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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 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* 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 help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* 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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