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Pomegranate time arriving early

Watch for clues to tell when to pick

Pomegranate on tree
Pomegranates are ripening earlier than normal this
year. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)




Pomegranates are ripening early this year. Instead of waiting until mid-November, they look like they’ll be ready by mid-October.

Likely, late-summer heat pushed them into speed-up mode. But if you have pomegranates on the tree, keep an eye for signs that they’re ready for harvest.

Most commercial growers pick pomegranates when they’re under-ripe to avoid splitting or other damage. When the round fruit turns blocky, the arils (the seed sacs) are at their juiciest and sweetest. That’s the best time to pick – when the fruit is at its peak.

But waiting for that blocky shape may be too late this season – if rain is in the forecast. An October storm can cause the tree to soak up too much moisture – and force the fruit to split its skin.

So, watch the forecast while also watching the tree.

Off the tree, pomegranates will keep several weeks. In the refrigerator crisper, they'll last three months or more. They'll actually produce more juice after they've sat a couple of weeks. By that time, the leathery skin can start to harden. If so, soak the whole fruit for 5 to 10 minutes in lukewarm water before deseeding.

That soaking also will remove any grit or soot the fruit may have collected during its long hang time on the tree. Fortunately, that leathery skin also protects the arils from smoke and ash.

Did your pomegranate have an off year with little or no fruit? The next question: When did you prune?
Hard pruning of a pomegranate tree can lead to a season with no fruit. Pomegranates bear fruit on second-year wood, sprouts the tree produced the previous year. If you remove all the new growth each winter, the tree will have few if any fruit.

Instead, prune lightly in January after the shrub has dropped its foliage, concentrating on opening the center of the plant for good air circulation.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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