A family member from Florida recently messaged me, asking if I knew why one of their pineapple plants is dying. While I had some ideas, I wanted to do more research to give them the best answer. Here’s what I found about dying pineapple plants.
Pineapple plants most commonly die from improper watering, climate, and nutrients, as well as transplant shock, pests, and diseases. To tell which issue your pineapple plant has, start with watering. Ideally, only water when its soil is dry. Then, look towards climate, nutrients, and any signs of pests or disease.
So, while pineapple plants die for several reasons, how can we tell what’s causing it, and from there—how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Can Dying Pineapple Plants Be Saved?
Dying pineapple plants can be revived if you first find the proper issue and apply a timely solution. The hard part is finding out which issue is affecting them. However, a good approach is to start with the possible issues based on the symptoms and try solutions starting from the least invasive to the most invasive.
The reason why we want to start with the least invasive solution first is to minimize the stress your pineapple plant gets. For example, it’s much easier on the pineapple plant to adjust its watering than it is to spray it with chemicals or dig it up and transplant it.
By approaching solutions in this way, it makes it easier for you to treat your pineapple plant, as you can work your way up from simple solutions to more complex ones.
3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Pineapple Plant
If you’ve already tried finding out which issue your pineapple plant has, and you’ve gotten stuck, there’s still hope.
Here are 3 steps you can use to save your pineapple plant, for just about any condition.
1. Identify the Possible Issues
The first step in reviving a dying pineapple plant is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!
If you haven’t seen them yet, reference the below sections for the top 6 most common pineapple plant issues.
2. Isolate the Actual Issue
Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your pineapple plant has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.
Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your pineapple plant is exhibiting. This will give you the best chance to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to spray the plant with neem oil if the problem is a watering issue).
If you’re still not sure about the issue your pineapple plant has, that’s okay! Call up your local nursery and get their opinion on what’s happening. You may need to talk to a few people to get their experience, but there’s a strong chance they’ve seen it before and can point you in the right direction (or even provide you with the solution!).
Additionally, you can contact your local professional orchard or cooperative extension service.
3. Test Solutions
Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.
Start with the least invasive solution and work your way up to the most invasive. Again, providing less water is much easier on the plant than going through the process of repotting it. Try to save that option for last.
Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. And hopefully, one of them sticks.
Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or you notice something new the second time around.
Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Stay the course and see if you can uncover it.
Now, to give you a head start on treating your pineapple plant, let’s look at the 6 most common reasons why pineapple plants die.
The Top 6 Reasons Why Pineapple Plants Die
1. Dying After Fruiting
After a pineapple plant fruits, it’s perfectly normal for the main (or mother) plant to die off. During this process, the pineapple plant leaves curl, brown, and die. In their place, the new shoots grow from the base and develop into new pineapple plants.
This method of regrowing from shoots is highly useful when propagating pineapple plants and is very similar to how banana plants grow.
So, if your pineapple plant has finished fruiting recently, and you noticed the top most leaves curling and dying off, know that this is normal and you don’t need to do anything different.
However, what if your pineapple plant hasn’t fruited recently or the whole plant is starting to die? What’s the next most likely cause?
2. Over or Under-Watering
Over and under-watering commonly leads to a dying pineapple plant, with under-watering being the most frequent cause. Too little water and the pineapple plant will curl, brown, and die. Too much water causes root rot and dropping leaves. Only water when the soil is dry and provide compost and mulch.
When pineapple plants are under-watered, their leaves curl to conserve moisture. Under-watering is common in hot and dry climates, where soil moisture can be evaporated in a matter of hours. If left for too long, the curled leaves will dry and brown further. Occasionally, the brown leaves can drop, although some pineapple plants retain their brown leaves.
On the other hand, over-watered pineapple plants often result in stagnant water and root rot. This is especially common for soils with poor drainage. Once the soil is waterlogged, the pineapple plant becomes stressed until the roots can have a chance to dry out a bit and fight off the root rot mold. If left with root rot, the roots decay, leading to more brown leaves before killing the tree.
While there is a lot of information out there about how to water plants, the best rule is to only water when the soil is dry. This prevents both over and under-watering as you’re only watering when the plant needs it.
Also, providing 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch on top of the soil goes a long way to helping the soil hold more water and increase the water independence of the plant. It also encourages deeper roots that can access deeper water. However, adding compost and mulch should only be done once the pineapple plant has well-draining soil as these practices can make poor drainage worse.
Here’s a bit more information about compost and mulch, and why they’re so beneficial for your pineapple plant.
Compost provides valuable nutrients to the soil and increases the soil’s richness and water retention. For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre (source).
Mulch protects the soil (and the beneficial soil organisms) from drying out in the sun and wind. In hot and dry weather, mulching also dramatically reduces evaporation and locks in moisture from the soil. On the other hand, in cold weather, mulching provides a layer of insulation for the plant and its roots. Some good mulches for pineapple plants are leaves, bark, pine needles, and straw.
So, to recap:
Once you have well-draining soil, only water pineapple plants when the first 2-4 inches of soil are dry. I check for this by pushing a finger into the soil. Then, apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch under the drip line of the plant, keeping them at least 3 inches from the main stem.
Ideally, reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
If you need to test your soil’s drainage, you can dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole near the pineapple plant and fill it with water. If the hole drains slower than 2 inches per hour, it has poor drainage.
Also, make sure to dig the hole outside of the plant’s canopy to avoid damaging its shallow roots.
However, it can be difficult to amend garden soil due to the volume of amendments needed.
For planted pineapples, providing compost and mulch on top of the soil is generally the best way. This way you avoid digging up the plant (which also potentially causes transplant shock). However, it takes time to amend the soil as the compost and mulch break down and work their way into the soil.
For potted pineapple plants, you can test the soil’s drainage by seeing if the water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes. If the top of the soil is staying sopping wet hours after watering, the plant likely needs to be repotted with fresh potting soil.
3. Extreme Weather
Pineapple plants are natively from tropical climates, so they prefer hot environments such as USDA hardiness zones 11-12. However, this is a generalization as there are varieties that can tolerate slightly cooler zones or grow in greenhouses.
The sweet spot for pineapple plants is between 68ºF and 86ºF.
Climates that are too cold (below zone 11), or those that are too hot and dry quickly pose a problem for pineapple plants.
For best results, keep your pineapple plant in a warm and humid climate if possible. If the climate is too hot and dry, or too cold, move potted pineapple plants indoors. When bringing them indoors, take care to avoid the hot and dry air from the central heat.
Let’s get more specific and see how to best grow pineapples in both hot and cold weather.
In hot and dry areas such as California, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Texas, pineapple plants lose moisture from their leaves and soil quickly. Normally, pineapple plants do best in temperatures under 90ºF. Any hotter and they start to suffer—slowing their growth and potentially declining in health.
Much like humans, plants breathe and release moisture when hot. For plants, this is called transpiration. When the climate is too hot and dry, the transpiration and root moisture can’t effectively keep up and cool the plant and its leaves. As a result, the pineapple plant’s leaves curl, dry, brown, and sometimes drop.
So, the hotter and drier the weather, the more energy the plant uses to transpire and survive, and the less energy it has to use to establish its root system and grow. This drain of resources can quickly stunt or kill the plant.
If you live in a drier climate and you’d like more information about the best drought-tolerant fruiting plants, check out my other post: 30 Best Drought-Tolerant Fruit and Nut Trees (Ranked).
If temperatures fall below 60ºF, the pineapple plant’s growth will likely start to slow (source).
For planted pineapple plants, you can insulate them and their soil by giving them each 4 inches of mulch. You can also use windbreaks such as other plants to reduce the effects of windchill.
For potted pineapple plants, you can simply move them indoors when the outdoor temperature falls below 60ºF. Remember to keep your pineapple plant away from the central heat if possible. You can also place a humidifier near it to make it more comfortable.
I found out about the effects of central heat the hard way. We had a surprise snowstorm last year here in Austin, Texas, and I moved my potted Meyer lemon tree inside. However, it quickly started losing its leaves. After moving it into a cooler and less dry room, it quickly started growing new leaves (see my photo below).
4. 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.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.
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
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.
5. Transplant Shock
If a pineapple plant was recently planted or repotted, and it’s starting to die, it’s likely due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system. Avoid transplanting unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.
Like many plants, pineapples are vulnerable to transplant shock, which can take up to a year for them to recover from. To help avoid transplant shock, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the plant’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk or stem as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
6. 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!
A Note on Pesticides and Fungicides
My parents recently had an issue with caterpillars eating their basil plants in Ventura, CA, and they were about fed up. Every time they’d plant basil, the caterpillars ate it. Fortunately, instead of giving into chemical sprays, they found an organic spray at their local nursery that’s made from fermented rum. The day after spraying, they’d find dead caterpillars on the soil.
If you’d like to find out more about this organic spray, you can find it here on Amazon.
So, what’s my point here?
Even though chemical sprays and fertilizers are an easy way out, like all easy and convenient things, there are usually long-term costs. Namely to the plants, soil, and surrounding beneficial life. Before using conventional sprays, weigh the pros and cons and consider trying organic or permaculture-based treatments first.
To give you a head start, Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and most importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey).
Also, check out how Mark Shepard uses a method called STUN (Sheer-Total-Utter-Neglect) to help his berry plants, fruit trees, and nut trees THRIVE.