The advantage starting one in soil is that you save a step. The disadvantage is that you won’t see the roots grow… and that can be kinda cool.
If you’re a wateree, place the crown upright in a drinking glass, a medium-necked bottle or some other container that can support the crown. And you’ll want it to be transparent: after all, you’re doing this expressly to watch the roots grow.
Pour enough water into the container so the base of the crown is immersed, but not the leaves. When you see the roots starting to lengthen, don’t wait too long: pot the crown up in your favorite growing mix. An inch or so (2,5 cm) is a safe length, but long roots too adapted to an aquatic lifestyle often rot when you move your baby pineapple plant into a pot.
If you’re a soilee, fill a 4- to 6-inch (10-15 cm) with moistened potting soil (any potting soil for indoor plants will do: pineapples aren’t picky about their soil type) up to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top. There is no need to place a drainage layer of gravel or pot shards in the bottom of the pot. Push the stem into the potting mix up to the base of the lowest leaves and tamp down lightly so the crown remains sturdily upright.
In both cases (wateree and soilee culture), finish up by placing the plant near a sunny window at room temperature.
It can take from 1 to 3 months for the crown to realize its new status as a separate plant and start to produce roots. Until that happens, the leaves won’t grow much either. When the plant is well-rooted, though, its new leaves will lengthen considerably, reaching up to 3 feet (1 m), essentially quadrupling the size of the plant. At this point, your pineapple is no longer a baby, but a well-established plant!
You’ll discover the pineapple is a tough plant that requires little in the way of care.
Continue to give it as much sunlight as you can. After all, on pineapple farms pineapples grow in the full blazing tropical sun. Pineapples will grow in moderate light, but won’t bear fruit there. If possible, put your plant outside for the summer, acclimating it gradually to outdoor conditions over a week or so it won’t burn, then put it in full sun. The more sun it gets, the sooner you’ll be eating home-grown pineapple!
The pineapple is on the succulent side of the plant divide: it likes to dry out between waterings. Just follow the Golden Rule of Watering: allow the growing mix to dry out, then water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball. How can you tell when to water? Sink your index finger into its growing mix. If it feels moist, don’t water yet. If it feels dry, go right ahead and pour away.
Dry indoor winter air may bother many houseplants, but the tough-as-nails pineapple is immune to it. Still, if you do increase the atmospheric humidity for your other plants’ sake, it won’t be bothered either.
The pineapple is not a greedy plant and won’t need much fertilizer. Any commercial fertilizer will do. Some gardeners prefer to add a pinch of fertilizer to the watering can each time they water, others dilute a soluble fertilizer to 1/8th of its recommended dose and apply it once a month, while others still prefer to apply a granular slow-release fertilizer in spring, always at 1/8th of the recommended dose. Don’t “feed” your pineapple in winter, as it pretty much stops growing at that season.
As your plant increases in size, repot into a larger container. Usually a final pot 8- to 10- inch (20-25 cm) in diameter will suffice.
Bring On The Fruit!
In the tropics, it takes about 18 months for a flower stem to start to emerge from the center of the pineapple’s rosette of leaves and about another 6 months for it to bloom and the fruit to ripen. Under home conditions, it can take 4 or 5 years! Just be patient, continue to provide your best care and you will succeed.
The flowers are purple and tubular, lasting only one day each. There is no need to pollinate them: pineapple fruits are “parthenocarpic”, that is, they develop without fecundation.
In general, the fruit produced on your home-grown pineapple will be a little smaller than a commercial pineapple, but just as delicious!
I suggest you harvest it with a machete while wearing a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt: that just seems so much more authentic!
Giving a Reluctant Plant a Nudge
So, your pineapple is big, healthy-looking, about 4 or 5 years old and yet it still hasn’t bloomed? It’s type to apply a bit of pressure. Commercial growers do this all the time, spraying their fields with various gases to stimulate an earlier and more uniform harvest.
At home, just use the apple-in-a-bag method. Put a ripe, in fact, even overripe apple in a clear plastic bag with your pineapple plant. Seal the bag and place it somewhere out of the sun (a sealed bag sitting in the sun will overheat and cook your plant). After one week, remove the bag and return the plant to its usual spot.
With a little luck, a flower stem will appear after a month or two, provoked by the toxic ethylene gas the apple gave off.
After the Harvest
A pineapple only flowers once, then dies (it is monocarpic). Before dying, however, it will produce several pups (babies, called ratoons by pineapple farmers) at its base that you can pot up individually. When you remove them, the mother plant tends to send up even more pups. Then more again when you remove those as well. By the third time, she’s pretty much done in and will quietly fade away. In addition, you also root the fruit’s crown.
Of course, potting up all those pups may be overdoing it. You’re not trying to turn your living room into a pineapple farm after all. Given the size of a mature pineapple plant, most people are satisfied growing one specimen at a time.