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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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