Days to germination: Seedlings are usually purchased
Days to harvest: 5 years
Light requirements: Full sun or slight shade
Water requirements: Only during dry weather
Soil: Well-drained or even sandy soil
Container: Suitable for dwarf or even standard trees
Pomegranates grow on fairly small trees that could even be classed as shrubs. They rarely grow taller than 10 feet. The fruit is very unique and though it is commonly eaten fresh, it’s a bit difficult to enjoy that way. Inside the thick tough rind are a large number of little juice-filled “berries” inside, each with a little seed inside. The juice will stain, so it can be a challenge to get the edible bits out of the fruit without making a mess. Pomegranate juice is currently very popular for it’s healthy qualities.
The juice is high in vitamin C, potassium and vitamin B5, as well as a number of antioxidants that have a long list of health benefits. If you eat the small seeds in each “berry”, you will also get a dose of fiber.
You will need to be in zones 7 to 10 in order to grow pomegranates as it’s a native of the Middle East. The most common variety grown in the United States is the Wonderful pomegranate.
Starting Your Tree
When buying a pomegranate seedling or sapling, make sure you are not buying a flowering variety that doesn’t produce edible fruit. Fruiting trees are self-fertile so you don’t need more than one tree.
If you know someone with a pomegranate tree, you can actually start a new tree with a cutting. A branch at least 10 inches long can be cut from a healthy tree, and the cut end treated with powdered rooting hormone. Plant the tip about 5 to 6 inches into loose potting soil, and keep it moist. You will have longer to wait before you get any fruit, compared to a larger purchased seedling, but it can be a handy way to propagate a tree that you know produces well.
If you want your pomegranate to grow in a tree form, you will need to prune the many suckers that sprout up from the base of the trunk. You’ll also want to prune any dead branches each spring to keep your tree healthy. Once you have created a tree form for your plant, it shouldn’t require too much more pruning.
After about 3 years, you will start to see your tree developing from fruit but it will probably drop most of them before they mature. This is normal for pomegranates, and you won’t start to get a real harvest until around 5 years of age.
Pomegranates are quite drought-tolerant but during any extended dry periods they should be given a deep watering at least every 3 weeks if necessary. Fertilizer is helpful for the first year or two but after that most trees will do fine without additional nutrients unless you happen to have particularly poor soil. A yearly feeding or even just a dressing of compost or aged manure is enough.
Pomegranates work fine in large containers, though you should keep it well trimmed and pruned to a small size. A dwarf variety will thrive the best. When shopping for a dwarf tree, double-check that it will produce fruit. The shrubs have lovely flowers, and many dwarf or potted trees are ornamental only.
Container plants will need a bit more water than garden-planted ones, but pomegranates will do fine in dry soil so you shouldn’t need to water too frequently.
Pests and Diseases
There are not a huge number of potential insect pests for pomegranates and they are a very easy tree to grow because of it. Aphids can be a problem, but regular sprays with soapy water can help wash them off and keep them away.
The pomegranate butterfly is one insect specific to the pomegranate but it’s only common in some regions. The butterfly lays eggs in the flower buds, and the growing larvae will bore into the new fruit to feed. You’ll need to spray your trees once or even twice during the early spring. Once they have moved into the fruit, they are difficult to kill.
Leaves may develop some spots from various kinds of blight, but none are usually serious with pomegranates. Cut off any infected branches as soon as you see leaf blotching, and you should be fine as long as it hasn’t spread through the entire tree.
The tough outer rind generally protects the fruit, so birds and other larger pests are not usually a problem except occasionally when the fruit is very young.
Harvest and Storage
Your pomegranates are ready to pick when their outside rind has turned deep red. Once they start to crack open, they have gotten over-ripe. Expect your fruit to be ready about 6 months after the flowers appear. As mentioned above you will start to get a reliable harvest at around 5 years and your tree can continue to produce until 15 to 20 years old. They will live considerably longer than that, and can continue to give a reduced number of pomegranates for decades.
Fresh pomegranates can be kept in the fridge for about 2 months, and you can even store them at cool room temperature if you prefer but they will only last 2 weeks in that case. If you are able to store them in a basement or root cellar type of area, they will store best (much like apples). A location with temperatures just above freezing and high humidity will keep pomegranates fresh for up to 6 months.
For more long storage, you can freeze the edible flesh “berries” (they’re actually called arils). Remove them from the fruit, and spread them out on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen, you can keep them in a freezer bag or other container. If you don’t spread them out before freezing, they will freeze solid into one big block. After freezing, they lose their texture and should only be used for juicing or other uses rather than just eating whole.