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Growing Pineapples Outside the Tropics

5/2/2013 1:35:00 PM

Tags: deep south, growing pineapples, David Goodman

pineapple bloomDown in South Florida (and Hawaii), gardeners have all the luck. Roughly 1.5 zillion amazing tropical species grow there, including pineapples. I used to cut the tops off and plant them here and there around my landscaping. In North Florida, where I now live, it's not nearly that easy.

You'll do great until the temperatures drop into the 20s, then your pineapple plants melt. The cold is insurmountable here. You may do good for a few years ... then BAM! Dead bromeliads.

Fortunately, they're easy to grow in pots. The picture in this post shows one of the many pineapple plants I inherited from my grandfather when he passed away a couple years back.

Before I go further, I have to tell you about him. His name was Judson Greene and he was a sailor and a brilliant carpenter. When I was a kid, he stood ten foot tall. If you dropped him on a desert island, he could build a sloop from laminated twigs, find a way to varnish it (twice), then sail back to home port before dinner. He had traveled about the tropics in the Navy, done scientific research, and still managed to raise five children, the oldest of whom was my mother.

Grandpa was also an inveterate experimenter, which is perhaps where I get my own exploratory drive. He planted a rubber tree in his back yard, grew a mahogany in the side yard, and was always toying with the idea of converting his whole house to solar power.

When he discovered in his 70s that you could grow pineapple plants from the tops of store-bought pineapples, he hatched an idea. Visiting the local grocery store, he asked the woman behind the food prep counter what she did with the pineapple tops that were removed when they made fruit salads. When he found out they were being thrown away, he asked if she’d save him some. She did – an entire black trash bag full.

Grandpa called my younger sisters and their friends together and made them an offer: for each pineapple top they planted in his back yard, he’d pay them a nickel.

Pineapple plants were soon scattered here and there all through the backyard landscaping. About two years later, the bounty started trickling in, and wow – those pineapples were the most delicious golden fruits. The ones the coons didn’t steal were shared regularly with visitors, who were all amazed to realize they were homegrown. For the next decade, until his death, Grandpa had pineapples … and his army of young planters grew up enjoying the fruit.

Though you may not live in the right climate to grow pineapples unprotected, they’re remarkably easy to grow – even outside the tropics.

When I inherited as many of Grandpa’s as I cared to dig up, I took them up here, potted some and planted others up against the south wall of my house. I now have at least five blooming, both in pots and against the wall ... and the frosts have only claimed a few test starts I put out in the yard.

The key to growing pineapples is two-fold.

  1. Don’t let them freeze!
  2. Don’t over water them!

That’s the basic formula. You can plant pineapple tops in cheap potting soil and water them as you remember… and they’ll grow. Pineapples, like all the bromeliads I’ve ever handled, have limited root systems. They feed primarily through their leaves. That said – don’t ever let any fertilizer fall down into the center of the plant. That can burn the poor thing and rot it from the middle out.

It the plant is looking really yellow or the leaves are getting washed out and reddish, it needs a little fertilizer boost. I use heavily diluted urine, compost, a little dissolved Epsom salts and fish emulsion every once in a while … but they probably don’t even need that.

And for those of you that live for ornamentals - why grow other bromeliads when you can grow these? They're attractive and edible. The down side is that they take a couple years to produce from a top or a slip ... but the up side is that you can start them any time you want, put them aside, start more, put them aside... and eventually, you'll have tons of pineapples. Just do it in between taking care of your faster-producing plants and you'll get there.

If you’re further north than me and even the south wall of your house is too cold for growing pineapples, bring the pots in during the cold and place them next to a sunny window. They’ll live. In fact, I’ve even seen small varieties used as novelty houseplants.

Though you may not be able to grow a little plantation like Grandpa did, you can certainly pot up a couple of pineapples for your porch. As tropical plants go, they’re one of the easiest to grow … and the easiest to find locally.

Try it! When you’re sipping a homemade pineapple cocktail, watching your neighbor hoe their oh-so-boring vegetables, you’ll thank me.

For survival plant profiles, ideas on growing tons of food, and madcap gardening inspiration, visit David’s daily blog at www.floridasurvivalgardening.com.



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