Friday, March 25, 2016

From pineapple tops come pineapples

Did the pineapple originate in Hawaii?  No, actually the pineapple, which is a type of bromeliad like Spanish moss, originated in the tropical Americas and the Caribbean.  Explorers moved the pineapple around the tropical parts of the world and export from the West Indies developed through the 19th  Century. By the end of the 19th Century, significant production moved to Hawaii, Asia and Africa. Central America and Puerto Rico are also now major producers of this fruit. It was not until 1860 that pineapples were first introduced into Florida. In fact, there was even a pineapple industry for a time in early days of our very own Punta Gorda. Pineapples in Florida these days are pretty much a backyard crop. One of the pineapples in our Demonstration Garden at the East Port Environmental Campus on Harbor View Road is setting flowers right now, so I thought it timely to share some information on this interesting fruit.

Even if they never produced any fruit at all, pineapple plants are attractive subjects for the landscape all by themselves. A whorl of sword-like leaves form the actual pineapple plant which may grow up to six feet wide. Once the pineapple plant produces about 70-80 leaves, a flower is produced. Cool weather and short days naturally help induce a pineapple to flower. The flower is another very ornamental sight as a compressed reddish oval of flower buds emerges from the center of the plant. The individual flower is comprised of white and violet colored florets that open as the pineapple fruit forms. The fruit develops as a result of a fusion of smaller individual fruitlets into one big fruit. The green peel eventually ripens to a golden color accompanied by an attractive scent. With a fruit weight of up to five pounds, staking may be required to keep it from tipping over. A pineapple may take anywhere from 18-36 months from planting to harvest. On average, you can expect a pineapple from flower to ripe fruit in about seven months. Wait until 1/3 to 2/3 of the pineapple peel have turned from green to yellow for best sweetness. Then, allow the fruit to completely ripen at room temperature indoors. Once fully ripe, you can store the fruit in the refrigerator for a week.

There are numerous varieties of pineapple, but many may be difficult to find. However, one called 'Smooth Cayenne' is the most commonly available pineapple worldwide. This cultivar has high sugar content with yellow flesh. The leaves have some spines on three foot long leaves. Another variety, not as available as 'Smooth Cayenne', is 'Red Spanish' which is noted for a square-shaped fruit and spiny leaves. A very different type is 'Sugarloaf'. The leaves of 'Sugarloaf' are completely smooth and the flesh is white in color. There are even some super sweet new varieties in commercial production noted for retaining their quality when shipped. 

We can grow pineapples here in Charlotte County! To start pineapples, you first need either a crown from the fruit, slips, hapas, or suckers. The crown from the fruit is of course the pineapple top that you would ordinarily cut off and throw away. A slip is a sprout that comes from below the fruit on the fruit stalk. Hapas are like slips, but develop below the base of the fruit. Suckers form at the base of the leaves of the old mother plant. Don't be too quick to remove slips, hapas, or suckers from the mother plant. The bigger and more developed that all of these propagation materials are, the quicker they will develop into a fruiting plant. Whichever plantlet type you use, detach it from the mother plant and let it dry in a shaded location for about two days. Pot these plantlets up in clean potting medium to start new plants. Set rooted plants out in full sun locations situated in planting beds enriched with compost about 36 inches apart to help develop large and vigorous plants. The larger the pineapple plant at flowering, the larger the resulting fruit. Pineapples are also well suited to small space gardening and can be easily grown in a seven gallon container. Pineapples can produce a second fruit or ratoon crop if a sucker that emerges from below the fruit is allowed to grow. Make sure to remove all of the suckers and hapas except one which is then allowed to develop and produce a second fruit. A granular fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or its equivalent every eight weeks will help plants grow well. Also consider using a liquid fertilizer as per label directions. There are also foliar nutrient mixes with micronutrients that will benefit pineapple plants. Applying an organic mulch will also help maintain moisture and suppress weeds.

So, don't through away that pineapple top! While there is certainly an investment in time, growing your own fresh pineapples is a worthwhile effort! For more information on growing all types of backyard fruit, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times -

Crane, J.H. (2013) Pineapple Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. UF/IFAS Extension


Monday, March 14, 2016

Little umbrellas of dread

The broadleaf perennial weed known as dollarweed is a taxing problem for many local lawns.  How do we deal with one of the most recognizable turf weeds in our area?  Can we suppress this out of place plant to a level we can live with? 

By nature, dollarweed is very successful as its perennial characteristics allows it to spread around via seeds, underground stems and even tiny tubers.  The green scalloped leaves are a telltale sign that this pernicious weed has invaded your turf.  You may actually be part of the problem.  Dollarweed loves moist to wet areas and overwatering is a great way to provide an environment they like best.  Some of this may be over-irrigation, and some may actually be the nature of the landscape which is simply a site with poor drainage.  Hand-in hand with this cultural management effort, proper mowing can also help turf out-compete dollarweed.  As an example, mow St. Augustine grass so that it is maintained at three and one-half to four inches for best results.  Mowing lower than that can stress the turf and allow weeds to dominate.

Once you have exhausted the noted cultural control options, herbicide control can also be considered.  There are a number of chemicals that can used to manage dollarweed.  A important thing to remember would include the benefit of spot-treating versus a broadcast application.  Often only a certain area of the lawn may be infested, so target just the weedy zones instead of treating the whole, mostly, weed-free area.  At this point in the calendar year, selective, post-emergence control is the most feasible.  This option controls the dollarweed without hurting the grass.  As most people seem to have dollarweed problems in St. Augustine grass, some suggestions will be offered for this grass only.  While atrazine is one of the most commonly used selective, post-emergence materials, there are other herbicides, some combined for extra effectiveness.  It is imperative that you read the label before using any pesticide – it is the law and you need to know all about the ingredients, its uses, limitations and precautions!  If you do not feel qualified to safely apply such materials, either have a properly certified and insured applicator do the work, or stick with the non-chemical options.  Atrazine, and other similar post-emergent herbicides, should not be applied when temperatures exceed eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. 

The use of “weed-n-feed” products may not be warranted unless dollarweed is infesting  the entire lawn. Again, spot treating with the herbicide only may be the best strategy. 

To wrap up this article on dollarweed, keep in mind that dollarweed’ s other name is actually “pennywort”.  If all else fails, simply change the name of your weed and embrace your newly found pennywort – a weed is just a plant out of place after all!  For more information on all types of landscape and turf weed management ideas, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - .  

Trenholm, L. E., Cisar, J. L. and Unruh,  J. B. (2014) St. Augustinegrass for Florida Lawns.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Brecke, B. J., Telenko, D. E. P. Unruh, J. B.  and Leon, R. (2013) Pennywort (Dollarweed) Biology and Management in Turf. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Unruh, J. B.,  Leon, R.G., Brecke, B. J., and Trenholm, L. E. (2015)Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Brown, S. H. (2015) Selective Herbicides for Florida’s Lawn Weeds. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County.