Add tropical flavor to your garden with pineapple

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Photo by Dan Gill You may have to wait two years, but you can grow your own pineapple in a pot on your porch or patio.

Growing a pineapple plant and getting it to produce a pineapple for you is a fun gardening project. Now is a great time to begin, and as you will see, it’s really not all that difficult.

The pineapple belongs to the bromeliad family and originated in tropical South America. Its Latin name is Ananas comosus. It is related to bromeliads we grow as ornamentals and also to the Spanish moss commonly seen hanging from trees in our area.

Pineapple plants are tough and are not prone to insect or disease problems. Producing a pineapple does require some time, though. Generally, from the time you start your plant to the time you harvest a ripe fruit takes about two years. During that time, though, the pineapple plant makes a very attractive foliage plant.

To grow you own pineapple, start with a pineapple purchased at the supermarket. Choose one that has a healthy, green leafy top (crown) not too badly battered during processing and shipping. To root the top, you will need a one-gallon-size container, enough potting soil to fill it, slow-release fertilizer and a large, sharp knife.

First, use the knife to cut the crown from the fruit. Make the cut cleanly at the base of the crown as close to the fruit as you can. Next, remove enough of the lower leaves from the cut crown to expose about one-half to three-quarters of an inch of stem. Lay the crown aside for three days to allow the cut to callus over.

Fill the gallon container almost full of the potting soil and add the slow-release fertilizer according to label directions. Plant the top just deep enough to cover the exposed stem, firming the soil around it to make it stable. If necessary, you can insert two or three pencils on the sides of the top to hold it in place. Water the plant thoroughly and place it in a shady area outside to root. (If you do this in winter, place the pot in a brightly lit window and move it outside in spring.) The crown should root in a couple of weeks.

After the crown is rooted, move the plant into part sun for a week, and then finally into full sun. Grow your pineapple in full sun outside through the summer, keeping it well watered. If you did not use a slow-release fertilizer in the potting soil, feed it occasionally with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer.

In three to four months (September if you root a top now), the plant will have outgrown the gallon pot. At this time, shift it to a three-gallon container using the same well-drained potting soil and some more slow-release fertilizer. It will produce its fruit in this pot. The larger pot is important. If kept in a small pot, the plant will produce a smaller fruit.

Going into winter, it is important to remember that the pineapple continues to need full sun, but it’s not able to tolerate freezing temperatures. The best way to provide these requirements in south Louisiana is to leave your plant outside in full sun through the winter but bring it into a protected location on those nights when temperatures are expected to dip below the upper 30s. Return the plant to full sun as soon as possible. The plant could also be overwintered in a greenhouse or sunny window – the preferred method in north Louisiana.

By the second summer, the original small crown should have grown into a large, handsome plant about 2 feet across. At this stage, your plant should flower. The first sign of flowering is a bright red color in the center of the plant. Soon, a stalk will appear with lavender flowers peeking out from a structure at the top shaped like a small pineapple. It is this structure that will develop into the fruit.

From flowering to ripe fruit takes about five months. You can generally harvest a ripe pineapple in the fall of the second year from a spring- or early-summer-rooted crown. The fruit you get should be about the same size or a little smaller than those at the supermarket. Or if you did a great job, maybe even a little larger.

Deciding when to harvest the pineapple is especially important. The idea is to allow it to fully ripen on the plant. If you harvest too soon, it will not be as sweet. If you are not sure, it is better to leave the pineapple on the plant a little too long than to harvest it too soon. When ripe, the fruit stores fairly well on the plant, so you don’t need to be as worried about leaving it on too long as much as harvesting too early.

A pineapple fruit is ready to harvest when the background color changes from green to gold. The feel of the fruit will go from rock hard to giving a little to firm pressure with your thumb. Also, the fruit will develop a rich pineapple smell. Use all of these signs when determining when to harvest the fruit.

The flavor of a plant-ripened pineapple has to be experienced to be believed. You are in for an exceptional treat.

Each plant will produce a single fruit and then die. You can, however, start new plants from the crown of the fruit you harvest, from slips that form on the flower stem, or from suckers produced at the base of the original plant. And after growing them once, you are sure to want to grow them again.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu