There is nothing like cracking open a fresh pomegranate, made even sweeter when it comes from your own garden. So often overlooked, these delicious fruits have deep historical roots and deserve a place in your garden.
Pomegranate trees (or shrubs) are relatively easy to grow, although encouraging high yield can be tricky in some areas. They need a full day of sunlight for the most possible fruits and can grow in almost any soil type or pH. Regular watering and fertilizing throughout the year, particularly in summer, will deliver the tastiest fruits possible. Trim the fruits off when they change shape and color to harvest, adding the seeds to your favorite salad or dessert.
About pomegranate plants
With evidence pointing to their domestication around 7 000 years ago, the pomegranate fruit is steeped in history. From the Middle East to the Mediterranean, these trees were some of the first in the region to be domesticated. Archeological evidence spanning thousands of years indicates the importance of the fruit and the tree it grows from around the world.
The tree comes from the Punica genus, scientifically known as Punica granatum. This genus is home to several small fruit trees, with the common pomegranate the most well-known and widely grown. Due to its compact size, it can also be considered a shrub, although it tends to look more tree-like when pruned.
The name pomegranate comes from Latin terms translating to ‘seeded apple’. This describes the most sought-after part of these fruits – the seeds themselves. The seeds and pulp are surrounded by a tough exterior typically pink in color.
These plants are grown in warmer climates similar to the Mediterranean. However, exact growing zone differs according to your chosen cultivar. Most grow in USDA Zones 8-11 but some types can grow in Zones as low as 6.
Types of pomegranates to grow
Punica granatum usually performs best grown outdoors in the ground, although the dwarf variety P. granatum var. nana is good in containers and can even be trained as a bonsai tree. There are hundreds of cultivars to choose from, each with special characteristics that give you plenty of options for your garden.
Look out for these popular options, but make sure to check they will suit your zone and garden conditions before planting. The right tree in the right climate is essential for a strong harvest.
- Ruby: Red heirloom variety with high yield
- Desertnyi: Citrusy red pomegranate from Turkmenistan
- Wonderful: Popular commercial red variety with good flavor
- Parfianka: Hardy tree with bright red fruits
Planting pomegranate trees
Much like other fruit trees, the best time of year to plant is either in spring or in fall. In hotter climates, fall is best to allow the roots to establish well before the growing season kicks in, but spring planting is also an option for any climate.
Pomegranates are self-pollinating, meaning you only need one tree to produce fruits. However, planting two different types for cross-pollination by pollinators can improve yield on both plants.
Where to plant pomegranate trees
The planting site you choose will determine the success or failure of your harvest in the years to come.
The first factor to consider is light levels. These shrubs need a full day of sun – or at least a minimum of six hours – to produce as many fruits as possible. They will also grow with some light shade but will produce a limited harvest each year in these conditions.
Not fussy about soil, you can plant these trees in almost any soil type. Well-draining soil high in nutrients is recommended but not essential for growing success. They are also not picky about soil pH, known to grow in both acidic and alkaline soils with ease.
It’s also helpful to choose an area protected from high winds. This avoids stressing the tree while it is still establishing itself and stops any branch or fruit loss later on in the season. If the wind does become severe, you can also provide support, although this is not usually needed for these large plants.
How to plant pomegranate trees?
Once you’ve chosen the perfect planting area, loosen the soil and dig in some compost to improve texture. For heavy clay soils, also add a few handfuls of sand to improve drainage. Grabbing the plant, dig a hole around double the size of the container or bag it came in.
Mix in some additional compost at the bottom of the hole and lower the tree until it is at the same soil level as it was in the container. Don’t plant too deeply, especially for larger starter trees, as this can lead to the rotting of the stems. Fill in any gaps around the hole with more soil and press down gently around the base to secure.
When growing dwarf varieties, you can also plant your tree in a container. Due to their size, they require large and deep pots to grow successfully and produce fruit. Use a high-quality potting mix with added compost and coconut coir to retain moisture. Follow the same planting process as above, watering immediately after planting.
Pomegranate tree care guide
Here are the care basics for your pomegranate tree.
Pomegranates are somewhat drought-tolerant, although they will perform far better and produce tastier fruits when watered consistently. Irrigation systems are the most reliable way to ensure the tree gets enough water week after week, but you can also water manually around once per week, avoiding the leaves and fruits and focusing on the soil.
Watering is most important in summer and early fall when the fruits are ripening. This will ensure the juiciest possible fruits, also improving taste. During other months, keep the roots well-watered in periods of low rainfall.
If temperatures are high in spring and summer, apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the tree. This will help retain moisture in the soil while also keeping weeds down. Use an organic mulch to slowly break down into the soil and improve consistency. Keep the mulch layer away from the base of the tree as excess moisture may lead to rotting.
For the best possible fruits season after season, it’s important to replenish nutrients in the soil with fertilizer and soil amendments. Fertilizer should be applied in late winter or early spring as new leaves are emerging. At this time, a fertilizer high in nitrogen is best to promote new leaf and stem growth and later flowering.
As they are not heavy feeders, this early boost should be enough to see them through the season. However, if you notice fewer fruits than usual, you can apply a fruit-specific fertilizer later on in the season to improve your harvest.
To improve soil health, add a layer of compost to the soil around the tree once per season in spring and summer. This will improve nutrient levels in the soil as well as consistency while helping all the wonderful bugs that reside in the soil.
Early pruning in the first three years after planting will set your tree up for later success. As fruits develop on the ends of branches, encouraging the tree to produce as many branches as possible will give you as many fruits as possible.
Trim each of the shoots back slightly to encourage branching at the site of the cut. Don’t remove too much of the plant at one time – only a shortcut is needed to spur new growth.
After the third year, you can stop this trim and focus your attention on shape and maintenance. Trim any dying or non-productive branches, as well as any branches sticking out, to keep the shrub tidy. For a more tree-like shape, trim back the lower branches, keeping the tops bushy.
To improve airflow around the plant, cut back any areas of dense growth where branches are crossing. This will help prevent disease and overcrowding that can limit fruiting later on.
Pomegranate season starts in late summer and extends into fall, with exact times and lengths dependent on your chosen cultivar. Check the specific dates, taking into account the climate in your region, to know when you should start getting ready to harvest.
Harvesting at the right time is essential. The fruits need to remain on the tree to ripen, but will eventually crack if they are left for too long. It’s important to understand the characteristics of your cultivar, particularly color when deciding when to harvest.
Changing colors of the skin of the fruit, as well as changing shape due to the swelling of the seeds inside the fruit, all indicate the fruit is ripe and ready for picking. You can also gently tap on the outside of the fruit – a metallic sound usually means it’s ready.
To remove the fruits, grab your pruning shears and trim them off individually. Sharp shears are essential to avoid damaging the fruits or the branches. These tough fruits are difficult to pull by hand without damage and are best cut off completely.
Once you’ve gathered your fruits, store them in a cool and dry place. Here they will last several months, protected by the tough exterior of the fruit. Don’t forget to gather any that may have fallen on the ground around the tree, as long as they have not split.
Pomegranate uses and recipes
The tart, delicious seeds of the pomegranate fruit are great additions to many meals and beverages in the kitchen. They also make a great citrus replacement, particularly those cultivars that have a more citrusy taste to them.
My favorite use for the seeds has to be in salads. They add a lightness and sweet touch that contrasts wonderfully with other earthy veggies. Beyond that, they also add a stunning pop of color that is a crowd favorite in large family meals.
Pomegranate juice is also an option, although you’ll need plenty of fruits to make enough juice for a single glass. You can also try using the seeds as a garnish in cocktails, paired with a sprig of mint, for a refreshing finish.