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This fruit loves Sacramento summers

Pomegranate flowers bloom on Debbie Arrington's tree. Conditions have to be right to get fruit, developing at left.
Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Pomegranates need August heat to be at their best
This is pomegranate weather.
My favorite edible ornamental, pomegranates thrive in the heat of August, soaking up the sun and pumping energy into their fruit. This is when those strange leathery globes really start to swell.
Besides its colorful fruit, pomegranates offer loads of bright orange blooms, a favorite of bees and hummingbirds. In fall, its shiny green foliage turns a beautiful shade of gold. Any harvest is a side benefit.
And harvest can be spotty. Pomegranates may not bear every year — or at all. More a large deciduous shrub than a true tree, a pomegranate produces fruit on second-year wood; pruning needs to be thoughtful and isn’t always easy. I know my pomegranate can create a thicket of thorny fast-growing new growth. But if I over-prune or cut out the wrong branches, there will be no pomegranates the next year.
Improper pruning is just one reason a pomegranate doesn’t bear fruit.   Those flashy flowers quickly lose their fertility. Pollinators only have two or three days to do their work before the stigmas in those silky blooms become “less receptive.” If weather conditions aren’t right for pollination (such as rainy, windy or smoky), a tree may have many flowers but still no fruit.
Exposed to too much cold over winter, a pomegranate may be reluctant to fruit in summer. Some newer varieties are strictly ornamental and bear almost all male flowers, which are bigger and showier but never form those juicy orbs.
I grow the California standard: the aptly named Wonderful variety. It’s late season, ripe in October or November after six full months on the tree. With a tasty balance or high sugar and high acid, the fruit is large and ruby red with arils to match. Arils are those plump juicy sacs surrounding each seed. (And there may or may not be 613 seeds, part of the rich lore surrounding this fruit. Researchers have counted 1,300 seeds in a single pomegranate.)
Pomegranate history is full of fun facts like that. Native to Iran, pomegranates have been cultivated since biblical times. Its name means “seeded apple” and some scholars believe it may be the Tree of Life.  Representing fertility, pomegranates play significant roles in many Greek myths. The French called it “grenade,” inspiring the military weapon of a similar shape centuries later. (Anyone who has thrown a ripe pomegranate can see the similarity.) The Moors renamed an ancient Spanish city Granada in honor of this fruit.
While Spain and Greece embraced the sun-loving pomegranate, the fruit did not have same reception in England or other colder climes. Pomegranates can tolerate frost and temperatures down to 10 degrees, but they need intense summer heat to be at their best.
Spanish missionaries planted the first California pomegranates in 1769 and this fruit has made itself right at home in the Central Valley. With more interest in antioxidant-rich pomegranate’s health benefits, California’s commercial pomegranate crop has grown five-fold in the past decade.
Pomegranates obviously thrive in Sacramento, too. They’re well adapted to our Mediterranean climate and can tolerate drought as well as hot summer sun.
A Utah Sweet pomegranate grows at the Fair Oaks
Horticulture Center. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)
In the home garden, pomegranates double duty in limited space: food while looking good. And isn’t that the definition of an edible ornamental?


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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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