Planting Pomegranate Trees

The Pomegranate (Punicagranatum) makes an unusually attractive shrub or small tree for the yard, seldom growing beyond 10-12 ft. high. It is free of pests and diseases in the arid regions where it is best adapted, but the shiny green foliage is likely to be attacked by fungus diseases in the more humid regions of the South and Southeast. Although these diseases have not been studied, neutral copper sprays should effectively protect against most of them.

The Pomegranate is a deciduous plant, and even in the warmer areas of the Southeast where average winter temperatures are reasonably high it will drop its leaves through the winter period, although new growth may start before all other leaves are off. In areas with a marked winter period, leaf fall occurs in the fall and the trees remain dormant until spring. The species appears to have very little chilling requirement and is therefore vigorous growing even in warm areas. The dormant tree withstands temperatures of 10° to 15° F., and, with protection, can be grown in areas with even lower minimums.

Pomegranates are easily grown from seed, which are pressed out of the surrounding fleshy tissue, and planted shallowly in a prepared seedbed or flat. Seedling plants are almost invariably very inferior in quality, some being extremely acid. Named varieties are recommended. The Pomegranate is so easily propagated by dormant woody cuttings that any other method of propagation seems unnecessary. Budding, grafting and layering of the simpler kinds can be used if desired. Because they are so universally grown on their own roots from cuttings, no information on rootstocks is available.

The plants may be grown close together in a hedgerow, or as free-standing trees. Standard trees need be no more than 12-16 ft. apart.

Pomegranates tend to sucker very freely, and if the suckers are not removed the plant soon becomes a shrub, usually a dense spiny thicket unless thinned out annually. Except for the removal of suckers and strong water sprouts, pruning consists mostly of thinning out excessively dense growth. A multiple trunk system is easily developed by using 5 or more suckers to develop the top. Two-year or older wood is fruitful and should be retained. Heavy thinning back may be used to keep the plant small.

Pomegranates respond to normal watering practices for yard shrubs; they are somewhat drought-resistant, but best production and appearance results when they do not suffer long drought periods.

Fertilizer requirements are less than for many other fruit plants; if the bright green foliage starts to yellow, light applications of nitrogenous fertilizers are indicated. If the plants become chlorotic, especially in the Southeast, applications of a complete fertilizer with added micronutrients as for citrus may prove beneficial.

This plant is adapted to a variety of soils, from heavy to light; only poorly drained areas need to be avoided. It is more tolerant to saline soils than most other fruit trees.

One of its chief attractions as an ornamental is the relatively large, bright orange-red flowers, which bloom in the spring and continue to nearly midsummer. The fruit matures from late July to Sept., depending upon average growing temperatures through the developmental period, and hangs on the trees until winter. As it colors it adds materially to the ornamental value of the plant. Fruits not used should be cut off, as they eventually split, become subject to molds and rots, and are unsightly.

The fruits are normally from 3-4 in. in dia., roughly globose to subglobose in shape, with a persistent tubular calyx. The arils, which are from white to red, the latter being preferred, are encased in the leathery skin. If the calyx end of the fruit is cut off, the skin cut through in 4 or 5 sectors around the fruit, it may be pried open exposing the arils most effectively. The membranous skin separating groups of arils is highly astringent, and should not be eaten.

Few Americans are fond of the fresh fruit, but the expressed juice is used fresh, in cookery, and makes a very delightful jelly.

Two varieties are generally available. ‘Wonderful’ yields a large fruit, more or less blushed with light red over a straw-colored base. The arils are pinkish red, the seeds small and soft, and the quality very good. ‘Ruby’ fruits are somewhat smaller, but the fruit is usually fully colored medium red; the arils are bright red, but the seeds are slightly larger and harder, and the flesh more acid.

Non-fruiting ornamental forms with pink, white-frilled, double flowers are available. Also, a very dwarf form, which bears typical but tiny fruits, is offered.