This time of year in warmer climates, you may be already harvesting some fruit and vegetables from the garden! Those of us in cooler climates are still waiting with bated breath for those Strawberries to ripen, but maybe enjoying the first salads and fast-growing crops.
We’ve all done it - those juicy and deceivingly ripe looking fruits are just so tempting! Plucking one off a branch too early and you may have inadvertently bit into a sour grape or pithy apple, simply because you picked it too early! While it might have looked ripe and juicy on the outside, the fruit inside wasn’t quite ready. Those sugars need time to develop, and the right conditions must be obtained before these juicy gems are at their peak flavor and nutrients.
Let NatureHills.com help take the guessing game out of when to harvest your crops, plus how to do it safely for yourself and for your plants!
What are the 5 signs that crops are ready for harvest? Short answer - use your 5 senses! Nature Hills does our best to give you average dates or seasons when your tree or shrub will be ripe. Follow your nose and let your fingers do the walking! Generally, if it smells good, if it’s slightly soft to the touch, and looks ripe, then go ahead and try one or two from different parts of the plant. This will let you know for sure.
Knowing what variety of plants you have is the other half of the battle. While climate and weather can slow down or speed things up, specific plant varieties have pretty regular timing when their fruit can be expected to be ready! Veggies even have ‘days until harvest’ ranges right on the seed packets.
Again your weather and climate will alter these dates, so staying in contact with your County Extension Office, learning about your region and talking with other gardeners will help immensely!
Here’s a breakdown of when each major type of fruiting tree is ripe for the picking!
If it smells good and looks colorful, and you can carefully grasp the fruit and give it a gentle twist, a ripe apple will twist right off its stem or cleanly from the branch. Never pull or yank. Pick one or two fruits from different parts of the tree and slice them open.
The seeds inside should be brown - not green - another indicator your apples are ready for harvest. Some Apple varieties can be ripened on the tree, others can be harvested and stored, improving their flavor over time. Dessert apples get better with frost while cooking apples get mushy after frost. So knowing your variety again makes a big difference on when to harvest.
Edible Crabapples are almost always tart and can be tricky, so go by usual harvest dates for your variety, color and feel.
Because Apples give off ethylene gas they can cause other fruit to fall off the tree sooner than it is ripe, so don’t use these dropping as an indicator it's time to get the ladder just yet. One taste will tell you - pithy, mouth-drying and overly tart means they’re not ripe. Mealy and mushy is over-ripeness. Refrigerate or store in a cool location, avoid storing Apples long-term on the counter or at room temperature. Many varieties can be kept for long periods of time in cool storage or in the coldest parts of your fridge.
Oh and that ethylene gas? It helps ripen bananas and other fruit that needs time on the counter to ripen! Got some stubborn Pears? Toss an apple into the brown paper bag with them and enjoy juicy Pears sooner!
Like most fruit, follow your nose! Smelling the stem end will either have no smell or that divinely fruity smell we all know and love. Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots all develop a rosy blush where the sun has kissed them, which is another indicator that they’re almost ripe!
These fruits are typically softer and you’ll see fruit beginning to drop on its own. Look and smell, then gently give them a twist and in most cases, they’ll pop right off. Another way to tell is if they’re soft near the stem when you gently press a finger against the skin.
Stone fruits like these always ripen on the tree. Unless you want a tarter/firmer fruit for baking, let them ripen fully on the plant before harvest. Fruit will not continue to ripen once harvested, so you can’t get a jumpstart on these trees' harvest. The softer fruit unfortunately though doesn’t keep as long as others.
Much like their Cherry and Apricot cousins, Plums have the best flavor when they ripen directly on the tree. A few varieties can be harvested sooner for crisp sweet-tart flesh that holds its shape when baked, then later harvested fruit soften and become delightfully sweet and juicy. Stone fruits ripen on the tree, unless you want a tarter/firmer fruit for baking, let them ripen fully on the plant before harvest.
Squeeze the fruit, and if it feels slightly soft, then it is ripe and should come off the tree easily with a gentle twist. Make sure there’s no green left on the skin and it's got good color.
While Sweet Cherries and Sour Cherries are also stone fruits with a small pit, they also have the same characteristics when ready to harvest. Generally, June is the season of harvest for Cherries, but there are a few exceptions. Once fully colored up and gives slightly to the touch, most Cherries pluck right off the tree by their stems or away from the branch.
Best tips for long-term storage - Keep them dry, keep the stems, remove damaged fruit, keep them in the dark and give them plenty of air circulation.
Look for firm fruit that has a slight ‘give’. Fully, uniformly colored all over, and have nice shiny skin. They’ll also smell great when ready to eat! Gentle twists and rolling them off between your fingers is the easiest way to gather these smaller fruits. Snip the stems with scissors to make the harvest process faster.
Like apples, if it looks the right color, smell ripe, and easily comes off with a gentle twist - you will know it's ripe for picking. Pears will also ripen off the tree, so once it's close to the harvest time, you can pick a few a bit early and let them ripen on the counter or in a brown paper bag. Tree-ripened Pears also give slightly when gentle pressure is applied to the neck closest to the stem.
Watch for color changes on the skin and rosy or russet blush on the side facing the sun. However, not all Pears change color, so know your variety. This is usually a good indicator that they’re almost ready! Unless they are tree-ripened varieties of pears, harvesting too late will result in mealy/grainy flesh. Tossing in an apple will speed the ripening process thanks to the ethylene gas they emit.
Tree-ripened Pears are usually Asian Pear trees
Long storage Pears include - the Bosc or Comice
Try a Winter Pear for fresh fruit around Christmas - Comice Pear
These tropical fruits include Oranges, Lemons and Limes, Grapefruit, Kumquat and Mandarins, and more! Wait to harvest until the fruit is fully ripened, as they will stop ripening as soon as they’re removed from the stem.
Citrus fruits smell ready almost the entire time, so the only way to really tell is by a bit of softness (not rock hard to the touch) and taste. Look for completely even color and no more greenish spots, making Limes a challenge-level fruit for visually telling if they’re ready.
Cut or prune off these fruit from the tree, or twist repeatedly until the stem releases for best results.
Try a truly unique Citrus with the Buddha Hand Fruit
Look for color indicators and a slight give when gentle pressure is applied. If they’re too soft, it's too late. Another indicator is their placement along the branch - if they’re drooping down, time to check to see if your Figs are ready!
Snip off the stem or give them a few gentle twists and your ripe Figs should pop off. Some people can be sensitive to Figs sap, so wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing if you’ll be handling them extensively. Some have two crops a year, so extra care should be taken to not harm the stems!
Late-season native fruits that can be large and have custardy flesh and smooth skin, the members of the unique Pawpaw family of fruit trees are well worth the wait. Once you can detect a fruity fragrance, see them turn from green to more yellow or even blush (some don’t change much from green, just become darker), and have some give when gentle pressure is applied, you can safely figure they’re ripe.
Cut from the limbs or give a gentle tug, the ripest ones will pull right off the stems with ease. Not great for storage, they’re best eaten fresh or refrigerated. These freeze well and can be made into ice cream! Overripe Pawpaws start turning brown or black.
Wait for Avocados to be fully deep green or reddish blushed to know they’re ripened on the tree, or pick while still a firm, yet slightly giving deep green and let ripen on the counter. Select one of the largest and deepest colored fruits and let sit on the counter for a couple of days. If they soften and not shrivel, you’ll know they’re ready to harvest.
Cut cleanly from the stem to harvest. Twisting will sometimes pull the stem out of the fruit, exposing that portion to oxidation and bacteria entering. Avocados continue to ripen after being picked because like apples, they emit ethylene gas. Don’t keep them in the fridge with other fruit and veggies, they’ll over-ripen everything else around them!
Got an Avocado on the counter and you’re not sure if it's ready yet? Pluck the nub remaining from the stem off - if it comes away easily and it's green inside, and the skin gives under the gentle touch - they’re ready! If it's brown under the nub, it's over ripe. Bitter-tasting flesh also means the fruit isn’t quite ready yet. Tossing in an apple will speed the ripening process thanks to the ethylene gas they emit. Once your Avocados have softened, you can put them in the fridge and they will hold beautifully for days until you are ready to use them.
Pomegranates do not ripen after being harvested, so wait until they’re completely and as deeply red-colored as possible and give them a ‘thump’. A ripe Pomegranate will have a hollow or metal sound. The rounded fruit sometimes develops ‘shoulders’ and looks boxier, it is also nice and weighty. Knowing when your specific variety is expected to ripen helps too! Don’t pick yet if you still see yellow or green spots.
Prune cleanly off their stems when harvesting and do not try pulling or twisting Pomegranates off their branches. Don’t go by falling or splitting fruit as an indicator, this is more likely caused by drought or too much water after a dry spell.
Wait for the skin to be fully colored, and they are soft and almost squishy to the touch! They should feel like they could burst with juice. Slice and eat the skin and all, much like a tomato. Snip them cleanly off the stems, keeping the leafy caps on the tops of the fruit. Depending on the variety, some like Fuyu Persimmons are more firm when ripe.
Got a weird feeling in your mouth after taking a bite? Your Persimmon may not be ripe yet. The tannins in under-ripe fruit can be highly astringent and dry out your mouth and tongue.
Olives have specific uses and depending on those uses can be picked green or near black. They shouldn’t be hard for most applications and not be overly spongy either. The more color they have during the ripening process usually indicates a less bitter and less pungent flavor, while green olives can have more pluck. Pickled Olives are usually harvested when just changing color and ‘give’ to gentle pressure. Fresh eating can be nearly black to purple or red - depending on the variety.
Fresh eaten Olives need to sit in storage (curing) to lose their bitterness before they will be palatable. Gently pull the olives off if harvesting ripe, or pinch them off without harming the branch or the fruit itself.
As you may have guessed from most fruit above, look for color intensity, a nice blush on the sunny-kissed side of the fruit and as little green as possible. Some Mango varieties are greenish and yellow, so also looking for that slight give when pressure is gently applied will help you tell. They’ll also emit a sweet, fruity smell from the stem end.
Like Apples, you can store your Mango that’s been picked when almost ripe on the counter or a slightly under-ripe one in a brown paper bag and it will emit ethylene gas to ripen itself. Snip cleanly off the branch, close to the fruit instead of trying to twist and pull.
Guava - Smells divinely fruity! Plus they become soft and yielding under gentle pressure.
Loquat - Brightly colored and no green. Softens to the touch when ripe.
Jaboticaba - Watch for them to turn green marbled with near-black, maroon to purple.
Achacha - Look for bright orange, slightly soft skin.
Jackfruit Tree - Wait until green skin turns yellow, the more the better!
Dwarf Strawberry Tree - Wait until the fruit is as red as possible before picking.
Color and feel are key with these smaller fruits that form on fruiting shrubs. While they are smaller and not as easy to harvest, patience is a key factor! In general, wait for your fruit to be as brightly and completely colored as possible and have some give when gentle pressure is applied. Rock hard fruit is your first indicator they’re not ready yet too.
Ripe fruiting shrubs generally pop right off their stems with ease. Sometimes you need to give them a roll between your fingers or a slight twist.
If the birds are flocking to your bush, you better get in there as well! To help you get the biggest crops before the birds get them all, try using netting right before your berries begin to color up. Birds don’t really have taste buds, so they’ll often get to your harvest before it's fully ripe! Or just go ahead and plant a few extra bushes so everyone can enjoy!
Those big aggregate fruits which are actually several little juicy nuggets all fused together are some of our favorite summer fruit! Look for the deepest, darkest and complete color changes. Blackberries should be black, near black, or deep dark purple, while Raspberries should be brilliantly or deeply red. (Except for the white or golden berried varieties, then just go with the deepest color and soft fruit.) The skin should look plump and ready to burst at the slightest touch. They should also be glossy. There are usually so many, that you can easily pluck off a couple to sample just to be sure!
Gently pull with a twisting motion and the fruit ‘cap’ should pop right off the ‘plug’ that holds them to the stem. If they squish between your fingers, they’re over-ripe but still edible. Just make some syrup or jam! Or leave them for the birds!
Avoid washing until just before you are ready to eat them and keep a paper towel in their container to prevent drying out and excess moisture buildup.
Superfruits and fan favorites, Blueberries are usually ripe within a few days of turning blue. Look for plump berries, usually with a glaucous bloom over the surface and have no green or white left on them at all. Huckleberries are similar in almost every way, but a bit more wild in flavor.
Roll or tug on a few and the ripe berries should drop off into your hand or bucket. Wash right before using so as not to attract mold.
Aronia, also known as Chokeberries, these superfruits all develop the darkest, deepest color over the entire fruit. Typically Aronia berries ripen in August in most areas, and just before they start to wrinkle is the best time to pick when they’re ripe and ready. That may not mean you can just pop one in your mouth right off the shrub. These are some tart fruit that does need some extra processing before you can eat them. Best used dried, juiced, or made into preserves and baked goods that involve sugar. After all, there’s a reason they’re called Choke-berries. They make up for their tart nature with incredibly healthy anti-oxidant-packed power!
Snip off the entire fruiting clusters and then gently pluck off the individual berries after. These are usually ripe in late summer to early fall, so don’t let an early coloring crop deceive you, wait until they’re softer and not rock hard before harvesting.
Generally in late July to early August, the healthy near-black superfruit berries ripen across the US. Wait until they are nearly blackish purple, glossy, and plump. Then hope the birds haven’t beat you to them! Avoid red or white berries. You do have to cook Elderberries before use.
Snip off entire clusters and here comes the fiddly part. Plucking each berry off its stem. This isn’t the easiest. If you going to use them for preserves or juicing and don’t need them looking perfect - try a trick I learned accidentally! Freeze them! They fall right off the stems for you!
Like regular Cherries, Sand Cherry should be soft to the touch, deeply colored and aromatic.
Wait until plump, fully colored and give slightly to pressure. Gooseberry has a fruity smell too! They seem to get sweeter the longer they stay on the shrub.
Strawberry plants are one of the easiest fruit plants and great for kids and beginner gardeners. Wait until fully red, plump and fragrant!
Like Blueberries, Currants harvest a few days after turning black for the fullest flavor.
The scaly skin of Dragon Fruit is bright and smooth and shouldn’t be rock hard. Look for great color, some give and fragrance.
Pick Bananas green and let them ripen to bright yellow. Legend has it that the more brown freckles on them, the more nutrients. Separate from each other to speed up ripening.
Watch for the base to begin yellowing. If it's completely yellow, it’s over-ripe. Pineapples smell great too when ripe! Sniff the base where it was attached to the stem.
Grapevines typically have a specific time they’re ripe. Watch for a nice bloom, color on most of the grapes in each cluster and none of the fruits hard as rocks before picking. Try one as you do in the grocery store, if it's sweet and juicy - it's good!
Wait until they’re soft and yielding and have good color. Sometimes turning more bronzy yellow, while sometimes staying greenish with some yellow highlights. Depending on the Kiwi variety, the fragrance and give to the skin is the best indicator.
Depending on variety - you know the drill! Look for the deepest, best color, slight give and aroma! You’re Passion fruit will get a bit wrinkled if you wait too long, but they just become sweeter with time.
Also known as Haskaps, Honeysuckle bush fruit, and more, these blueberry-colored elongated fruits are some of the earliest-ripening healthy superfruits you can grow in the coldest climates of the US! Just like blueberries, watch for deep color, some give (they’ll be very soft) and a slight bloom over the skin.
These superfruits are firetruck red when they’re ripe! Slightly soft to the touch, they are smaller and a bit fiddly to harvest but, oh so worth it! Let Gojis sit on the vine for a few days to a week after they turn red, that way you’ll know they’re not as bitter. Give one a try periodically and see if they’re more sweet than bitter! These hang out on the vine longer, giving you plenty of time to finish harvesting them. Sometimes the fruit is ripe enough to simply hold the basket or a tarp down under them and give the vine a gentle shade, sending the bright red fruit raining down for you!
Color, smell and a good hollow, deep sound are your best clues that Cantalope, Watermelon and other types of melon are ripe. Look for a defined pale spot where it lay on the ground and feels heavier than it looks too. Cantaloupe and Musk Melons have a good smell on the end as well. The rinds should not be soft and getting mushy or wrinkled - that means they’re over ripe.
There you have it! The best ways to know how and when to harvest all that delectable fruit that’s ripening in your garden right now! And you have them all right at your fingertips or under your nose…literally!
All fruits, self-pollinating or not, do best with a buddy, so don’t forget to pick up a suitable pollinator plant to boost yields significantly and help out your local beneficial pollinators while you’re at it!
Have a bumper crop or just too many to use right away? We’re sure your friends, family and neighbors will be there at the ready! Otherwise, try:
We wish you could share some with us too! But we’ll settle with knowing in the comments which fruit trees or bushes did great for you this year and which are your favorites!
Grow amazing fruit for you and your family! Nature Hills is happy to help you boost your food security and self-sufficiency in your own backyard. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Nature Hills' knowledgeable staff for any questions or concerns you have on how to best take care of these precious juicy gems and create your very own edible landscape oaisis!
Until next time - Happy Planting!