by Ann Clary and C. Darren Butler
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Are you eyeing your fruit-laden pomegranate tree wondering when to harvest? Lucky you – that is, if you know how to time harvest when pomegranates are ripe but before critters get them! As pomegranates approach ripeness, consider wrapping metal-wire mesh around them on the tree to prevent feeding by birds, rats, and other critters.
Many common fruits, such as apples, bananas, and most stone fruits, are climacteric, meaning that they release ethylene during a ripening period, so they ripen naturally away from the tree after harvest. Pomegranates are non-climacteric; they do not continue to ripen after harvest, so it’s important to pick the fruits only after they are ripe.
Pomegranates are generally ready for harvest about 6 to 7 months after blossoming. Commercial growers track timelines, know fruit-color indicators for their varieties, and test the fruit for acidity and juice color. Home gardeners may need trial and error over a few years to get to know indicators of ripeness for your specific pomegranate variety(s).
Tips for checking ripeness of pomegranates:
Sampling. When indicators below suggest ripeness, harvest and check a single fruit. For larger yields and heavily laden trees, compare color and other aspects of fruits. Harvest fruits in groups as they ripen, and sample more than one fruit if necessary over time before harvesting.
Fruit Weight. If you heft pomegranates in your hand over weeks as they begin to mature, you’ll notice a difference in weight. Pomegranates become juicier and heavier as they ripen. Pomegranate tree branches, usually the outer and newer branches, are often pulled lower by increased weight as fruits ripen.
Color. Color is an indicator of pomegranate ripeness but varies by cultivar. Most varieties are bright-red or deep-red to crimson without traces of green when ripe. Get to know your variety(s) by checking the skin color as you sample fruits.
Shape. As pomegranates ripen, the seed and arils (seed sacks or coverings) will swell. Ripe pomegranates turn from round to slightly angular, with the sides becoming more square and the stem and blossom ends becoming flatter.
Skin Texture and Splitting. Skin on pomegranate fruits shifts from being smooth and hard to slightly rough and softer as they ripen. Skin on ripe fruits should be easy to scratch with a fingernail. Mature fruits often crack as arils swell or in response to rain and high humidity. Mature fruits with any skin cracking are usually ready for harvest. When the skins of multiple fruits on a single tree are cracked, most or all fruits are usually ready for harvest.
Sound When Tapped. Like color, sound when tapped is a tricky indicator. When tapped, a ripe pomegranate sounds different than an immature fruit. For comparison, tap your immature and maturing fruits occasionally and listen for changes as they ripen. A ripe fruit may sound somewhat tinny or hollow, or may have a slightly metallic sound.
Birds and Critters. Never underestimate the senses of garden animals! When birds and other critters start sampling the pomegranates, the fruit is usually ready or almost ready for harvest. For those who have plenty of fruit or lack the time to check fruits as they mature, this is GardenZeus expert Darren Butler’s lazy method for timing pomegranate harvest. Simply wait until a few fruits are damaged by bird pecking or splitting, then sample a fruit and harvest most fruits if the sample is ripe, perhaps leaving obviously less-mature fruits for another few weeks or until the birds take further interest.
Harvesting tips. Cut pomegranate fruits using pruning shears at the stem close to the fruit. Avoid using twist/yank-and-pull method, which may damage fruits or tree branches.
Storage. Uninjured pomegranates may last 1 to 3 weeks when stored in a cool, dry place, and will store for about 2 months with normal refrigeration. Fruits may last longer under optimal storage conditions of about 41 to 45°F with high humidity. Split fruits will not store well and should be eaten right away. Juice and arils can be frozen for up to one year.
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