In this series of monthly articles Bob explores the incredible range of plants you can grow in a greenhouse, conservatory or plastic tunnel. Not just the purely decorative but the scented and edible also, and maybe those plants that are just downright interesting. Bob starts off this month with his favourite- Pineapples.
Few plant’s are actually easier, more beautiful in flower or so impressive and tasty to eat when home grown as pineapples. Surrounded by mystique these natives of South America have been the pride of glasshouse gardeners since the end of the seventeenth century.
Considered difficult because of their history they are in fact very tough, and nearly hardy if bone dry -though preferring as much heat as you can give them. They will survive grown as air plants or even water plants (admittedly rather miserably in both cases) just demanding to be kept frost free. But given a warm place and free draining compost pineapples make magnificent shows of arching leaves (sometimes with sharp saw like edging) from which emerges a green or scarlet ‘pine-cone’. Then a spiral of bluey purple flowers spring from this cone, which do not need pollinating as they will fruit anyway. This decorative cone swells and in months becomes a sweet juicy aromatic pineapple much less acid than imported fruits, almost vanillary. (Withhold water once the fruit starts to colour until you have cut it.)
Surprisingly you can grow huge pineapples as big as your head in only bucket sized containers. After the first crop you earth up the stem and bring on side shots for even more fruits or these can be detached to make more plants. Of course as pineapple plants are not widely available in the UK the first plant is usually grown from the crown of a bought fruit. Simply twist out a healthy crown of green leaves then leave this to dry a week. Peel off the lower shrivelled leaves and you’ll find small roots ready to go. Pot the crown in gritty compost and keep in a warm light place. Bottom heat such as a propagator helps or a stand over a radiator is good. From spring to autumn keep the leaves misted and the compost moist, in winter keep both bone dry. Few pests or diseases often trouble pineapples and they need no special feeding though enjoying some with their water in summer. Pot up each spring and within a couple of years or so your plant will start cropping for sure. If you have green fingers you could produce fruits weighing ten pounds or more. If brown fingered it will still crop but be more of a pineapple chunk.