Make a date to harvest, ripening fruit

As temperatures drop, crickets and other vermin will try to find entrances into your home. If you apply pesticides around the outside of your home, now would be a good time to do that. Spray should be directed to where the home meets the soil. You might also spray inside irrigation boxes where so many pests like roaches and black widow spiders like to congregate. There are some organic sprays that can be used but they are usually not persistent and may have to be reapplied at a later date.

Q: Last year we had a bumper crop of Deglet Noor dates, except they never did ripen because the weather turned cold and in December they were still green. I brought some of them inside and warmed them up for a few weeks but they stayed green and got moldy. This year we have a bumper crop again. What do we do?

A: Deglet Noor is the most common date grown in California. Most of the date-producing areas are in Coachella Valley, Riverside and Imperial counties where the temperatures are warmer, there is a long harvesting season and the danger of frost is less.

A tree normally does not produce dates until about year six. Dates take about 29 weeks to ripen. Check for seeds and make sure they were pollinated. Palms are usually wind pollinated here so they can be irregular in how well they set fruit from year to year. Hand pollination is the only way to make sure they are well pollinated.

Deglet Noor dates are known for ripening unevenly. They are usually harvested about 24-27 weeks after they flower. I believe the usual harvest time in California is from about mid-October through mid-December.

Most dates are picked by cutting off the entire fruit cluster. Since the dates do not ripen all at the same time, multiple harvests are made. Soft dates may be picked early while they are still light-colored. Semidry dates may be picked as soon as they are soft and then ripened off the tree at temperatures of 80 F to 95 F.

In date-producing parts of the Old World, there are many different methods of ripening fruit: storing in earthen jars, placing the jars in sun hot enough to prevent spoilage, and boiling the fruits in water and then sun drying them. In Australia, entire clusters may be kept under cover with the cut end of the stalk in water until the fruits are fully ripened.

You might try withholding water and stressing the palms to encourage earlier ripening as well.

Q: My wife was wondering why some of our lemons split? Could it be too much or not enough water?

A: No one really knows why some citrus split while others do not. It is not that common on lemons but is more common on navel oranges. The split usually occurs where the skin or rind is thinnest.

There is some speculation about why citrus fruits may split. As with most times when we really don’t know the cause, we attribute it to stress. If it is stress that causes fruit split, it might be due to water, fertilizer, temperature extremes or other environmental issues. Splitting usually occurs in the fall on green fruit.

It is reasonable to think that it may have something to do with the fruit beginning to mature and then, for some reason, beginning to grow again and so the rind splits. For this reason we usually tell people to try to keep fruit trees actively growing and without stress at times when the fruit is developing.

This means keeping the soil from becoming too dry and not trying to push new growth as the fruit begins to mature. Surface mulches will help keep the soil moisture more consistent and you should avoid fertilizer applications around trees where fruit is beginning to mature.

Q: I have horrible spurge and crabgrass in my front yard. At least I think it’s crabgrass; it has long tendrils that spider out across the lawn and take root every 6 inches or so. It has popped up all over the place and I have been fighting it. I’m so frustrated! Do you have any tips, tricks or suggestions for me to kill this stuff and keep it from coming back each year?

A: Spurge and crabgrass are annual weeds and are very poor competitors. These weeds do not do well in lawns that are thick, healthy and mowed at the proper height. Keep the lawn mowed high, fertilized regularly and the irrigation system in good shape.

These weeds infest parts of the lawn that are damaged due to an irrigation problem or disease or if it is mowed too short. Frequently they invade near irrigation heads that do not pop up high enough for the lawn. Fescue lawns need 4-inch pop-up sprinklers. People who have lawns with 2-inch pop-up sprinklers will cut the grass short around the irrigation heads to compensate for the short sprinklers. This short grass is ripe for weed invasion because it does not shade the soil.

These weeds will not grow easily in shrub beds or open areas that have 3-4 inches of mulch covering the soil. If this is a rock mulch area, they should pull up easily when they are young, can be sprayed or removed with a hoe. If they have gotten away from you, then a general all-purpose weed killer will knock them back; then stay on top of them with a hoe as they regrow. Limiting the water in those areas will help as well.

There are some preemergent herbicides that you can apply starting about mid-March or earlier depending on the weather. The label will say if they are for crabgrass and spurge. They need to be reapplied every few weeks. Nonchemical ways are better and safer but require a bit more effort on a regular basis.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at

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