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Linda Ross was suffering from pineapple nostalgia: for when car trips up north invariably passed through fields of pineapples and by the tremendous (for a 9-year-old) ‘Big Pineapple’. So she grew pineapples in her backyard patch in Sydney and surprised herself and the family with a bumper harvest!
Pineapples were cultivated and selected in Central America for hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus observed them growing in the Caribbean in 1493 as a sign of welcome outside people's homes. The fruit was taken back by the crew of Columbus and were regarded as being almost as sensational as the New World itself.
Pineapple motifs appeared on pew ends, gateposts and stone sculptures, subtly communicating the wealth of the owner. And thus the craze for this formidable fruit began. The Victorians raised pineapples in long ‘Pineapple Pit’ glasshouses heated from below by composting manure. (You can see this method today at the Lost Garden of Heligan in Cornwall)
Pineapples are happiest growing in dry subtropical climates, so I figured it would be a challenge to grow them in Sydney. But I planted 14 plants and picked 14 fruits, so I can safely say – you can do it!
Pineapples belong to the bromeliad family and need full sun and a warm, frost-free position to bear fruit. They do not like temperatures below 20C or above 32C however mine persisted through a cold wet winter. Plant them in the hottest part of the garden with reflected heat, if possible, from a wall or fence. Pineapples grow well in pots, we have them growing successfully in terracotta pots at Garden Clinic HQ. Terracotta pots breathe and drain freely - wet roots are the enemy of pineapples.
Pineapples like acid soil and dry conditions, excellent news for forgetful gardeners who rarely water. Either plant the top of a pineapple you have just eaten or buy a plant from the nursery. Pineapple plants grow bigger than you might think, 1.5 metres high and over 1m wide. It's important to leave plenty of space between them for ease of access – they are prickly plants.
The fruit grows on a single stem rising out of the central well of each plant. Fruit takes up to two years to develop. Once it bears fruit it won't fruit again. Instead it will create 'pups' or new offset plants that will gradually replace the 'mother' plant.
Plant pups or offsets in spring, feed every three months with blood and bone and stop fertilising in winter when the fruit starts to forms.
Pests and Diseases
White scale and mealy bugs can effect potted plants, treat with horticultural oil over leaves. Birds and wallabies may eat fruit garden-grown fruit.
Tips and Tricks
- To make a pineapple cutting just remove the top from the fruit and peel away the outer leaves. This is a critical time for a pineapple and it's best to leave them sitting in a tray in a warm, sunny place for about a week to heal and seal. Trim off the shoulder and a few of the old leaves, and lay on seed raising mix. Expect new roots in a few weeks. Repot into a large terracotta pot.
- Once a plant has fruited remove it completely to allow new pups to grow.
- Place banana skin around each plant to help with fruit production.
- Pineapples won’t ripen further once they are picked, so wait for that ripe pineapple fragrance before you harvest.