For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Week of September 26, 2005
Because of our summer heat, alkaline soils, and fruit-eating pests it is not easy to grow fruits for autumn consumption, but there are several choices.
Pomegranites are tasty and nutritious. It is also a fruit that requires so much effort to get access to the sweet flesh covering the seeds that you probably use more calories eating it than you get from the fruit! Pomegranites grow to 15 or 16 feet tall in some situations. They are tough plants that can survive the doughtiest summers and are not bothered by insects or diseases. In my neighborhood, naturalized plants survive the deer despite browsing during droughty periods. The large shrubs become very dense with many stems formed from the base. Pomegranites are deciduous.
In addition to the attraction of the fruit, pomegranates produce a spectacular orange red bloom in early summer. There are, in fact, several dwarf selections marketed for bloom alone. The dwarf selections can be useful for South Texas landscapes, but are not as drought tolerant as the standard size plants.
The fruit of the most recommended variety, “Wonderful,” is the size of a large apple and has a russet red color that makes you think of apples when the loaded plant is seen from a distance. The resemblance to an apple ends with color; however, pomegranite fruit is covered by a hard skin and topped by a structure that resembles a jester’s multi-pointed cap. The fruit can be used in permanent decorations with minimal processing (check the internet for decoration options).
Inside the hard skin are the jell encased seeds that are arranged in quarters separated by further hard walls. The jell coating the seeds is tart, sweet and flavorful. They can be eaten fresh by ambitious nibblers willing to try them out. The fruit also makes a good flavoring for drinks, sweets, and baked goods.
If you had asked me several years ago whether the birds or squirrels ate pomegranites, I would have said, “they get a small share.” This year, however, the mockingbirds and other wildlife that share my yard have taken every pomegranite available. It is no easy task for them to penetrate the hard skin, but they manage it. The birds work at pecking a hole in the skin and eventually open it up. Over a period of 3-4 weeks, the birds hollow out the fruit. At the end of their feeding efforts, the empty shell resembles and weighs the same as a Christmas tree bulb.
Next year, if we have another dry summer, I will consider putting bird netting over my best producing pomegranate in late August when the fruits near maturity.
Oriental persimmons and pears are also plants that are relatively easy to grow and produce fruits in the autumn. Oriental persimmons produce an attractive small tree. The fruits are very astringent until they are mushy ripe except for the fuyu. Fuyu produces a pumpkin shaped orange red fruit that is milder than the other selections. It can be harvested in a firm stage.
For success, select a pear that prospers in our climate. The limiting factor is a susceptibility to fireblight. Bartlett is so susceptible that it usually dies after the first bloom period. The large hard pear Kieffer does well and produces a bountiful crop of cooking pears. Orient survives and produces a few very large pears every year. My favorite fireblight resistant pear is Warren. The fruit are small, but tasty. Warren is a Louisiana introduction that is available from Womack’s Nursery in DeLeon, Texas. Search for the website.
Every year KSTX radio works with San Antonio Parks, SAWS and other entities to complete planting projects. Join us on October 1, 2005, from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon to plant the wetlands and xeriscape at Comanche Outlook (Nacogdoches and Judson). Bring your boots and a shovel.
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