Did you know that the fruit of a pomegranate tree is a berry? That’s if you ask a botanist. Like other berry plants, pomegranates (Punica granatum) have spiny branches and delicious fruit.
When I was a child, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, there was an empty lot down the street. On that lot was a giant old pomegranate tree. It had grown up and out and down, almost like a willow, creating a magical circular space underneath. No one could see us from outside the tree, the growth was so thick! We would pick sun-ripened pomegranates from the outside of the tree and then enter our Secret Clubhouse, where we would tell stories and make wild guesses about growing up, as we munched on the sweet-tart fruity seeds. These healthful fruits are perfectly suited to growing in our drought-prone area. With a small initial investment of time, money, and water, your family can enjoy fresh pomegranates for many years to come.
Before you buy a pomegranate tree, be sure that the variety you are buying is an edible and not an ornamental. There’s no sense dedicating space and water to an inedible variety when you can have an edible! Pomegranates grow in a variety of colors and sizes. Rinds can be red, yellow, pink, orange, green, and even black. Some varieties have seeds that are very hard, while others are softer. The most popular cultivars in California are ‘Wonderful’, ‘Granada’, and ‘Foothill’. The later two are early season varieties. UC Davis offers a helpful Pomegranate Cultivar Chart to help you select the best variety for you and your family. Pomegranates can either be ornamental or edible. Both types can be self-pollinating or cross-pollinated by hummingbirds and insects. It takes a pollinated flower up to 7 months to produce an edible fruit.
How to grow pomegranates
Pomegranates are a very tolerant plant, when it comes to soil types and irrigation. They prefer full sun and hot summers, but they can handle some partial shade. Pomegranates will founder in wet soil or full shade, so choose your site accordingly. Pomegranates can be grown from seeds, but it will take a few years before you get any fruit, and pomegranate seeds do not always grow true to the parent plant. You can also plant rooted cuttings or bare root trees. Grafting does not work for pomegranates. Newly planted trees should be watered every day until new growth is seen. Then water only once a week (assuming it doesn’t rain). Keep weeds away with mulch, just be sure the mulch stays 6 to 8 inches away from your pomegranate.
Pomegranates are deciduous trees that can grow up 30 feet in height and 15 feet wide (most are 6 to 12 feet tall). Pomegranates produce fruit on second-year wood, so you will want to make sure that you leave some of the last year’s growth when pruning. Pomegranates can be pruned as full-sized trees, hedges, landscape anchors, or shrubs. They can also be grown in containers. You can even create bonsai and topiary from pomegranate!
Pomegranate pests & diseases
Like tomatoes and citrus, pomegranates are susceptible to citrus fruit split. Other diseases that can turn up include Alternaria rot, Armillaria root rot, Botrytis blight, and other fungal diseases, especially if plants are over-watered. Common pests include whiteflies, fruit flies, ants, mealybugs, soft scales, leaf-footed bugs, and the pomegranate butterfly.
Eating a pomegranate
Those little seeds are tasty, but getting to them can be a pain. The easiest way I have found is to cut the fruit in half, hold one half peel side up, over a bowl, and beat the bejeezus out of it with a wooden spoon. The seeds fall out and the rest of it tends to stay put. It is easy to remove any other debris simply by adding water to the bowl: the fruit sinks and everything else rises. Viola!
Pomegranates grace holiday tables, a symbol of prosperity, but you can add them to your yard or balcony for some prosperity of your own!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!