How to Grow Pomegranate
Pomegranate is an extremely tasty fruit and it also has amazing health benefits. These qualities are enough to tempt any gardener to grow pomegranate of their own. But that’s not all! Some varieties of pomegranate are so attractive to look at that they make beautiful landscape plants.
Their brilliantly colored foliage, blossoms, and fruits can make one’s garden spectacular. Therefore, one can grow pomegranate trees for their fruits as well as for their beauty.
Published: October 9, 2020.
Pomegranate has been around since the ancient times. It’s native to India and Persia i.e. the modern-day Iran. Therefore it thrives well in dry, hot climates, which are quite similar to that of the Mediterranean. Since the fruits are so tasty and healthy, and the trees so attractive, travelers to ancient India and Persia were easily attracted to it and took it with them to plant across the rest of Asia, Africa, and coastal areas of Europe. Eventually, the tree was taken even to the Americas.
The scientific name of pomegranate is Punica granatum and it belongs to the Lythraceae family. Pomegranate is a bushy, deciduous shrub that grows up to around 10-12 feet, sometimes even up to 20 or 30 feet. Although it’s a shrub, the pomegranate can be pruned and trained to take up a tree shape.
The limbs of the tree are thorny and bear dark green, glossy leaves. The tree starts blooming in spring. Flowers are either female (bell-shaped) or hermaphrodite (vase-shaped) and grow at the end of the branches. They are bright orange, white or variegated in color with 5 to 8 crumpled petals and a tubular, fleshy, red calyx that persists on the fruit. Flowers may be singular or grouped in twos or threes. Pomegranate is self-pollinated and also cross-pollinated by insects. Cross-pollination adds to the fruit set.
Pomegranate fruit is basically a berry. It has a hard rind inside which there are sections known as locules. Locules are separated by a white, papery, bitter-tasting membrane known as rag. Locules contain arils, the ruby-like sweet grains that contain juice as well as seeds.
Pomegranate comes in several varieties and the color of aril juice may range from light pink to dark red to yellow to even clear. Even the flavor of the juice may vary from tart to extremely sweet.
The rind of the fruit is usually leathery and its color may vary from red to orange to yellow.
Pomegranate is grown not only for its delicious, healthy fruits but also as an ornamental plant with its bright red-orange flowers.
Growing Pomegranate for Fruits Vs. as Ornamental Trees
The process of growing pomegranate for fruits as well as ornamental trees is nearly the same. However, a fruiting pomegranate is often too large to grow in a container or for decorating a garden entrance, doorway, or sidewalk. For these locations, growers can choose smaller ornamental cultivars that display striking blossoms, foliage, and even small fruits in various stunning colors. Both these types can be grown in the US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones from 7 to 11.
However, while the fruiting cultivars may be severely damaged if the temperature declines below 12°F and may not produce fruits after a late spring frost, unseasonal cold spells don’t make much difference to the ornamental cultivars that are mainly grown for their attractive foliage and blossoms, and not for their small, inedible fruits.
Also, while fruiting pomegranate trees grow up to a height of 12 to 30 feet, ornamental varieties are typically smaller, either dwarf growing up to 3 feet of height or thick shrubs growing up to 6 feet of height. They can even be made into a bonsai plant.
While edible fruits of pomegranate are deep pink to red in color and typically 2 ½ to 5 inches in diameter, fruits of ornamental pomegranate trees come in various colors to create a color riot in a garden or on a patio but have a poor eating quality. These small pomegranates can be deep orange, light pink, golden yellow, or burgundy red.
Flowers of fruiting cultivars are typically red or pink, while that of ornamental cultivars have often a double row of petals and come in a great range of colors.
Leaves of pomegranate are reddish-bronze when they newly emerge in the spring and then turn green upon maturity. In the fall, they turn bright yellow. Although the leaves change colors in both fruiting and ornamental varieties, the leaves offer more color to the seasonally evolving ornamental palate of flowers and fruits.
Recommended Varieties of Fruiting Pomegranate
Growers should choose a variety suited to their climate (some of these are even suited to cooler climates) and should choose dwarf types for containers if they wish to move them to safe locations during the winter.
King: Very sweet fruit with dark pink to red skin and tendency to split.
Green Globe: Large, sweet, green-skinned aromatic, excellent quality fruit.
Cloud: Green-red colored, medium-sized, sweet fruit.
Francis: Very productive variety, with large, sweet, split-resistant fruits.
Utah Sweet: Beautiful pinkish-orange flowers and pink-skinned, medium-sized, sweet fruits with pink flowers and soft seeds.
Sweet: A productive variety with pink- to green-skinned, medium-sized, very sweet fruits, starts producing fruit at a young age.
Fleshman: Large, roundish, pink, very sweet fruits around 3 inches in diameter with soft seeds.
Early Wonderful: Very productive variety that blooms late, with large red-orange fertile flowers and tart, large, deep red, thin-skinned fruits.
Wonderful: Red-skinned, large, tangy-flavored fruits. It has large red flowers and soft seeds. Productive variety that grows well especially in the low desert of Arizona.
Granada: Bud mutation of Wonderful. Deep red flowers and crimson, medium-sized, sweet fruits that mature early and resemble that of Wonderful, hardy to zone 7. Tree also resembles Wonderful.
Crab: A heavy bearing tree, with bronze-skinned, medium to large fruit with tart yet intense flavor.
Balegal: Sweet, large, pale pink fruits, hardy to zone 7.
Home: Sweet and intense fruit with some bitterness and color varying from yellow to red.
Phoenicia (Fenecia): Sweet, large fruits 4-5 inches in diameter with mottled red-green skin and relatively hard seeds.
Recommended Varieties of Ornamental Pomegranate
Chico: 3-foot tall and wide compact shrub with orange-red double flowers, but no fruit.
Variegata: Very attractive scarlet flowers streaked with yellowish-white.
Legrellei (California Sunset): 8 to 10 feet tall and wide plant with creamy white double flowers with coral red stripes and no fruit.
Nana: 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide dense bush that blooms when it becomes a foot or less tall. Flowers are single and orange-red and turn into small fruits. This tree is almost evergreen in mild winters.
Nochi Shibari: 8 to 10 feet high and wide plants with dark red double flowers and no fruit.
Orange Blossom Special: 2-3 feet high and wide dwarf variety with brilliant orange flowers but no fruits. Great for container growing.
Toyosho: 8-10 feet high and wide with light apricot double flowers and small fruits.
How to Grow Pomegranate from Cuttings?
The best time to plant pomegranate trees is spring (around March) or fall (around September) in warm climates like that of Arizona. Although pomegranate seeds easily germinate, plants from them may not really be successful. On the contrary, cuttings root easily and plants grown from them start producing fruits after around 2-3 years.
Growers should collect 12 to 20 inch long cuttings in the winter from one-year old, mature wood. They should remove all leaves from the cuttings and treat them with rooting hormone. Then they should insert around 2/3rd of its length into the soil or some other warm rooting medium.
Choosing a Planting Site
The planting site for pomegranate should receive plenty of sun, at least for 6 hours a day. Also, the soil should have good drainage, although the plant can bear almost any soil, from acid loam to rock-strewn gravel to alkaline.
The hole to plant pomegranate should be as deep and twice as wide as the nursery pot.
What if the Climate is Cooler?
In cooler climates, pomegranate should be grown near a south-facing wall or in a large pot that can be shifted to a safe location in cold weather.
How to Grow Pomegranate from Seeds?
A gardener doesn’t have to do too many efforts to grow a pomegranate tree from seeds because pomegranate seeds sprout very easily. The grower should clean the flesh around the seeds and plant them in loose soil keeping a covering layer of a half an inch (1.25cm).
These seeds need normal room temperature to germinate. They germinate in around 30-40 days. If the soil temperature is increased by a few degrees, they will germinate within half this time. Growers should consider surrounding the plant with foil and placing it in direct sun till saplings sprout.
There is also another method of planting pomegranate from seeds. It’s known as the baggie method. According to some growers, this is the best method. In this, the grower has to wet a coffee filter. They should squeeze out the excess water. Now they should place the cleaned seeds on one-quarter of the filter. Now they should fold the filter into quarters and place it in a sealable plastic bag. They should place the bag in a warm place and check for germination every few days. Once the seeds sprout, the grower can transfer them to a pot.
Choosing a Container
Any small container with good drainage can be chosen for planting pomegranate seeds. Growers should plant only 2-3 seeds per pot. If a seedling looks weak, growers should pinch it off after it’s a few weeks old or transplant it to another pot meant solely for them.
Pomegranate should be planted in March and September.
Taking Care of Pomegranate Seedlings
Although the germination of pomegranate seeds is quite easy, the real key to having strong and healthy pomegranate plants is taking good care of the seedlings right from the beginning which starts from choosing the perfect soil or planting medium.
Pomegranate trees are happy with chalky or calcareous alkaline soil. Hence growers should choose a soil or planting medium which is slightly alkaline the pH of which should ideally be up to 6.5 to 7.5.
Because most planting mediums are created to be in the neutral range, it’s a good idea to add a very small amount of garden lime or limestone to the mix. Better still is to get the soil pH checked so that growers can know exactly how much lime should be added.
Although pomegranate is drought-tolerant, it needs regular good, deep watering, just like citrus trees do. Growers should water newly planted trees several times until they are established. Especially during the heat of summer, the plant should be watered deeply.
Growers should fertilize the pomegranate plants once they grow leaves, preferably with a large layer of compost, or should use an organic fertilizer 2-3 times a year.
Or they can apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the proportion of 1 pound per 3 feet (91 cm) of plant height.
In the West, growers give 2 to 4 ounces of ammonium sulfate or similar nitrogen fertilizer the first two springs. After this, not much of fertilizer is required, though the plants respond well to a yearly mulch of rotted manure or other compost.
As such, pomegranate trees don’t need pruning. However, it’s recommended for the first 3 years to shorten the shoots to grow a strong sturdy plant. Also, growers can prune the plant for size, to train against a trellis or wall, or to remove messy branches and suckers.
It’s best to prune pomegranate plants after they drop all their leaves and just before they start growing new leaves again in the spring. Growers can also prune the trees lightly all through the year after the 3rd year mainly to remove dead branches and suckers.
Pomegranate trees start flowering in spring and blooming continues till early fall.
Fruiting time for pomegranate is anywhere from two to three years. Some pomegranate trees may lose their vigor after around 15 years. On the other hand, some other cultivars may live up to hundreds of years.
Fruiting time for pomegranate in the Northern Hemisphere is from September to February, but in the Southern Hemisphere, it is from March to May. In the state of California in the United States, the season of the pomegranate is from October to January.
As a rule of thumb, pomegranates are ready to harvest 6-7 months after the plant has bloomed. Here are some tips about how to identify if the pomegranate is ready to harvest.
- Growers should learn about the typical time and color of ripeness of their particular variety.
- As pomegranate ripens, its shape changes from round to more hexagonal as seeds enlarge.
- The skin of the fruit changes from shiny and smooth to matte and rough.
- Growers can easily twist ripe fruits off the stem (although it’s recommended to cut fruits from the tree with shears).
- If still growers are not sure, they can just try one to check if it’s ripe.
- If fruits start splitting, it’s harvest time.
- Also, ripe fruits usually fall from the tree.
- Growers should tap the fruit and check the sound. If it’s metallic, the fruit is ripe.
Once fruits are ripe, growers should not leave them on the tree since they may then split.
Does a Pomegranate Tree Need a Pollinator?
A main issue with the pomegranate tree is with its pollination. Many growers have doubts regarding whether pomegranates need a pollinator or are these trees self-pollinating.
Most pomegranate trees are self-pollinating i.e. they don’t need another tree to cross-pollinate with. However, planting another pomegranate tree nearby is beneficial for fruit production. But this is not essential.
Diseases, Pests and Other Issues
Fortunately, pomegranates are resistant to most diseases and pests. Still, there are some problems growers may face.
Problem of Bloom Fall
The problem of falling of blooms is quite common in pomegranate and there are a lot of reasons for the problem. Some of them are:
To understand the problem of bloom drop, the plant’s reproduction process should be understood. Pomegranate is self-fruitful, i.e. it has hermaphrodite flowers which means they are both male and female. Hummingbirds and pollinating insects are helpful in spreading pollen from flower to flower. Even growers can assist in the process by lightly brushing from blooms to blooms with a small brush. Un-fertilized male flowers, as well as female blooms, fall off, whereas fertilized female flowers remain and turn into fruits.
If pomegranate flowers are falling off in early spring, they may be infested by insects such as mealy bugs, scale, or whitefly. Growers should check the amount of damage, and consult their local nursery about the use of insecticides.
Another reason for pomegranate flower drop may be a fungal disease or root rot. Here too one’s local nursery can help. Also, an anti-fungal spray must be applied repeatedly.
Cold temperatures can also be a reason for flower drop; therefore it’s a good idea to move the tree in or protect it properly if there is a chill in the forecast.
Although pomegranate is drought-resistant, it needs regular deep watering if one is growing it for fruit. Insufficient watering can cause the blooms to fall from the tree.
Tree Should Get Time
For producing fruits, the pomegranate tree should be mature i.e. it should be given a time of at least 3 to 5 years. Before this period, as long as the tree is properly watered, fertilized, pollinated, and protected from pests and diseases, a little flower drop is perfectly natural and there is nothing to worry about.
Growers should just be patient and eventually, they can enjoy the delicious fruit.
Problem of No Fruiting
If a grower’s goal is fruit production, they should make sure that they are planting a fruit-bearing cultivar.
Strictly Ornamental Trees
Some pomegranate trees are strictly ornamental and look great with their striking flowers which bloom from spring till fall. The crepe-like flowers appear in clusters of 5 to 7 hanging from their urn-shaped calyx and their color ranges from bright red to orange or even white. The blooms may be single or double flowering, but the double cultivars hardly produce fruit.
Reasons for No Fruiting
As such, pomegranate is a low-maintenance plant. However, if the tree is not bearing fruit, the grower should consider a few things.
- The drought-tolerant pomegranate needs extra watering and fertilizer to set fruit. Soil pH should be from 6.5 to 7, but the pomegranate is not very picky about the pH of the soil. However, a layer of organic mulch is beneficial. Also, planting in full sun can result in higher production.
- Pomegranate trees have a tendency to grow suckers and thus their energy is diverted from fruiting, leading to no fruits.
- Growers should prune the trees lightly but not too severe as it can affect fruit production.
- As mentioned earlier, pomegranate trees are most vigorous in dry, warm climates. In USDA Zone 7, the plant usually survives the winter; however, if the soil temperatures drop below 10°F, the plant may get damaged.
- Another reason for no fruiting can be pollination. Growers should plant two or more pomegranate trees to encourage cross-pollination and make sure the planting site is in full sun to help fruit setting.
Black Heart Disease
Black heart disease is quite common in pomegranate and is characterized by a blackened or rotting center of the fruit. A bad feature of this disease is that it has no external symptoms. The fruit looks perfectly fine from outside.
A lot of research was done to find the cause of this disease and it was found that a fungus named Alternaria causes this disease. This fungus makes its way into the flowers and eventually into the fruit. Research also suggests that the disease is more prevalent when there is abundant rain during the flowering season.
Although the process of infection is not completely known and there is no method to control the black heart disease, growers can remove old fruit during pruning which may help eliminate the potential cause of the fungus.
Leaf-footed bugs are notorious pests on pomegranate that suck juices from ripe fruits with their piercing/sucking mouthparts. If not controlled, they can damage the whole crop. Here are a few tips to control these pests.
- Growers should learn about all life stages of the leaf-footed bugs: eggs, nymphs, and adults
- They should check plants early in the season and daily or at least several times a week for all life stages of the bugs.
- They should try to find their rope-like eggs under leaves.
- If any forms are found, growers should destroy them. Early detection and removal is an important measure to control them.
- Growers should preferably check during the morning hours as the bugs are less likely to fly away then.
- Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can be effective, but only against the young nymph stage.
- Eliminate overwintering sites for leaf-footed bugs like weeds, hollowed-out fruits left on the tree, or fallen on the ground, debris, and woodpiles.
Splitting of Fruit
Sometimes growers are disappointed when their pomegranates start splitting suddenly before the harvest. It’s worth checking why the fruits are cracking.
There are a few reasons for pomegranate splitting although the tree has been given good care.
However, one of the reasons may itself be too much care. Another reason may be fungal pathogens which usually hit while the fruit is ripening. They are also usually accompanied by premature leaf drops, leaf spots, and other types of leaf damage; however, sometimes only the fruit is affected.
Applying copper fungicide while the fruits just start to grow can kill off the fungal spores before they can affect the fruits.
Irregular watering may also cause split fruits. The period of fruit development is crucial and the grower should water the plants regularly during this period so that water is distributed regularly and evenly in the plant’s system. Otherwise, different parts of the fruit will grow at different speeds, causing split and ruined fruits.
Growers can prevent the splitting of fruits also by heavily mulching the tree with a minimum of three inches of organic mulch and maintaining a watering schedule once the flowers start dropping. They should water evenly every few days but should not soak the root system. The mulch will prevent evaporation; hence overdoing it is not needed. Excessive watering can encourage the growth of fruit-splitting fungus.
Therefore they should water just till the soil below the mulch becomes wet. However, during the hottest part of the growing season, there should be more water and then it should be tapered down as fall is about to arrive.
Growing pomegranate in one’s own garden, whether for fruits or as ornamental plants, is a rewarding experience. If one is fortunate enough to have their own garden, they should not miss enjoying this experience.
Long Story Short: pomegranate trees may look great and they provide us with healthy and tasty fruits.
Since they are so easy to grow, having a few of them in permanent positions or even in large containers can be rather rewarding.