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By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA Live on Sunday’s 7-9am
How to grow Pineapples in Central Florida
I can still remember my first encounter with a homeowner who grew pineapples in Clearwater, Fl. This gentleman lived on a corner lot in a large mobile home park. His winding driveway was lined with pot after pot of lovely pineapple plants, with each sporting a small pineapple. I was impressed with how many plants he was growing and after counting, I saw he had fifty-two plants. I had never grown a pineapple before, so I asked the homeowner to give me a few hints of how to grow them. He told me how easy it was to grow them, and that is all I needed to hear. I decided right then to grow them myself. Through trial and error, I have learned a lot about growing pineapples. I have also been blessed to be able to interview a professional pineapple grower that worked for Dole for twenty-three years and then for an additional ten years as a consultant on pineapple production. His name is Ian Greig, and in this article, I will share with you some tips he taught me in growing great pineapples right here in Central Florida. Let’s get started.
To grow a pineapple, you will need to purchase a plant from your local grocery store and cut the top of the pineapple off leaving about a half-inch of the pulp attached to the top foliage. Place the top in a cool, dry place and let it harden off for about a week. Drying the top helps to prevent any fungus from entering the plant. Pineapples need to be planted in December or January. If you plant your pineapples outside of this timeframe, then the pineapples produced will be small, and they will not taste as good as those grown at the proper time of the year. Pineapples require eighteen-months to ripen. Most grocery stores and fruit stands carry the pineapple called “MD-2.” A good source to find free pineapple tops to grow is to ask the grocers to save the tops of the plants for you when they make up their pineapple slices. I have heard that some people have received up to twenty tops, just by asking the grocer for them. This is a great way to get free plants so try this method before purchasing any.
As the tops are drying out, you will need to purchase some three-gallon containers and some potting soil. The soil you select should have a pH of 4.5 to 5.0 and should be sterilized and weed free. Fill the containers to within two inches of the top of the pot. Next, look at the lower leaves on the pineapple top and remove several of these leaves to reveal the root buds below. These root buds will grow and anchor the plant in the pot. Remember, pineapples are in the bromeliad family and although the plant will form roots, their primary role is stabilization, not nutrient uptake.
Plant the pineapple top by pushing the entire plant into the loose soil all the way up to where the foliage starts on the top. Make sure you do not get soil into the center of the leaves. Tamp the loose potting soil down around the top, but do not compress the soil too much. The plant should now be able to stand up by itself. Water the plant to settle the soil and lock in the plant. Pineapples planted in the ground or in raised beds should be planted on three-foot centers. Pineapples like to be planted close together so that as they mature, they can lean on one another for support. This will help keep your plants growing upright.
After watering the pots, place your pineapples in the full sun. Apply a soluble fertilizer to the leaves as pineapples absorb their nutrients primarily through their foliage. Liquid fertilizers like a 20-20-20 should be used every three weeks until the pineapple flowers are formed. Water the plant regularly. After one year, your pineapples can be forced to bear fruit by using a product called Bang Site or Calcium Carbide. Usually, this is only necessary when pineapples are planted at the wrong time of the year. Place a small amount of Bang Site into the center of the leaves then and add a half-cup of water. Make sure you do this at nighttime and afterward cover the foliage with a black garbage bag. The garbage bag will help trap the Ethylene Gas produced by the Bang Site. This gas will then force the pineapple to go into flower. Repeat this again in one-week. Remove the plastic bag in the daytime. An alternative method to using Bang-Site or Calcium Carbide is to take a slice of an apple and push it down in the center of the foliage. Please make sure you cover it with a black plastic bag as well. Flowers will form shortly thereafter. Six months after flowering, you will harvest your ripe pineapple.
When will you know your pineapple is ready to harvest? Many people have their own opinion of how to tell when the fruit is ripe. Color is not a good indicator so do not be fooled. I will tell you the correct way to figure this out. Pineapples grow on a peduncle or stalk. Approximately six months after the pineapple forms, slightly bend the pineapple over. If the pineapple snaps off the stem, then it is ripe. Once picked, your pineapple is fully mature and will not ripen further on the counter. Even the greenest pineapple in the grocery store is at its peak maturity when harvested. Try a nice green pineapple the next time you go to the grocery store.
Although Florida cultivated pineapples commercially in the early nineteen hundred’s, pineapples are only farmed in backyards garden now. Hawaii produces over four-hundred million pineapples each year, but this number is dwarfed by the annual worldwide yield of three hundred billion pineapples. Having an expert like Ian Greig to help you grow pineapples is immeasurable. Plant a few in your garden, and make sure you protect them as they start to mature. Enjoy growing fresh pineapples in your garden and remember that without plants, we would not be here!