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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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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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