I’ve been seeing quite a few pineapple gardeners asking about brown leaves and how to fix them. While there’s some information out there, I couldn’t find a solid answer. So, I did some research to find out the best way to treat brown leaves on pineapple plants. Here’s what I found.
Pineapple plants get brown leaves from a lack of water, too much water, improper nutrients, pests, and diseases. However, a lack of water is the most common cause. Ideally, only water pineapple plants when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry, and apply compost and mulch. Provide 6+ hours of daily sunlight.
So, while pineapple plants get brown leaves from several causes, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Looking for a gardening and homesteading community? Join me and 14,000 others on Abundance Plus and get a private community, discounts, masterclasses, and much more.
The most frequent cause of brown leaves on pineapple plants is under-watering. You can tell if your pineapple plant is under-watered if its leaves are drying and turning brown starting at the tips. Another sign is if the top few inches of soil is bone dry.
So, what’s the best way to water pineapple plants?
Ideally, only water pineapple plants when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the pineapple plant’s leaves. Watering in this way prevents both under-watering and over-watering. Additionally, provide 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to retain moisture and protect the soil.
As pineapple plants are from the tropics, they prefer hot climates with full sun. However, to prevent their leaves from curling and browning, these plants still need proper watering to help keep themselves cool.
Pineapple plants cool themselves by sending moisture from their roots to their leaves and through a process called transpiration.
Much like humans, plants breathe and release moisture when hot. For plants, this is called transpiration. But when the climate is too hot and dry, transpiration and root moisture can’t effectively keep up to cool the plant and its leaves. As a result, the pineapple plant’s leaves brown at the tips. Over time, the entire leaf will brown and die, followed by the whole pineapple plant dying.
Pro Tip: Feel free to prune the brown tips of the pineapple leaves, but it’s not necessary.
In extremely hot and dry weather, pineapple plants benefit from partial shade. This is especially true for protection against the western, afternoon sun as it’s the hottest. Some ideas to create partial shade for pineapple plants are umbrellas, shade sails, and other plants.
To see which plants are good to shade and grow next to pineapples, check out my recent post: The Top 10 Companion Plants for Pineapple.
Unlike under-watering, over-watered or waterlogged pineapple plants typically don’t brown at the tip but develop entirely brown leaves. They can also develop conditions such as root rot (more on this later).
Like under-watering, over-watering can be quickly fixed by only watering when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry.
However, if your pineapple’s soil is poorly draining, we’ll need to address this first.
Generally, with poorly draining soils, potted pineapple plants can simply be repotted with fresh potting soil.
On the other hand, planted pineapple plants are a bit trickier. Typically, the best way to amend the soil for planted pineapples is to minimally water it and provide lots of compost—letting it naturally work its way into the soil over time.
But if you’re working with heavy clay soil, its poor drainage and alkalinity will likely lead to growth issues for the pineapple plant. In this case, it’s better to plant it on a mound of soil on top of the clay, instead of digging into it.
For more information about clay soil and planting in mounds, check out my other post: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (& How To Plant Them)?.
The goal is to have soil that drains after about an hour and feels like a wrung-out sponge.
Once your pineapple plant has properly draining soil, provide 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch.
Compost provides valuable nutrients for the pineapple plant (as well as beneficial soil life) and increases the richness of the soil. For every 1% increase in the soil’s richness, 1 acre of soil can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water (source).
Mulch is equally as important as compost as it protects the soil from drying out and eroding in the sun and wind, which also keeps the beneficial soil life alive. It also significantly reduces evaporation.
When applying compost and mulch, make sure to keep them at least 3 inches away from the stem of the pineapple plant as the moisture can encourage mold on the stem. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
For best results, use mulches such as leaves, bark, and straw. However, pine needles and pine bark are some of the best mulches since pineapples prefer slightly acidic soil (more on this later).
3. Improper Nutrients
Pineapple plants that are over or under-fertilized become stressed, leading to browning and dying leaves. A lack of nutrients causes deficiencies while nutrient potency from excess fertilizer causes the pineapple’s roots to burn.
For best results, use a quality fertilizer as directed, or 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months.
Chemical Fertilizers vs Compost
While chemical fertilizers have nutrients in quantity, they typically lack nutrients in quality. This can cause stress for the pineapple plants as they’re unable to absorb sufficient nutrients. Additionally, much of the nutrients from chemical fertilizers are often leached through the soil when watering.
Chemical fertilizers can also have other, unintended consequences, such as killing beneficial soil life and drying out the soil.
Fortunately, compost and manure have been found to contain more than sufficient nutrients for plants (including pineapple plants).
Approximately 70-80% of nitrogen (N), 60-85% of phosphorus (P), and 80-90% of potassium (K) found in feeds is excreted in the manure. These nutrients can replace fertilizer needed for pasture or crop growth, eliminating the need to purchase fertilizers. Plants do not distinguish between sources of nutrients. However, compared to commercial fertilizer, manure contains organic carbon which is the key to maintaining soil health, including the characteristics of cation exchange capacity, soil tilth, and water holding capacity.University of Massachusetts Amherst
Compost also feeds beneficial soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi, leading to benefits such as improved soil aeration, nutrient availability, and disease resistance (source).
If you’re interested to learn more, check out my other post: Can Compost Replace Fertilizer? Here’s What the Experts Say.
However, if you’re not big on compost, you can find out more about the fertilizers that I do recommend on my recommended fertilizer page.
Keep in mind that nutrients aren’t everything—pineapple plants also need a specific soil pH to properly absorb nutrients and thrive.
Pineapples prefer a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.6 (source).
This is important because an acidic soil pH dissolves the solid nutrients in the soil, and makes them available to be absorbed by the plant’s finer roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Two good ways to check the soil’s pH are with pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, view my recommended tools page.
4. Pests and Diseases
Pineapple mealybugs (Dysmicoccus brevipes) are small, oval, white-pink bugs about 1mm wide, but still visible to the naked eye. These bugs suck the sap from pineapple plants, leaving behind a waxy residue, which also attracts ants.
Mealybugs can also transmit mealybug wilt—a virus that turns the leaf tips of pineapple plants red, wilted, and then brown.
The two best ways to treat pineapple plants of mealybugs are:
- Ladybugs (a natural predator of mealybugs)
- Ant control (ants protect the mealybugs, similar to aphids)
The most successful control of the pineapple mealybug thus far has been through control of the ant populations that tend to the pest. Without the care of ants, the pineapple mealybug becomes much more susceptible to predators and parasitoids, and the effectiveness of biological control increases. Ant bait traps and other ground traps have also been effective.University of Florida, Entomology and Nematology Department
Root rot, also called Phytophthora Root & Crown Rot, is a root fungus that causes leaves, blossoms, and fruit to droop, yellow, and brown. For pineapples, the center or heart of the plant can also brown and rot.
This disease typically occurs in areas with poor drainage. To prevent and treat root rot, promote well-draining soils and transplant the plant with fresh soil if necessary. Raised beds are also helpful in improving soil drainage.
There is no chemical control available for crown and root rot in the home garden. The most important control strategy is careful water management.Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service
My potted Kaffir lime tree had root rot recently, which I was able to tell based on the sopping wet soil and swampy smell. Fortunately, after repotting the tree with fresh potting soil, and waiting a few days, the tree made a full recovery!
More Tips to Prevent Brown Leaves on Pineapple Plants
- Avoid placing indoor, potted pineapple plants near heaters as it can dry out the leaves
- Prune off the brown tips of leaves if desired
- After fruiting, it’s normal for the mother plant to brown and die. The pups at the base will grow into a new plant and fruit.
- Keep your pineapple plant in full sun (6+ hours a day) if possible. A lack of sunlight can cause yellow leaves, and eventually lead to a brown and dying plant. For indoor pineapples, a south-facing window works best (north-facing window if you’re in the southern hemisphere).
Is Your Plant Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can tell if your plant is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some flesh from a branch or shoot. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
In the off chance it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (ask yourself if it was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc) and adjust as needed for any remaining plants.
If you’re looking to replace your plant, or add more to your garden, the best places to get them are your local nursery or an online nursery. For example, I got my Fuji apple, brown turkey figs, and bing cherry tree from Fast Growing Trees, and they were all delivered quick, neat, and healthy (see below).