Pomegranates may be one of the friendliest fruit trees to grow in the home garden, as long as you live in a suitable environment. They are ancient trees that produce lovely ornamental flowers and delicious fruit prized for their health benefits. They usually grow to only 10-20 feet high and can even thrive in large pots. Here’s how to grow pomegranates.
Many different varieties of pomegranates have been cultivated to suit different climates. Choose a variety proven to do well in your area. This should not be a problem, since you will likely be growing them from seedlings purchased locally or a cutting taken from a local tree. ‘Wonderful’ is probably the most popular variety to grow in the U.S. However, keep an eye out for ‘Spanish Ruby,’ ‘Muscat White,’ and the dwarf variety, ‘Nana.’
WHEN TO GROW
The best time to plant pomegranates is when environmental stresses are at their lowest. Pick a time best for your area, usually in the spring or early fall. Avoid planting or transplanting young seedlings when storms, rains and wind are heavy. Avoid planting during the cold of winter or the extreme heat of summer.
Pomegranates will need about 5 years to produce edible fruit. Start with healthy, older saplings to cut that time down.
WHERE TO PLANT
Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and will only grow in zones 7-10 in the United States. They are best grown in areas with hot, dry summers like southern California and Arizona. While they will grow in warm, humid areas like the southeast, the fruit will not be as good. Pomegranates can be grown as ornamental trees and shrubs in slightly cooler and coastal areas.
Plant pomegranates where they will receive lots of sun and have deep, loamy soil. Each pomegranate tree will ideally have a 20×20 foot space all to its own. Dwarf pomegranates can be grown in large containers. Some are for ornamental purposes only, so be sure you purchase a seedling that will bear fruit. Regular pomegranates will grow in large pots too (at least 10 gallons), and still produce fruit, but they need to be kept well pruned in order to survive. You may be able to grow container pomegranates in cooler areas too, if you can bring them indoors when temperatures dip below 40° F.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING POMEGRANATES
Pomegranates need well-drained soil to thrive. Sandy soil or a deep loam is best. Amend your garden soil with lots of organic materials and a little sand before planting to provide nutrients and good drainage. High quality tree soil is good when growing them in pots.
Pomegranates are best grown from established seedlings (or sapling) purchased from a reputable nursery. Flowering varieties may be ornamental only, so be sure you are buying a tree that produces edible fruit. You’ll only need one, as they are self-pollinating. The older the seedling you purchase, the shorter time you will have to wait for fruit. Transplant your sapling when weather conditions are mellow. High heat, cold, or wind can harm a young transplant. Moisten the soil and the sapling prior to setting it in the soil in the early morning. Allow about 20 feet of free space on all sides for best results, though it can handle a slightly small area.
Pomegranates can also be started from a cutting. Take a winter cutting, if possible from a sucker growth of a mature fruit-bearing tree. The branch should be 8-10 inches long and ½-¼ inch in diameter. Soak the cut end in hormone rooting powder (though this is not always necessary). Bury it 6 inches deep in potting soil. Keep the soil moist. Transplant into the garden after 1 year.
WATERING & CARE
Water young pomegranates every few days until they become established, then gradually lengthen the time between each watering. Once a couple years old, pomegranates do not need much watering except during long periods of dry weather. They are drought tolerant, but you should give them a good long soak every week or two when rain is not present. Water container pomegranates more often but not too frequently.
Fertilize pomegranates during their first year. If planting in good soil, they shouldn’t need more feeding after that. Mulch around the base of the tree each fall with organic materials and that should supply the soil with all the nutrients they need. Container trees will need a yearly feeding.
Prune any dead branches every spring. Also, cut off the suckers that grow at the base of the trunk. Trimming the suckers will allow the pomegranate to grow into a full, healthy tree.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
Pomegranate butterflies lay their eggs in pomegranate buds, which then hatch and eat the fruit before you have a chance to harvest. They are only common in certain regions, where you may need to spray prior to their landing to keep under control.
The fruit have a tough outer layer that protects them from most pests. Young fruit are more vulnerable to aphids, mealy bugs, scale, thrips and whiteflies. Cotton aphids can be a serious problem in some areas. Spray them off with a hose and use a soapy spray or other organic insecticide if they get out of hand.
Fungal spots may appear on the leaves but are usually not too worrisome. Remove infected leaves and branches before they enlarge and spread.
While pomegranate fruit usually begin to form in the 3rd year, they will probably drop off the tree before they are fully ripe. Begin harvesting fresh, mature pomegranates in the 5th year. Fruit will mature about 6 months after the flowers appear. Pick them when the rind turns to a deep red color. If they start to crack, they have passed their prime. Commercial farmers pick them early and allow them to ripen off the vine but they won’t be as good.
Keep fresh pomegranates at room temp for up to 2 weeks or in the refrigerator for 2 months.
TIPS & ADVICE
Pomegranates are a great source of many valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Pomegranates produce at peak for 15-20 years.
Avoid growing pomegranates from seed because they do not grow true. The fruit will be unreliable and vary greatly in quality.