Pomegranate fruits have a leathery hard skin; inside are hundreds of small seeds, each surrounded by a juicy red pulp. The pomegranate can be grown as a bushy shrub or as a small tree. The fruits come to harvest from mid-summer through autumn.
Pomegranate seeds, pulp, and juice are both tart and sweet. Pomegranates can be eaten out of hand—although this can be a bit of a messy chore—or the bright red seeds can be used as a garnish for salads, fruit cups, and desserts. The juice adds a sweet-tart flavor to marinades and basting sauces and is used in punches and cocktails and is the basis for grenadine syrup.
Pomegranates grow best in hot, arid regions. It is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and is commonly grown in Mediterranean-climate regions. In cool regions pomegranates should be grown in a greenhouse where the minimum temperature does not dip below 50°F.
The pomegranate is a bushy shrub that can grow 10 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide; it can be trained as a single-trunk small tree or grown multi-trunked. Pink to orange-red flowers bloom spring to midsummer. The fruit is 2 ½ to 5 inches in diameter. The rind is hard, brownish-yellow to deep red; it forms a protective ball that is filled with papery chambers containing many seeds each covered with juicy pulp. The seeds and pulp have a sweet acid flavor. (Note: the juice of nearly all pomegranate varieties will leave a red stain.)
Best Climate and Site for Growing Pomegranates
- Pomegranates grow best in hot, dry climates. Zones 9 and 10 are well-suited for growing pomegranates; they also grow without protection in Zone 8.
- Grow pomegranates in well-drained soil; deep loamy soil is best. Pomegranates can grow in sandy to clay soil. A soil pH of 5.5 to 7.5 is optimal.
- Plant pomegranates in full sun in a location sheltered from the wind.
- Accumulation of heat will make the fruit sweeter.
- Pomegranates are self-fruitful.
- Grow two pomegranates if you have room; cross-pollination can increase the yield.
- Space pomegranates about 15 feet apart.
- Grown as a bush the pomegranate can grow 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. Plants can be trained to a single trunk and grown as a small tree to 20 feet tall or pruned to 10 to 12 feet tall and wide or less.
- Pomegranates can be purchased bare-root, ball-and-burlapped, or container-grown.
- Plant bare-root plants in spring after the last frost but before plants break dormancy. Ball-and-burlapped plants are also best planted in spring. Container grown pomegranates can be planted any time during the year; however, avoid planting in hot, dry weather.
- Prepare a planting site in full sun that is sheltered from a prevailing breeze or wind.
- Work well-rotted compost or manure into the soil.
- Dig a hole half again as deep and twice as wide as the plant’s roots. Add a cupful of all-purpose fertilizer to the bottom of the hole.
- Set the plant in the hole so that the soil mark from the on the stem is level with the surrounding soil. Remove all twine and burlap from balled-and-burlapped trees. Spread the roots out in all directions.
- Re-fill the hole with half native soil and half aged compost or commercial organic planting mix; firm in the soil so that there are no air pockets among the roots. Water in the soil and create a modest soil basin around the trunk to hold water at watering time.
- After planting, water thoroughly with a high-phosphorus liquid starter fertilizer.
Container Growing Pomegranates
- Pomegranate can be grown in a container 18 inches deep and wide or larger.
- Plant in a commercial organic potting mix.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet.
- Feed pomegranates growing in containers with an all-purpose fertilizer that is slightly higher in potassium.
- Repot the tree after two years into a container that is 24 inches wide and deep. If you do not repot, you may need to prune the roots.
- To keep pomegranates small, prune the top and roots each winter
- ‘Nana’ and ‘Multiflora; are two dwarf bush-size pomegranates for growing in a container.
- Pomegranate can be trained to a single trunk by selecting a single stem that is straight and without bends or curves. Tie that stem to a stake. Remove all surrounding suckers as they appear. In the second and third year, select well-spaced lateral stems to train as scaffold branches.
- Pomegranate can be trained as a multi-trunk shrub by allowing five or six suckers to grow into permanent trunks. Once the multiple trunks are selected, prune away new suckers as they appear. Multi-trunk pomegranates bear fruit sooner than single trunk plants and have an increased chance of surviving frost damage.
- Shorten pomegranate branches by 40 percent the first winter after planting.
- In the following years, prune lightly once a year to encourage new fruit spurts to grow.
- Flowers and fruit develop on short spurs of two or three-year-old wood, primarily on the outer edge of branches.
- Prune mature plants lightly each winter; this will stimulate new growth. Remove interfering or crossing branches thinning out crowded wood.
- Remove suckers unless they are replacing a damaged trunk.
Pomegranate Care, Nutrients, and Water
- Pomegranates do not require a lot of fertilizer; add several inches of aged compost or aged manure mulch around the base of plants each spring; the mulch should extend to the dripline. Rain and irrigations will take nutrients deep into the soil.
- Feed plants with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks during the growing season.
- Too much nitrogen fertilizer can result in fruit drop.
- Keep soil evenly moist particularly as harvest approaches; evenly moist soil will reduce fruit split.
Harvest and Storing Pomegranates
- Harvest pomegranate fruit with clippers when skins are fully colored bright red to yellowish-brown. Harvest comes mid-summer through fall. Fruit will split if left on the tree after it ripens.
- If you hear the sound of grains cracking when you press the fruit lightly, it is ready to pick.
- Pomegranates can be stored several weeks at room temperatures; the skin will darken off the tree.
- Refrigerated fruit will store for several months.
- The flavor of pomegranate fruit improves with age and seeds become softer and more edible.
- Spit fruit will deteriorate quickly.
- Pomegranate seeds germinate readily.
- Pomegranates can be propagated by hardwood cuttings; use 8 to 10-inch long ¼ to ½ inch diameter wood cut in late winter from the previous season’s shoot or sucker growth. Rooting can take up to two years.
Pomegranate Problems and Control
- Pomegranates are seldom bothered by pests or disease. Check leaves occasionally for signs of mites or leafrollers. Spray these pests with insecticidal soap or suffocate with horticultural oil.
Fall and Winter Pomegranate Care
- Prune pomegranates in winter. See Pruning above.
Pomegranate Varieties to Grow
There are a few dozen pomegranate varieties. Here are a few popular varieties:
- ‘Wonderful’ orange-red flower with red fruit and pulp.
- ‘Ambrosia’ very large fruit with pale pink skin and purple pulp.
- ‘Kashmir’ pinkish-red fruit; seeds with intense flavor; use for juice.
- ‘Eversweet’ almost seedless with transparent red pulp; clear non-staining juice.
- ‘Pink Satin’ pinkish-red fruit; soft seeds; the juice is non-staining.
- ‘Granada’ bears pink flowers and fruit with pink pulp.
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