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A Hot Weather Delight: Growing Pomegranates

by a Friendly Gardener
Pomegranate cut open

One of the very oldest cultivated fruits, the Punica granatum, or pomegranate tree produces delicious juicy fruit if you live in a warm climate. With beautiful red tube-like blooms and glossy green foliage, it is an ornamental as well as a fruit-producing plant. This is an easy tree to take care of without major disease or pest threats to worry about. Fruits are externally red with characteristically leathery skin, and the edible seeds produced are juicy and sweet with lots of antioxidants and health benefits when added to your diet.

Pomegranate trees can grow to 20 to 30 feet in height, or there are the dwarf shrub versions that top out at a manageable 3 feet. An average bushy shrub will grow much higher, or about half of what a tree attains from 12 to 16 feet.

Inside a Pomegranate

Generally, a pomegranate tree is a deciduous plant meaning it will lose its leaves come fall, but in warmer climates, it can be evergreen.  The pomegranate tree is very attractive to pollinators, so you may have hummingbirds and numerous insects visiting your garden should you decide to include them in your garden. Tree bark is reddish brown and branches will produce spines. The pomegranate is also ideal for those who practice the art of the bonsai.

If you have very sunny spots in your garden or live in a particularly warm climate, the pomegranate tree is an ideal choice. It loves heat and direct sun exposure, so where other plants are at risk of scorching, the pomegranate thrives. New young pomegranate trees should be planted after the final frost has passed in the spring. A tree will require an average of three years before it produces fruit.

 

Caring for Pomegranate Trees

Pomegranates in trees

When planting a pomegranate plant, consider what you intend to use it for. Some gardeners use the pomegranate shrub as a hedge while others will cultivate them specifically for their fruit. Shrubs can be spaced approximately 6 feet apart as they will spread. Trees need to be spaced roughly 15 feet apart for good fruit production.

 

Soil

Soil should be loose and well-draining. It should not be wet. The great thing about this plant is that it is adaptable to several various soil types. While your pomegranate will prefer loamy acidy soil, it will adapt to alkaline soils that are poor in nutrients.

 

Light

Pomegranate fruit

Again, the pomegranate displays a capacity for adaptability. It prefers full sun and heat but will manage in partial shade. Ideally, this tree wants heat and sun, so finding a place where it can receive at least 6 full hours of sun daily is best.

 

Water

Pomegranate to eat

The pomegranate is tolerant of drought, so if you live in an arid hot climate, this is the plant for your garden. If you hope to produce fruit in such a climate, you will need irrigation. When you have planted a new tree or during the dry season, water your tree deeply every 2 to 3 weeks.

Check, however, the soil condition as this tree can be at risk for overwatering. Soggy soil will ruin your fruit harvest. Excessive watering can cause fruit to split leaving it susceptible to fungal infections and pest infestations.

 

Temperature

The pomegranate thrives in USDA hardy zones 7 through 10. They love dry and hot summers where temperatures measure above 85°F. They enjoy cool winters, not necessarily cold ones. These trees are better suited to cooler weather than citrus trees, however much will depend on the specific cultivar you select. A few cultivars may be able to manage temperatures as low as 10 to 12°F. if your area has winters that are cold, consider cultivating your pomegranate in pots and containers so that they can be wintered in a shed, garage, or similar to avoid being harmed by frost.

 

Feeding

Pomegranates are not big feeders and excessive fertilization can ruin your harvest. You can fertilize twice annually during the first two years of cultivation. Do so at the beginning of winter in November and in early spring in March.

 

Pruning a Pomegranate Tree

Pomegranates growing

One thing to be aware of is that this tree will generally produce offshoots or suckers at the base of the tree. Remove these as soon as you notice them if you wish to maintain a tree form. If you allow the offshoots to grow unattended, the tree will take on a bush appearance, spreading wider with growth. Pruning during the first years of cultivation is essential for maintaining your tree’s shape and improving the chances of a more bountiful fruit harvest.

Once your tree has matured and established itself, it should only require the pruning of diseased, dead or damaged branches. When fruits do begin to develop, thin these out so that the remaining fruit grows to full size. As these fruits are heavier than others, too many on a branch increase the risk of breakage from the excess weight. Thinning fruits out will protect limbs from breakage trauma.

 

Harvesting Pomegranates

Pomegranates

If you are planting your pomegranate tree now, expect to have your first true harvest in approximately three years. Fruits will be ready for harvesting when they develop color, and the outside becomes matte in appearance as opposed to glossy. Mature fruit will also appear less round in shape and will resemble a hexagon rather than a sphere. Tapping mature fruit will produce a somewhat metallic sound.

Avoid pulling off mature fruit opting for gardening shears instead. Cut fruits at the stem. Your harvested pomegranates can be stored for quite a long period if you place them in a dry, cool location with a temperature measuring between 32° and 40°F.

 

Pomegranate Problems

This is an easier and harder fruit tree to cultivate because it is not as delicate or susceptible to pests and diseases as other fruit trees. If your tree is well-cared for, it is unlikely for diseases to take hold. If the tree is not well-cared for, it can be susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases such as:

  • Dry rot
  • Fruit spot
  • Leaf spot
  • Soft rot, and
  • Twig dieback

Pests that can infest a pomegranate tree include mealy bugs, pomegranate fruit borers, leaf-footed bugs, scale, thrips, and whiteflies.

 

Pomegranate Tree Propagation

Pomegranate

The pomegranate tree can be propagated using seeds or hardwood cuttings prepared during the winter season.

Seed is considered less desirable if you want to preserve the characteristics of a specific tree. Seeds are a sexual method for propagation and can be influenced genetically. Selecting hardwood cuttings is an asexual cloning method that will preserve the identical characteristics of the parent plant.

For hardwood cuttings, offshoots at the base of a mature plant are an excellent source. Cuttings approximately 8 to 9 inches in length should be removed during the plant’s dormancy in winter. Ideally, your cutting should have the diameter of a pencil. Remove all leaves. Place them in a container with a growing medium that contains some peat and perlite for best results. Ideally, place at least one node on the cutting into the soil bed. Check that soil remains moist but not wet.  Peat in the growing medium will aid in this. Cuttings need warmth even more than light. Once roots and new leaf growth have developed, move your cutting to a sunny location.

Pomegranate seeds

Rooting hormone is not essential but it certainly won’t hurt if you dust or dip the cut end in the hormone before planting the cutting. Roots should appear in 1 to 2 months in warm conditions.

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