Pomegranate trees produce delicious fruit, and if you live in a warmer climate and decide to grow it, they’re generally easy to maintain while not being affected by a lot of diseases or pests. The fruits have a leathery, red rind with edible, sweet seeds that are packed full of antioxidants and come with many health benefits.
Pomegranate trees can range from a smaller shrub that tops out at three feet tall to a tree that gets up to 20 and 30 feet. The average size of the standard pomegranate tree is between 12 and 16 feet tall, and it has a rounded shape. In most places, this is a deciduous tree, but they can be evergreen in warmer locations. They are a very ornamental tree that produces glossy foliage with tube-shaped flowers in striking red that attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Also, a pomegranate tree makes a nice choice for a bonsai. The branches have a lot of spines and the bark is a brownish-red color.
While it is somewhat drought-tolerant, a pomegranate tree is the perfect pick for the warmest and sunniest locations in your yard where other plants may scorch. You should plant your young trees in the spring once any frost danger passes, and they take two to three years to bear fruit. If you want to know how to care for and maintain them, read on.
Pomegranate trees do require warmer environments to grow as they don’t tolerate cold well, but a single tree can produce a decent amount of fruit.
Pomegranate Tree – General Information
|Botanical Name:||Punica granatum|
|Common Name:||Pomegranate tree|
|Hardiness Zones:||7 to 10|
|Native To:||Northern India and Iran|
|Plant Type:||Small tree or shrub|
|Size:||3 feet for dwarf shrubs and 30 feet for trees|
|Soil pH:||Neutral, acidic, or alkaline between 5.5 and 7|
|Soil Type:||Not picky as long as it drains well|
Pomegranate Tree Cultivation and History
The wild pomegranate tree or shrub comes from the Middle East, and it’s native to modern-day Iran or what was once Persia. This fruit has a very long and fascinating history. For starters, there is evidence of pomegranate tree cultivation that goes back before recorded history in excavations during the Bronze Age from 3,000 BCE in the Himalayan Mountain region and Iran.
Artwork has survived from several ancient civilizations that depict the pomegranate fruit as an important food source in ancient Rome, Persia, Greece, China, and Egypt. In many areas like India, it was considered food for royalty or a luxury item that most common people couldn’t afford.
In Egypt, the pharaohs believed that this fruit was so important that they commissioned illustrations of this fruit to serve as evidence of their status as royalty. You can see it in hieroglyphic paintings on the inside of pyramids or on fine pottery, and they believed that this would go with them to the afterlife.
It was also common to see images of the pomegranate minted on coins, put on religious garb, or displayed in temple carvings or paintings by artists in several different cultures, including in Jerusalem in biblical times by Jewish people. Ancient Romans and Greeks also regarded the pomegranate tree’s evergreen leaves as a symbol of eternal life. Also, as is very common for a fruit that has several seeds, it was a symbol of fertility.
In Greek mythology, when Hades abducts Persephone, pomegranates symbolize regeneration, life, and marriage. You’ll see these trends repeat in various cultures, including the Bedouins. Persian myth claims that this fruit has more mystical powers in nature, like when Isfandiyar eats it and is granted the gift of invisibility.
Some people believe that pomegranates are the fruit of the tree of life in the Bible in the Book of Genesis. The pomegranate is also one of the fruits that is featured in the Koran in the heavenly gardens. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that these stories continue on to create very rich history.
Pomegranates are also the symbol of duality, and this is highlighted by the use in traditional medicine as a laxative or astringent, and restorative. Medieval doctors also used pomegranate for a range of illnesses or issues, including alleviating coughs or as an aphrodisiac. Muslim conquerors brought it to southern Spain and Sicily, and the popularity continued to spread.
Spanish conquistadores and traders first introduced the pomegranate to the United States in the mid-1700s. Over time, pomegranate trees were cultivated in any areas that had arid and hot climates, including in Centra, North, and South America. It’s a very popular tree to grow in Arizona and California.
In the United States, pomegranates have seen surges of popularity over the past two centuries. However, with new research emerging about the benefits of this fruit in the past 20 years, pomegranates have slowly become a mainstream fruit. They’re very high in folic acid and fiber, and they have high amounts of vitamins K and C.
Pomegranates were once a symbol of wealth and royalty, and they’re very popular today for their health benefits.
Popular Pomegranate Tree Varieties
Before you start trying to grow a pomegranate tree, you need to figure out why you’re planting it and what tree you want to plant, just like any fruit tree. If you want to grow pomegranates to eat or sell, you don’t want to buy any pomegranate tree without knowing what kind it is. The three main varieties you should be aware of include:
The smallest pomegranate tree you can get is the Nana Pomegranate. This tree tops out at just over three feet tall, and it’s the most adaptable tree for colder growing zones. You’ll often find this tree in landscapes as a border plant. It does produce smaller fruit, but they’re not considered great for eating. So, if you’re looking to harvest and grow edible pomegranates, you want to avoid this cultivar.
Sweet Pomegranate tree cultivars produce fruit much earlier in the season. These fruits are usually a lot sweeter than other varieties. You can expect to get a bountiful crop from these trees, but the taste may not be exactly what you’re expecting if you’re more used to eating the standard tart fruit.
Wonderful Pomegranate tree cultivars are the ones that are the most commonly found across the country, and they’re great for harvesting. It makes up roughly 95% of the consumer market in the United States, so if you’ve ever had a pomegranate, chances are, this is the one you’ve had. They liked a moderately dry climate that is very warm. Also, this tree was specially bred to produce a huge amount of fruit per tree, so if you want pomegranates to eat or sell, this is usually the cultivar to pick out.
How to Plant Pomegranate Trees
Before you set out to plant your pomegranate tree, you need to make sure that the frost danger for the spring has passed, especially if you’re starting out with a younger tree. The soil directly around your tree should be loose as this helps the tree’s root system establish.
If you have soil that is too compact, take a cultivator to the ground where you plan on planting your tree and break up the soil a bit. If you want to plant a row of these trees, you might want to get an electric tiller and break up the soil in the whole row.
Whatever you choose, make sure that the ground is loose and it starts to warm up out. You don’t want to shock your pomegranate trees by putting them into the ground and making them go through a frost. This could leave your tree very vulnerable to pests and disease issues. The shock could also stunt your tree’s growth for several weeks, even if they make it past the cold weather snap.
Space Out Your Trees
If you want to plant multiple pomegranate trees, you’ll want to space them out with 15 to 20 feet between each tree, especially if you plan on harvesting the fruit. If you have the smaller ornamental shrubs that you want to plant in a border, you can space them six to nine feet apart with no issues. These trees do require enough room to spread out above the ground, but the roots also need space underground so that they can establish without competing.
Pomegranate Tree Care
Once you get a space for your tree and you get the soil loose enough for the roots to spread, it’s time to figure out the general care routine. To get healthy pomegranate trees, you’ll need:
For the first two years, fertilize your pomegranate trees in November and March. Other than these two times a year, you won’t need to apply it in subsequent years. Applying too much fertilizer can result in fewer fruits and a poor harvest.
You can grow your pomegranate trees or shrubs in a space that is partial shade, but you’ll ideally want to put it in a space that gets as much warmth and sun as possible. To get a good harvest from each tree, you want your tree to be in a place that gets a minimum of six hours of sun every day.
Pomegranates need a soil that drains very well, but it’s able to thrive in a large range of soils from poor-quality alkaline types to acid loam which it prefers.
Even though these trees aren’t horrendously picky with their soil, they do prefer it to be on the more acidic side to thrive.
Temperature and Humidity
The best growing areas for this fruit are zones 7 to 10. They like to grow in dry, hot summers and cooler winters. They thrive when the temperatures during the growing season get and stay above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pomegranate trees are much more tolerant of the cold than most citrus trees, but their cold tolerance will depend on the cultivar. Some can deal with temperatures that dip as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit without any damage. However, when the temperature goes this low, it’s better to consider growing your pomegranate trees in containers so you can move them to a sheltered location like your garage to minimize the chances of any frost damage.
This tree is very drought-tolerant, but you will need to irrigate it to ensure proper fruit production. You’ll want to water it deeply every two to four weeks during the drier season when you’re trying to establish new trees. However, you have to be careful to not overwater it. Excess water or soggy soil can cause you to get less fruit. The fruit will also be more prone to splitting, and this can increase the chances of issues with fungal diseases or pests.
How to Care for Your Pomegranate Tree
Once you plant your trees, pomegranate tree care starts right away. You will have to take several steps weekly and biannually to encourage healthy growth and a successful harvest season on each of your trees.
Weekly Tree Care
Early in the initial two months after you plant your pomegranate trees, you’ll want to make sure that they’re all getting the correct amount of water to keep them hydrated. You do this without watering them too much and drowning them. If you planted the trees and had a dry spell right after, you may want to water them twice a day to keep everything hydrated. Make sure each time you water the trees, you water them at the base of the tere so you don’t set the tree up for issues for fungal infections.
As the pomegranate trees start to grow and put out strong roots, you’ll want to cultivate all around the tree’s base once a week to keep the soil very loose. You won’t have to do this after the first year, but while the tree is establishing itself, it’s good to make sure the soil is well aerated to encourage the roots to spread.
Biannual Tree Care
Twice every year, you will want to add fertilizer to the soil to give your pomegranate trees more nutrients to grow. They can survive fine in poor soil conditions, but they’ll thrive in soil that you amend. By adding fertilizer to the soil during this time, you can replenish the nutrients that the trees have absorbed and change the pH levels in the soil to make it more acidic as this is what the trees prefer.
This is only required until you are able to harvest your first crop of pomegranates. Once your fruit comes in during the growing season, you can cut back on fertilizing the trees once a year until after the season ends and the winter is starting to set in. Too much fertilizer over time can burn your trees and the root system. Just like water, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to adding too much fertilizer. Once your harvest is over, you can cut back on fertilizing.
You have to be careful when you care for your trees and harvest your pomegranates so you don’t damage the branches or the fruit itself.
Once the first two growing seasons come and go, year three will roll around. This is when you start to notice tiny pomegranates growing on the branches. Make sure that you keep on top of preventative care for your tree to keep the fungus and insects away. There are several things to look for when it’s time to harvest your fruit, including:
The first thing you should notice about your fruit is that the color gets much darker and more profound. They won’t look glossy or shiny though, but the color will get so deep that it looks a bit flat.
If you think that the fruit color has changed, you’ll need to take a look at the fruit’s shape. Ripe pomegranates will be longer and look more hexagonal with corners instead of being round. Finally, you should tap your finger against the fruit to see if the sounds bounce back. It will sound slightly metallic or tinny, and if they meet all of this criteria, they’re ready to harvest.
Carefully Remove Your Pomegranates
Once you start harvesting your pomegranates, you can’t pull it from the tree as this can cause damage to both the fruit and the tree. Instead, get a pair of pruning shears and cut the stem close to the fruit to remove it from the tree.
A pomegranate that is undamaged and fully intact will stay fresh at room temperature for one to three weeks. When you refrigerate them, they can last even longer, up to two months. If your pomegranate has split, you should use it right away before it goes bad. You can freeze pomegranate arils and juice for up to a year.
Pruning Pomegranate Trees
The best time to prune your pomegranate trees depends on their growth. When you cut back on your weekly maintenance routine for watering, you should go outside once a week and look at your trees. Make sure that you immediately remove any suckers before they get too big. If you don’t prune them correctly, they will start to change your tree’s shape.
If you want to ensure a high-end production when it’s time to harvest them, you should prune away some branches. This allows the tree to focus on fruit growth. If you see any branches that are dying or look diseased, remove them before the infection starts to spread and cause severe damage to your pomegranate tree.
Propagating Pomegranate Trees
Like most fruit trees, it’s not a good idea to grow this tree from seed if you’re trying to get a clone of the parent plant. Other methods, like air layering or taking cuttings from the mature plant, will create true clones of the parent tree. This means that both the growth and fruit habit of the shrub or tree will be identical to the plant you want to clone.
There are several possible methods you can use, and the easiest way to get started is to buy a plant online or from your local garden center. You can get them as potted saplings or bare root plants. To transplant them, you’ll dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball but at the same depth. If you bought a bare root plant, you’ll want to soak the roots in a bucket of water for 30 minutes before you plant it.
Remove the sapling from the container, gently untangle the roots with your fingers, and put it in the center of the hole. Backfill the hole with soil and tamp it down gently to get rid of any air pockets. Water it in well and apply a layer of mulch around your new transplant. Make sure you give an inch or two of space between the stem and the mulch. Keep the soil evenly moist while the plant establishes itself.
It’s easier to go and buy a sapling than it is to try and propagate a new pomegranate tree out of a cutting from your current tree.
Pomegranate Tree Pests and Diseases
The pomegranate tree has a reputation for being hardy when it comes to pests and diseases, but there are some instances where you can run into issues with these fruit trees. Trees that are stressed are much more prone to damage, so keeping your tree healthy is the best defense against pests and diseases.
Make sure that you keep an eye out for common pests like mealy bugs, scale, whiteflies, and pomegranate butterflies that can take advantage of trees or shrubs that you haven’t pruned. They will eat diseased branches and get to your trees to kill them.
When you water your trees too much, this can cause fungal infections that can bring fruit spots or soft rot. You can use an organic fungicide or insecticide on your pomegranate trees each week to prevent these diseases from taking hold and destroying all of your trees.
Common Culinary Uses for Pomegranates
After you spend upwards of three years waiting on your pomegranate trees to grow and the harvest to come in, you may wonder how you’re going to use all of the fruit. If you think they’re only good for use in salads or for juicing, you’re mistaken.
Pomegranates are actually very versatile and they have a range of culinary uses. There are well-known uses like salads, smoothies, or juicing. But, you can also take your pomegranates and make them into lemonades or teas, or they work well in desserts, for baking, and you can even add them to savory dishes.
The vibrantly colored blossoms and skin were historically used to make dyes or to create pigments for cosmetics. Today, the culinary use of dried seeds and arils continues, and people add them in juices, spices, liqueurs, and syrups. Grenadine is flavored using pomegranate, and you can use the fruit to make molasses. The flowers and leaves can also help you make tea, and you can use them fresh or dried.
If you live in the correct climate, you can use this quick guide to help you grow healthy and thriving pomegranate trees in your garden or yard. By taking steps to ensure that your tree has a healthy start, you’ll help ensure that it’s strong enough to ward off pests and diseases. Giving your pomegranate tree the best care possible will result in aa large harvest that you can enjoy all winter.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.