Tree fruits are beginning to ripen this month, so we asked an expert on the subject how to harvest fruit at its absolute peak. Here's what R. Scott Johnson, stone fruit specialist, Kearney Agricultural Center, California, recommends if you want to harvest perfect peaches, plums, and nectarines:
Don't overwater. Johnson notes that most home gardeners tend to overwater their fruit trees, especially as fruits mature. His research reveals that reduced watering four to six weeks before harvest results in smaller, but tastier, fruits. A gradual reduction in the amount of water a tree receives during this period will increase the fruits' sugar content without affecting texture. And more than anything else, sugar content correlates to the perception of flavorful fruit.
Reduce water carefully, however. If you overdo it, instead of improving your fruit, you'll stress the fruit, perhaps even the tree, and diminish overall fruit quality.
Don't hurry to harvest. For the best flavor, leave fruits on the branches as long as possible to maximize the ratio of sugar to acid. The fruit is at its peak ripeness when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.
Pick from the top. For the highest quality fruits, go straight to the top of the tree. When Kearney researchers evaluated sugar content, acidity, size, and appearance of fruits picked from various parts of the trees, they discovered that the fruits at the top and outer edges of the trees not only matured earliest but were the largest and most flavorful.
Shila Patel is a former managing editor at National Gardening.
Photography by National Gardening Association.