Pomegranates have become very popular over the last few years and have risen from obscurity to become widely available and cherished. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and yet are low in calories. Their juice is rich in all three major types of health-giving antioxidants, yet few people realize how easy a tree this is to grow, or what an attractive addition to the garden it makes.
Pomegranate Trees grow into beautiful, rounded large shrubs or small trees that reach 15 to 25 feet tall. So when looking for a different tree to grow in warmer regions, this often-overlooked tree is a great choice. Its small, glossy green leaves are always attractive, the bright red flowers are colorful and worth growing for their effect alone and the fruits are a dramatic addition in fall and early winter.
Pomegranate Trees can be grown as background plants, single specimens or in a large shrub border, or as a screen for summer privacy and shade. The trees have a very long life and become more attractive with age as they develop the gnarled trunks and furrowed bark similar to that seen in Olive Trees. They can also be grown as an attractive hedge which if not pruned too frequently will still flower and fruit. Hedges become dense and twiggy, making great barriers as well as privacy screens.
The Pomegranate Tree can be gown as a large shrub, or as a small tree with one or a few trunks. It reaches 15 to 25 feet in height, depending on growing conditions and pruning and is very drought tolerant, thriving in drier parts of California and Arizona. The leaves are small – around 2 inches on average, although they may be smaller or larger depending on the vigor of the shoots. They are rich green in color, rather leathery and glossy. The leaves of most varieties fall in winter and the trees are bare, showing their attractive trunks and shoots.
The bark is dark grey and becomes ridged and twisted with age, giving the trees an attractive ancient appearance. Most varieties have some spines on the stems, which can be a benefit when using them as barrier hedges. The flowers are bright red and showy, over one inch across and are carried in clusters towards the end of the shoots. They are unusual because they have a thick outer part – which will become the fruit – with softer petals emerging from the center. The flowers are so attractive that some varieties are grown just for their flowers and do not even produce fruit.
The fruits develop after flowering and grow to a large size. They are about 5 inches across when mature and resemble a leathery apple, with a pronounced star-shaped lower end. Inside, the fruit is filled with many seeds, each surrounded with a sack of juicy flesh. The flesh can be eaten fresh or the juice squeezed from the fruit. Fruits ripen around 6 months after flowering, which means they are at their best over the winter months.
Although it has been cultivated for centuries, there are only a relatively small number of different varieties of Pomegranate Trees and the differences are minor. A very popular American variety is the Wonderful Pomegranate Tree, which has very large fruits of a deep purple-red color. That variety is widely grown in California in private homes and in orchards.
There is also a dwarf form of the Pomegranate tree (Punica granatum var.nana) which is often seen in flower shops and nurseries. It is hardy and usually evergreen. It can be grown in the ground but is more often grown as a pot plant. Although flowering well this tree will not fruit so do not buy one planning to have fruits. The full-sized Pomegranate tree can also be grown in a large pot, like its smaller cousin.
The Pomegranate Tree grows best in warm areas that also have a cool but not cold winter. They will be damaged by temperatures below 100F, and can therefore be grown in zones 8 to 10. So throughout southern America, all along the West Coast and in the east as far north as Washington, you can enjoy this tree.
Pomegranate Trees will do best in a sunny, warm location – especially for good fruit production. Pomegranate Trees thrive in poor soil and will even grow well in gravel and rocks. They will also thrive in almost any type of soil and so can be grown anywhere where the winters are not too cold. Once established the tree is very drought tolerant, but for good fruit production they should not be allowed to get too dry, so watering may be needed, depending on how much natural rainfall there is in your location.
The Pomegranate Tree is easy to plant. For a specimen allow 10 feet and for a screen plant 6 feet apart. For a dense hedge, plants should be placed 4 feet apart. Dig over the area for planting, and dig a hole two or three times the width of the pot. Place your tree in the hole and replace most of the soil. Fill the hole with water and when it has drained away replace the rest of the soil. Do not plant any deeper than the depth your tree was in its pot. Water once a week for the first summer and then when needed.
The Pomegranate (Punica granatum) originally grew wild from Iran to Northern India, but it was introduced to the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, where it has been grown for centuries for its beauty and fruit. It was introduced into Mexico and the Caribbean islands by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century and into California by Spanish settlers in 1769. It is praised in the Bible and also in Egyptian and Babylonian mythology and was carried by desert caravans for its thirst-quenching juice.
By growing this tree you will be continuing a long tradition of cultivation and use of a very interesting tree. The juice is very popular in the Middle East and Israel and in those cuisines, as well as in Persian and Indian cooking, the fruits and seeds are used in a variety of interesting ways.
Pomegranate Trees can begin to bear fruit in their first year, and at most take 2 or 3 years to fruit, so you will not have to wait long to be eating your own pomegranates. During the early years, cut the tips off new shoots as they form, to make a dense, bushy tree. As these trees flower on the tips of their shoots, the more shoots there are the more flowers and fruit there will be. One the tree has a good bushy form further clipping is not necessary except to control the size.
If you are growing your Pomegranate as a tree, remove any shoots that come from the base. In hedges these shoots help to keep your plant bushy right to the ground. Plants are grown from cuttings, so there is no danger of a different plant coming from the roots as can happen with some grafted fruit trees. To keep a hedge flowering, clip once a year immediately after fruits have been harvested. More frequent clipping will reduce flowering and therefore fruit production. Remember when clipping hedges of all kinds to keep the top narrower than the bottom, otherwise the lower growth will become weak and thin.
Older trees that have become too large can be cut back hard to a few large limbs and will rapidly re-sprout. If this is done in winter the tree will be fully regenerated in a couple of years and will resume flowering and fruiting.
Ripe fruits will make a hollow or metallic sound when tapped. They can be left on the tree until needed but when one or two fruits begin to eventually split naturally they should all then be harvested. Cut the fruit off the tree as tearing it will damage the branches.
Pomegranate fruits can be stored for several months in the coldest part of the fridge and will become more juicy and flavorful with storage, so you don’t need to consume them all at once, like more perishable fruits. The fruit can be eaten fresh by tearing it open and pulling out the juice sacs or it can be cut in half and juiced like an orange. The fruit sacs can also be sun-dried and used in cooking. The seeds are edible and some people consume them along with the flesh. They can also be dried and roasted and then used in trail-mix, granola, or as a topping for salads, yogurt or ice-cream.