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Agnote

No: D2
May 2006

Growing Pineapples in the Top End


M. Poffley* and G. McMahon, Senior Technical Officer, Crops, Forestry and Horticulture, Darwin
*Formerly DPIFM

The pineapple (Anannus comosus L) originated in tropical


America. Wild pineapples are still found in this region, but
the fruit is generally small and full of seeds. Today the
pineapple is grown throughout the tropics, with the major
commercial producers being Hawaii, the Philippines,
Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, Taiwan, Mexico,
Cuba and Brazil.
The pineapple is a perennial plant consisting of a single
stem which develops into a terminal inflorescence and fruit.
The fruit consists of 100-200 berries which have fused
together on the stalk (core). The core continues to grow
and develop into the "crown" on top of the fruit. The plant
then continues to grow by the development of one or more
of its axillary buds into shoots or vegetative branches which
in turn will develop a fruit and so on. The crop from the
originally planted shoot is called the plant crop. The first
fruit harvested from the shoots off this plant are called the
"first ratoon", fruit from following generations of shoots are
called "second ratoon".

VARIETIES
The Cayenne (Smooths) and Queens (Roughs) are the only varieties grown commercially in Australia.
Smooths
The leaves are smooth with only a few spines at the tips and at the base. It is a large plant with leaves reaching 1
metre in length. The average fruit weighs 2-5 kg and is cylindrical in shape, tapering slightly towards the top. The
fruitlets or eyes are large and flat. The fruit turns deep yellow when ripe. The flesh is a light yellow colour, firm and
juicy. The Smooths variety is used in the canning industry.
Roughs
The leaves have numerous spines along the margins and a whitish bloom on both sides. The plants are smaller
and more compact than the Smooth variety, producing an average fruit weight of 1-2 kg. Ripe fruits are golden
yellow with deep yellow flesh, and an aromatic flavour and crisp texture which makes them very popular in the
fresh fruit market.

CLIMATE
Temperature
Pineapples do well in a warm climate. Plant growth ceases when the soil temperature falls below 20oC. They will
not tolerate frost.
Rainfall
Due to the shallow fibrous root system the period of rainfall is more important than the amount. Pineapples have a
good drought tolerance. In coastal areas with high humidity and heavy dews, plants will do quite well without
irrigation. A good average rainfall would be in the region of 100-150 cm per year.
Soil
Soils must be well drained and aerated, pineapples will not tolerate wet feet. Poor growth is also experienced in
soils with a high lime content. Pineapples prefer acid soils with a pH in the range of 4.5-6.0.

PROPAGATION
Pineapples are propagated vegetatively by planting shoots or suckers. Generally they will develop into plants
which are true to type, or identical to the parent. However, genetic changes do occasionally occur during plant
growth. These mutants or "off types", must be regularly culled to maintain the desirable characteristics of the
parent lines.
Plant Selection
Planting material should be selected from plants which have large well shaped fruit (long, cylindrical, broadshouldered, large flat eyes and small core).
Other desirable characteristics are:

short fruit stalk

two or three slips set well below the fruit

one or two suckers produced close to the ground to stabilise the ratoon plant.

Undesirable characteristics to rogue out are:

"collar of slips" where numerous slips (four or more) develop close to the base of the fruit and occasionally
from the fruit itself. These develop at the expense of the fruit and sucker development
knobs developing on the base of the fruit

multiple crowns.

Plant selection should take place at harvest time. Undesirable plants should be marked clearly to prevent
collection of planting material from them.

PLANTING MATERIAL
Shoots or Suckers
These develop on the stem, one is left to produce the ratoon crop which generally takes 12 months; the others
are removed and used for planting material. Take 12-18 months to harvest.
Slips
These develop just below the fruit. Together with shoots or suckers they are the main source of planting material
for commercial crops. These can be left on the plant after harvesting to increase their size but should be removed
after two months or the ratoon crop will suffer. Take 12-18 months to harvest.

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Crowns or Tops
These are not generally used commercially as they tend to be slow and can take two years to harvest.
Butts
These are the old stalks from plants which have already fruited. They are not commonly used, but if planting
material is in short supply they can be cut into 15 cm lengths and used. Take about 24 months to harvest.
Planting material can be stored for up to six months in a cool dry place.

FIELD PLANTING
Green Manures
A nematode resistant green manure crop should be included in the crop rotation. This should be grown over the
wet season and slashed regularly to prevent seed set. The green manure crop increases levels of organic matter
and helps reduce the buildup of pests and diseases in the soil.
Suitable green manure crops are Jumbo forage sorgham (Sorgham bicolor), and pearl millet (Pennisetum
glaucum).For cultural information refer to the Green Manure Growing Note VG7.
Time
Planting can take place throughout the year, as planting material becomes available. Consecutive plantings
should be made to ensure a regular supply of fruit. Natural flowering occurs between September to December
with fruit reaching maturity from November to February. Flower initiation has proved difficult in the Northern
Territory and further information on initiation methods can be obtained from the Department of Primary Industry,
Fisheries and Mines.
Soil Preparation
Green manure crops should be ploughed in at least six weeks before planting to allow the organic matter to break
down. Compacted soils should be deep ripped. If dolomite or gypsum is needed it should be applied before
ploughing to aid its incorporation into the soil. The soil should be worked to a fine tilth and the beds formed
Layout
Beds should be 30 cm high and at least 65 cm wide.
As plant densities increase from 20 000 to 70 000 there is a corresponding increase in production. However,
there is a direct decrease in fruit size and slip and sucker production at the same time. The plant density to aim
for should be between 25 000 and 40 000 plants per hectare. The following spacings, in metres, can be used as a
guide to plant population using double rows with plants off set or staggered in adjacent rows.
Plants x Rows x Bed Centres = Plants/hectare
0.400 x 0.450 x 2.0 = 25 000
0.300 x 0.450 x 1.8 = 37 000
0.300 x 0.450 x 1.4 = 47 000
On sloping ground the gradient of the rows should not exceed 4o and the length 30 m. The rows should flow out
into well developed (grassed or lined) main drains or severe erosion may result. Roadways should be spaced to
facilitate spraying and harvesting, e.g. for a 10 m boom sprayer, roadways should be 20 m apart.

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Grading
It is very important that all planting material be sorted into two or three grades, depending on weight rather than
apparent size, and planted in blocks accordingly. This ensures an even harvest (period as well as fruit size). Poor
grading results in smaller plants being shaded by larger more vigorous neighbours.
Planting material should be checked for insect pests such as mealybugs and scale, and treated if necessary (see
Insect Pests).
Planting
Tops, slips and suckers are best planted using a short-handled, narrow-bladed hoe. The depth of planting varies
from 5-10 cm, depending on size of material. Plants should not be planted too deep or soil will fall down the
funnel, resulting in slow growth and often the development of rots. On the other hand they should be well
anchored with the soil pressed down around them to prevent falling over due to soil washing away during heavy
rain.
Butts are usually planted in shallow furrows, laid end to end and covered with about 1 cm of soil. Care must be
taken not to leave a depression or water may accumulate along the furrow causing rots.
As a precaution against top rot, caused by a phytophtora fungus, plants sown during the Wet should be drenched
with a fungicide. This should be poured down the funnel of the plant immediately after planting.

NUTRITION
The major elements required by pineapples are nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium.
Phosphorus and calcium are not readily leached from the soil, so the total requirement for the crop cycle can be
applied as the base fertiliser. Nitrogen and potassium are needed in large amounts throughout the plant's
development. These can be applied in the form of a complete fertiliser mix to the soil or onto the lower leaves of
the plant taking care to avoid the heart or burning may result.
A soil sample should be taken a month or so prior to land preparation to determine fertiliser rates. The following
can be used as a guide for rates of fertilisers on most Top End soils. These are for vigorously growing plants.
During cold weather and drought plant growth slows down or ceases, fertiliser should be reduced accordingly.
Pre-Plant
This should be broadcast along the row prior to hilling up.
Dolomite at a rate of 2-3 kg/100 m of row if necessary.
Super phosphate at a rate of 4.5 kg/100 m of row.
A suitable fertiliser mix of approximately 13N : 2P : 13K : 19S at a rate of 4.5 kg/100 m of row.

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Side-dressing
There are two methods of applying the side dressing.

Applied as granules to the soil or lower leaves of the plant. The fertiliser mix and urea are alternated at the
following rates.
NPKS at 2.25 kg/100 m of row.(approximately 350 kg/ha)
Urea at 1.12 kg/100 m of row.(approximately 175 kg/ha)

Because these are released relatively slowly by the soil they are only applied on alternate months e.g. month
2 NPKS, and month 4 urea.

Foliar sprays applied directly over the plant to the point of run-off.
Urea at 3-5 kg/100 L plus potassium sulphate at 3-5 kg/100 L
Or potassium nitrate at 3-5 kg/100 L
Zinc sulphate at a rate of 325 g/100 m of row. Alternatively, the zinc sulphate (heptahydrate) can be
applied as a foliar spray at the rate of 100 g/100 L on alternate months till flower initiation.
Also apply solubor at a rate of10 g/100 L every two months.

After flower initiation fertilisation ceases till the fruit has been harvested.

WEED CONTROL
Hand weeding and chipping, using both conventional and 'torpedo' hoes are not very effective as plants develop
and is very labour intensive.
Black plastic mulch is quite effective, but beds must be high and well formed. A build up of nematodes can often
result with this method, due to the favourable environment created under the plastic, particularly in sandy soils.
During exceptionally wet seasons root rot can be a problem under plastic.
Herbicides are the most effective method of weed control in commercial crops. Due to the length of the crop cycle
in pineapples (three to five years) herbicides with a long residual period can be used. Pre-emergent herbicides
are recommended i.e. they should be present in the soil when weeds are germinating. There are a number of
herbicides recommended for pineapples.
For information on herbicide use and application rates contact the Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and
Mines.

IRRIGATION
Method

Drippers or Drip Tape


This method is very efficient, but as the crop cycle is over an extended period, problems can arise with
blocked drippers/drip tape or pests damaging plastic piping. If plastic mulch is used it is advisable to put the
drip line on top as blockages or damage to pipes are easier to detect. Good filters are essential.

Overhead Sprinklers
Overhead sprinklers should not be used as over watering can cause root and fruit rots.

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Rate
Pineapples are drought tolerant, but growth ceases when the plant is in a drought condition. As the plant has a
shallow fibrous root system, irrigations in excess of 25 mm at a time are unnecessary. Excess irrigation may also
leach fertiliser below the root zone. In the Dry it may be necessary to irrigate every one to two weeks, depending
on soil condition. Once flower initiation has taken place, watering should be restricted to half this frequency as
fruit rot and other problems can result from over watering during this period. Maintain water up to two weeks
before harvest.

ARTIFICIAL FLOWER INITIATION


As mentioned earlier, pineapples flower naturally once a year. However, with the aid of certain chemicals it is
possible to initiate flowering at almost any time of the year.
Stage
Flower initiation depends more on the size and vigour of the plant than age. As a general rule the length of the
base leaves should be at least 90 cm for Smooths and 60 cm for Roughs, before they are large enough to
produce a good size fruit. Vigorously growing Smooths are difficult to initiate as the growth cycle must be slowed
down to allow initiation to take place. This can be achieved in the Dry by withholding water, for a month or two.
Smooths are also difficult to initiate artificially when the air temperature exceeds 29oC. Rough pineapples can be
initiated at any time. For more information on flower initiation please contact the Department of Primary Industry,
Fisheries and Mines.

HARVESTING
Pineapples are susceptible to sunburn, especially as the fruit matures. Large fruit often lean over and should be
protected by placing shredded paper over the exposed surface. Regular inspection is necessary as fruits reach
maturity.
Fruit for export should be picked at the mature green stage i.e. as the fruit begins to show a change in colour.
Fruit for the local market can be picked at half colour.
Ripe fruit must be handled with care as they bruise easily, causing loss of quality and often resulting in fruit rots.

INSECT PESTS
Pineapples have relatively few insect pests; however, there are two which can cause problems.

Mealybugs are not normally a problem, but severe infestations can cause wilting and occasionally death.
They are found at the base of the leaves and fruit and are covered by a white waxy deposit. Planting material
should be inspected for these pests, and if necessary dipped for five minutes in a recommended and
registered insecticide prior to planting.

Nematodes can be a major problem. They are minute eel like worms (less than 1 mm long) that live in the
soil. They attack the roots, causing the plants to become weak and unthrifty. Signs in the roots are numerous
lumps and poor root development, or discoloured and dead patches. There can be a build-up of nematodes if
pineapples are grown continuously without a rotation which includes a resistant green manure crop.

For information on insect control, please refer to the DPIFM Entomology website at http://pestinfo.nt.gov.au/

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DISEASES
Root and top rot are caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi and P. nicotianae var. parasitica which are soil fungi.
Provided plants are grown in well drained soil on raised beds these should not be a problem.
Fruitlet core rot is the result of secondary infection due to mealybug attack on the fruit. By eradicating the
mealybug, this problem disappears.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.
Collins, J. L. (1960). The Pineapple - Botany, Cultivation and Utilisation, Leonard Hill Books, London.

Please visit us at our website:

www.nt.gov.au/dpifm
Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines
Northern Territory Government
ISSN 0157-8243
Serial No. 369
Agdex No. 232/10
Disclaimer: While all care has been taken to ensure that information contained in this Agnote is true and correct at the time of publication, the
Northern Territory of Australia gives no warranty or assurance, and makes no representation as to the accuracy of any information or advice
contained in this publication, or that it is suitable for your intended use. No serious, business or investment decisions should be made in
reliance on this information without obtaining independent/or professional advice in relation to your particular situation.

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