My aunt from Hawaii reached out and asked why her pineapple plant is getting yellow leaves. I had an idea, but I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found.
Pineapple plants get yellow leaves when the bottom leaves naturally die, or when it’s done fruiting. After it fruits, the mother plant will die off and its pups (saplings) grow in its place. Other causes of yellow leaves are over-watering, a lack of sunlight, extreme weather, and herbicide injury.
Let’s take a look at more details as to why pineapple plants get yellow leaves, and how to fix it.
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1. Natural Die Off
Pineapple plants are similar to bananas in that the mother plant dies after they’re done fruiting. This allows their pups or saplings to grow from their base.
While it can seem like more work to have a plant that dies after fruiting, the plant’s multiple pups mean you can easily propagate it and make many more pineapple plants with little to no effort.
As the mother plant is growing, its lower leaves turn yellow and die to be replaced with new, green leaves towards the top of the plant. This is a natural cycle and allows the pineapple plant to effectively replace its leaves.
But what if your pineapple plant hasn’t fruited yet, and most or all of its leaves are yellowing?
Pineapple plants are natively from the tropics, so they prefer plenty of water and well-draining soil (common in sandy soils).
However, when the soil has poor drainage, it can drown the pineapple’s roots and lead to root rot (more on this later).
For this reason, many pineapple growers prefer to use quick-draining soil such as those high in sand, or even a bit of gravel.
Since many factors contribute to how much or how often to water pineapple plants (sunlight, soil, drainage, wind, plant needs, etc.), there’s no one volume or schedule to water them.
However, there’s a good guideline to follow to avoid both over-watering and under-watering.
The best way to water pineapple plants is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. I check this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the plant’s drip line.
By only watering when the soil is dry, you’re ensuring the pineapple plant is getting what it needs.
When watering, avoid pouring water into the crown of the plant. The pineapple plant’s leaves can trap the water, leading to rot. If you can, it’s best to water the soil directly and make sure it’s well-draining.
If your pineapple plant’s soil is compacted or high in clay, watering properly will be difficult. In this case, consider repotting your potted pineapple, or transplanting your pineapple plant to a soil that’s elevated to assist with its drainage.
Some good examples of elevated soil are raised beds and mounds of soil (including hugelkultur mounds).
To amend soil that’s poorly draining, apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Not only will the compost provide valuable nutrients for the pineapple plant, but it will break up the larger clumps of soil and retain the proper amount of moisture.
Once your soil is well-draining, apply 4 inches of mulch to improve water retention, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil erosion. Some good mulches to use on pineapple plants are leaves, wood chips, and pine needles. Reapply mulch every 3-6 months.
3. Lack of Sunlight
Without proper sunlight, a pineapple plant’s leaves turn yellow (lacking chlorophyll, aka chlorosis) and are unable to develop sugars for the plant. Over time, this low energy leads to the plant’s declining health, and eventually, the plant can die.
Pineapple plants evolved as an understory species in forests, so they prefer full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
Provide pineapple plants with 6+ hours a day, but be ready to provide them with partial shade from the afternoon sun if temperatures are consistently above 90ºF.
A lack of sunlight is common for indoor, potted pineapple plants, so place them near a southern-facing window for maximum sunlight if possible (north-facing if you live in the southern hemisphere).
If you believe a lack of sunlight is causing your pineapple plant to get yellow leaves, here are some things you can do:
- Plant your pineapple plant in a south-facing direction of your property for maximum sunlight (north-facing if you live in the southern hemisphere)
- Plant the pineapple along a south-facing wall to reflect even more sunlight and heat onto the plant (some heat even persists into the night).
- Prune some overstory trees that are blocking the pineapple plant’s leaves from the sun.
Keep in mind that too much sunlight and heat burns or dries out pineapple plants.
If this happens, the pineapple plant’s leaves begin to dry, curl, brown, and drop. It’s important to keep an eye on the pineapple plant’s soil moisture as it’s the primary way it stays cool.
4. Extreme Weather
Since pineapple plants are from the tropics they prefer to grow in zones 9-12. However, even some areas in zone 9 might be too cold, so 10-12 is more appropriate. Pineapple plants are highly frost-sensitive and get yellow and brown leaves fairly quickly.
Aim to grow pineapple plants in USDA hardiness zones 9-12. Avoid temperatures below 40ºF and above 90ºF if possible.
While it’s not always possible to control the weather, you can influence it. Gardeners are finding this out more and more each day and creating microclimates in their backyards and properties.
Microclimates are a difference in a local climate compared to its greater climate. It can mean using the shade of a single tree, or the shade of a mountainside. Sunlight, wind, moisture, and other factors influence microclimates.
A successful and extreme example is how an oasis can grow in a desert (and no, they’re not mirages!).
Here are some ways you can influence your microclimate and reduce the effects of extreme weather on your pineapple plant:
- Compost and Mulch – providing compost and mulch are two of the best practices anyone can use in their garden. The effects of their moisture retention, nutrient quality, and erosion control are unmatched.
- Partial Shade – while most plants require full sun (6+ hours a day), that doesn’t mean they can tolerate a hot sun. Aim to provide your pineapple plants with partial shade if temperatures get above 90ºF. Shade from the hot, afternoon (west) sun is most beneficial.
- Plant Density – planting pineapple plants densely with companion plants not only provides them with benefits such as soil coverage and partial shade, but protection against wind, pests, diseases, and more. It also dramatically retains moisture from transpiration.
Remember, plants (including pineapples) stay cool by sending moisture from their roots to their leaves and through a process called transpiration. Just like humans, plants exhale moisture (transpiration), and this is why walking into a thick canopy feels more humid than an open one.
For a great example of planting densely, check out how Jim Kovaleski grows pineapple and other plants directly under his avocado trees (fast-forward to 14:50).
So, by covering the soil, creating shade, and capturing transpiration, we’re drastically influencing the microclimate for our plants and giving them the best chance to grow.
If you’d like to learn more about microclimates, and how you can create them in your backyard, check out this video by Gardener Scott.
5. Herbicide Injury
Herbicide injury can affect pineapple plants and if absorbed leads to issues such as leaves wilting, yellowing, browning, and dropping leaves. If it’s bad enough, the pineapple plant dies.
Your pineapple plant can get herbicide injury from:
- Run Off
- Improper Use
- Contaminated Soil
Glyphosate exposure causes yellowing, wilting, browning, and eventual death of foliage and plants. Damage usually appears first in new tissues, and the herbicide can translocate from one part of the plant to other susceptible tissues.Utah State University
To treat herbicide injury in potted pineapple plants, wash the leaves with water and repot the plant with fresh, organic potting soil.
To treat herbicide injury for pineapples planted in the garden, wash the leaves with water and amend the soil with a 1-inch layer of activated charcoal and 2 inches of compost.
If your pineapple plant has well-draining soil, deeply water the plant to dilute and leach any herbicides from the soil.
After amending the plant and its soil, it’ll take some time for them to recover.
For more information about herbicide injury on plants, check out this resource by Utah State University
6. Root Rot
Root rot, also called Phytophthora Root & Crown Rot, is a root fungus that causes a pineapple plant’s leaves, blossoms, and fruit to droop, yellow, brown, and drop.
This disease typically occurs in areas with poor drainage.
To prevent root rot, only water when the soil is dry and promote well-draining soils.
To treat root rot, transplant your plants to an area with fresh, drier soil. Potted pineapple plants with root rot should be repotted with fresh potting soil.
Raised beds are also helpful in improving soil drainage.
Avoid using sprays for root rot as it’s not effective.
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
For example, my potted Kaffir lime tree had root rot recently, which I was able to tell from 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!
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