Pomegranates (punica granatum) play many roles in the edible landscape. With lush green leaves and beautiful red blossoms on pomegranate tree flowers, the plants will make an attractive addition to your home garden. They can be pruned as a single or multi-trunk tree, trained along a fence as an espalier, grown as a hedge, a bush or in a container. Whether you have a full grown pomegranate tree or dwarf pomegranate tree, they are cold hardy and beautiful in three out of four seasons! For success, choose a tree suited to your growing zone (hardiness zone) and with appropriate chill time.
When you receive your pomegranates they will be boxed securely with a bag over the root ball. If you are not ready to plant or if the temperatures are too cold, immediately place them in a sheltered location, safe from frost. A root cellar, basement, or garage works well for a period of time. It’s important choose a place where the temperature stays between 38°F and 45°F. This is important so the roots neither freeze, nor does it get warm enough to break dormancy. It is essential that the young tree roots have plenty of time to become established before the tree begins its spring limb growth and bud break. Pomegranates are cold hardy but need reasonable temperatures to set their roots before Spring.
Preparing to Plant
Pomegranates are best grown from cuttings to ensure the quality of the fruit produced. There are many varieties of pomegranate trees to choose from, including the ever-popular Wonderful, yummy Sweet, and unique non-staining Eversweet.
Select a location with full sun, and allow a 20 ft diameter space for your tree to grow into, unless you plan on keeping it smaller by pruning. If planting as a hedge, you can plant them as close as 10 feet apart.
Pomegranates are adaptable to many soil types, though they grow best in loamy, well draining soil. Sandy soil can be turned into loamy soil with a few ammendments. The ideal climate is zone 7 to 12, with short, mild winters and low humidity. They may be grown in containers in colder places, and kept indoors or in a greenhouse over winter.
If your tree’s trunk is damaged or killed by frost, it will typically grow new suckers that can be trained into a replacement trunk.
For outdoor planting, wait until all danger of frost has passed. The root structure must have adequate time to establish in order to deal with colder temperatures.
Pick a sunny location since fruit production will be affected by compromised light. Soil should be well-drained and the soil pH is not a determining factor. Pomegranate is known to do well in sandy or clay soils.
Locations affected by winds or that are consistently wet should be avoided. Do not amend the planting hole when planting pomegranates. If amendment is necessary try to do it before the tree is planted and only around the planting site, not in the hole.
If gophers are a problem in your area, a wire gopher basket should be placed in the hole. Gophers are less of a threat to mature trees, but this protection could mean the difference between life and death for a young tree. Two more factors must be considered before planting: wind and sun. If high winds will be a factor in your planting location, then the tree should be tilted slightly towards the wind’s prevailing direction.
Do not overdo it, a slight tilt will suffice. Dig a hole the same depth as the root ball and two to three times as wide as the root system. Plant the tree at the same soil surface level as it grew in the nursery. Current research indicates that a saucer shaped hole with sides that slope gently upward, the same depth and three times the width of the root system stimulates the most root growth.
Do not plant your trees too deeply, it is usually best to plant the tree to the same level it was planted in the nursery. Backfill with the soil then lightly compact the backfill with your hand, adjusting the tree gently so that the backfill reaches original planting depth. The back fill should slope gently up so the crown of the tree is slightly higher than the surrounding soil, this will help prevent crown rot.
Water the tree thoroughly and watch for settling. If undue settling occurs, elevate the tree very slightly to raise its height and release any subsoil air pockets. Pomegranate bushes like to be mulched, mulch them well and make sure the mulch starts four to six inches away from the trunk of the tree and extends a couple of feet past the canopy.
It is not recommended that you fertilize your tree at the time of planting. There are some regional exceptions, contact your local Master Gardeners for advice. Once established, feed in February, May and September with a balanced amendment.
Pomegranates when dormant appear very dry and brittle. The trunk should be pliable and if lightly scratched will have a greenish tinge beneath the bark.
Pomegranate trees showcase their beauty through vibrant blossoms, with the promise of luscious pomegranate fruiting to follow. Pomegranate growing season typically occurs during the warmer months of spring and summer, with the fruit ripening in the fall. Your pomegranates ripen and can begin to bear fruit within a year of planting.
However, don’t be worried if the first few years’ fruits mature late, or drop before maturing. It will take 5 to 6 years for the tree to mature and produce large harvests. As pomegranates ripen they reach their mature skin color, feel heavy, and sound metallic when tapped. If left on the tree too long, they will split open; they may also split if it rains during harvest season. If this happens to your fruit, you can still harvest and enjoy it, but it cannot be stored whole.
Fruit should be harvested with pruning snips, and not pulled from the branch. They can be stored whole in a cool place for several weeks, or in refrigeration for 3 months. For longer storage, you can de-seed and freeze the arils whole. You can also extract the juice by running the arils through a food strainer or a blender and straining out the seeds; the juice can be frozen for up to 6 months or made into a variety of canned foods such as syrup (also called grenadine), jelly, and more.
For detailed growing information, watch our video, and for lots of great recipes, visit the Pomegranate Council’s website.
Ongoing Tree Care
Staking may be necessary but should be done carefully. A young tree that struggles a little against the wind, without being blown over, develops tissue in its trunk that will strengthen the tree as it matures. Tightly staked trees that do not develop this tissue are at greater risk of wind damage as they grow older. Staking should provide emergency assistance to a young tree, but should not interfere with its natural capacity to resist wind.
To properly stake your tree, drive two sturdy poles deeply into the ground on opposite sides of the tree from each other. The two poles and the tree should demarcate a straight line directly into the prevailing wind. Using a plastic tie or cord attached securely to each pole, create a loose harness that will allow the tree sufficient movement in the wind at least a few inches in all directions. If rain is not timely, then occasional watering will be necessary.
Over-watering can kill young trees as moist, workable soil is sufficient; soggy soil is dangerous and often fatal. Monitor you soil moisture levels to make sure things aren't to wet. Pomegranates are known for their drought tolerance. Pomegranate trees have adapted to thrive in arid and semi-arid regions, making them well-suited to withstand periods of drought. However, while they can tolerate drought conditions, regular watering is still essential, especially during the tree's establishment phase and during fruit development, to ensure optimal growth and fruit production. Proper irrigation practices contribute to healthier trees and higher-quality pomegranates.As the tree matures, you will want to water deeply but infrequently; commercial orchardists water for more than 12 hours at a time, but sometimes only two or three times during a season.
As your tree matures, pruning will become the most critical factor in its proper growth and development. Removal of dead wood or of suckers is necessary. If you do not desire a tree shape for your pomegranate let the suckers grow and the pomegranate will develop a bush shape. Spraying fruit trees during the dormant season is an important preventative to many diseases and pest problems.
Traditionally fruit trees are sprayed three times a year: at leaf drop (Thanksgiving), during full dormancy (New Year’s) and at bud swell (Valentine’s Day). Log on to GrowOrganic.com or check out our catalog for more information and a selection of natural and organic dormant sprays.
GrowOrganic.com has a number of pomegranate trees for sale.