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Mild winter brings spring gold rush

Loquats grow in clusters. The fruit is a blend of peach, citrus and mango. (Photos:
Debbie Arrington)

Loquats in abundance thanks to warm December

These odd fruit trees give Sacramento gardens a tropical look – and bountiful early fruit.

That’s if the birds don’t eat it all first.

Loquats rank among the most unusual fruit in our gardens. Native to China, these (usually) small trees produce large clusters of yellow and orange fruit with large shiny brown seeds. In fact, the seeds make up about one-third of each loquat.

Their taste is equally exotic, a blend of peach, citrus and mango. They’re sweetest when allowed to ripen on the tree and picked when slightly soft.

In Sacramento, loquat trees don’t bear fruit every year. But this season is a loquat landslide with fat clusters ripening all over town. The reason? Mild December and January weather.

Valued for their tropical look, loquat trees can be kept small.
Loquats need a relatively warm winter – never falling below 30 degrees – to produce ripe fruit. A very unusual stone fruit, loquats flower in late fall. Taking months to mature, the fruit ripens in late spring or early summer. (In semitropical areas, loquats ripen much faster and are harvest-ready in March.) If the weather turns too cold in winter, the tree drops its immature fruit.

Despite the name, loquats are no relation to kumquats, a member of the citrus family.

A member of the rose family, the loquat has been domesticated for more than 1,000 years, primarily in Japan. Hence, its botanical name, Eriobotrya japonica, and its nickname, Japanese plum. About 800 cultivars are available.

More than four centuries ago, scholars and travelers brought these tasty little gems to Europe, where loquats became a Mediterranean sensation. This fruit remains popular in Spain, Portugal, Armenia and many Middle Eastern countries.

Chinese immigrants introduced loquats to Sacramento during the Gold Rush. In California, the trees became more popular for their ornamental look than for their fruit.

Evergreen and compact, the trees boast large, leathery, dark green leaves. Borne in big clusters in late October and November, the white blooms are intensely fragrant and tropical. That adds to this plant’s ornamental appeal.

The fruit is dominated by one or more large pits.
For most Sacramento gardeners, the fruit (when it appears) is a bonus. Enjoy loquats fresh (they’re a great addition to fruit salad), poached in light syrup or added to sauces as a substitute for peaches or mangoes. Loquats also can be used in jam, jelly, chutney or other preserves.

And feel fortunate for this golden opportunity. In China and Japan, loquats represent wealth and wishes for a prosperous year. All those loquats hanging around town could be a sign of good times ahead.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

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

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

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

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

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

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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