Perhaps one of the most ancient of domesticated fruits, the pomegranate was used extensively by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, and Persians not only as food but also as an important symbol in many ceremonies, representing everything from life after death to love and prosperity. Today, the pomegranate is still beloved the world over both for its rich symbolism and delicious, sweet seeds. Most varieties of the pomegranate plant grow as a relatively small, deciduous, tree/shrub that is generally pruned back in commercial operations to about 5–10′ in height but can grow to up to 20′ if not maintained. Pomegranate varieties produce dark purple, orange, pink, yellow, or red fruits and beautiful orange-red flowers that can attract beneficial pollinators and hummingbirds.
Based on the name, who wouldn’t want to grow this pomegranate? Accordingly, it’s one of the most popular varieties, particularly in California. The Wonderful Pomegranate produces large fruits with a purplish red skin. This is a good variety for growing in a hot, inland climate as it’s not as cold hardy as some others. Requires only 150 hours of chilling time below 40°F and doesn’t need a mate to pollinate itself.
Seed Depth: 1/2–1″
Space Between Plants: 12–15′
Space Between Rows: 18–20′
Germination Soil Temperature: 75–85°F
Days for Germination: 30–40 days
Sow Indoors: Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost if transplanting in the first season. Some sources recommend allowing seeds to grow indoors or in a greenhouse for up to a year before transplanting.
Sow Outdoors: Sow seeds or move transplants outdoors in the mid-spring or very early fall.
Vegetative: Although pomegranate trees will sprout easily from seed, growing from cuttings is the recommended method for starting this plant. Hardwood cuttings of at least 1′ in length may be placed in soil about 8″ deep. Remove all leaves and treat the soil with a rooting hormone to encourage growth. Will germinate best in a soilless media before being transplanted outdoors.
Although it prefers warmer climates similar to those of the Mediterranean, slightly cooler winters that don’t drop below more than 40°F for an extended period will help this plant harden and produce fruit. As such, Zones 11 and above are not recommended. Locations with semi-arid climates are best for growing this plant outdoors, so consider growing indoors if you are located in an extremely humid climate zone.
Natural: Prefers full sun, although it will tolerate partial shade.
Artificial: If growing indoors, use high intensity lamps such as HPS or MH systems. A minimum of 6 hours of light per day is necessary to keep plants growing and healthy.
Soil: Prefers loamy and/or sandy soil that allows for good drainage; however, this plant is generally non-fussy and will grow well in most soil types. A slightly more alkaline soil pH of 7.5 to 8.0 will keep plants happy and healthy.
Soilless: Will grow in most mixes but prefers those that include coco coir, well-rotted manure, and/or vermiculite.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Root cuttings and clones of the pomegranate plant will do well in aeroponic systems.
Water: While the pomegranate tree can withstand drought conditions, the number and quality of fruit(s) will suffer if adequate water is not provided. This is particularly important in the plant’s first year of growth, so water deeply when first planting (soil should be moist approximately 3′ down) and give your plant about 1″ of water per week until it has become established.
Nutrients: The pomegranate plant may not be the heaviest of feeders but, like other fruit trees, will do best if fertilized once or twice a year: in the late winter and again in mid to late spring. Pomegranate loves composts and manures rich in nitrogen. They also have an affinity for potassium, so apply hardwood ash or potash to help your plant produce healthy, large fruits.
Foliar: Some studies have shown that a light application of a zinc foliar may help your plant produce larger, better quality fruits if applied every couple of weeks.
Pruning: Pruning is very important for the healthy development of pomegranate trees. In the first year of planting, remove suckers and cut the tree back to 2–3′ in height if it tries to grow larger than this. Trim branches back by about a third in the second year and remove suckers. In subsequent years, continue to remove suckers and trim off dead or dying branches. It’s best to prune in the spring before flowering once all danger of frost has passed.
Mulching: A 3–6″ layer of organic mulch such as grass clippings or wood chips can help suppress weeds and retain moisture. Keep mulch off the base of the tree to prevent rotting.
Deficiency(s): If you notice that your leaves are turning yellow, you might be experiencing a zinc deficiency. To remedy, apply a light zinc foliar every couple of weeks.
Companions: Grows well with nasturtiums, summer savory, melons, fennel, dill, parsley, mint, basil, and other fruit trees.
Harvest: The fruits of the pomegranate tree will generally not appear until the second or third season of growth, so you may have to practice a little patience! Fruit should be picked approximately six months after flowering when the skin is firm and a dark purplish red.
Storage: Can keep quite well in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Fun Fact: The pomegranate was so important to the Greeks that it features in one of the most well-known tales in Greek legend. Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was kidnapped by the Greek god Hades and whisked away to the underworld. While there, Persephone ate seeds from the pomegranate which, according to lore, should have doomed her to an eternity as Hades bride and queen of the dead. Her mother, Demeter, could not stand to live without her, so an agreement was reached in which Persephone would remain in the underworld for a number of months equal to the number of seeds she had eaten. During her time aboveground, her mother Demeter would allow plants to grow and flourish in honor of her daughter’s freedom, and hence seasons were born! Thanks Demeter!
Preserve: This plant can be stored raw for an extended period of time if kept cool in the refrigerator or in a cellar. It may also be turned into a juice or jam.
Prepare: The fruit of this plant is usually eaten raw. To extract the seeds, cut the pomegranate in half with a sharp knife. Hold the fruit cut side down in your palm over a bowl. Hit the skin of the pomegranate with the back side of a spoon to shake loose the seeds. To juice, remove the seeds and place in a blender. Pour this mix through a strainer to remove the pulp. For a quick tutorial on how to seed a pomegranate, check out our Helpful Links section!
Nutritional: The fruit of the pomegranate tree is rich in vitamin(s) C and K and has trace amount of multiple other vitamins such as thiamine, folate, riboflavin, and B6. It also contains significant minerals such as potassium, copper, manganese, and phosphorous and outranks many other fruits in terms of antioxidant content.
Medicinal: Due to its high content of antioxidants, some studies have linked pomegranates to the ability to reduce inflammation in joints and well as lower the risk for certain cancers such as breast, lung, and prostate. This fruit has also been linked to overall heart health as it has the potential to reduce levels of bad cholesterol while increasing levels of good cholesterol.
Warnings: Some cultures utilize the roots and bark of this tree in medicine; however, some studies have suggested they are in fact toxic to humans and should be avoided.
Try this healthy and flavorful Pomegranate and Fennel Pollen Salad for your next meal!