Pomegranate [Punica granatum]

If you’ve spent any time around me, you would know one of my favorite fruits is the pomegranate. Even as a kid I enjoyed the sweet, tart, tangy taste and the beautiful (usually) ruby-colored arils. I didn’t mind that it took work to get the seeds free. I still don’t. Pomegranates are an edible treasure.

Growing with Pomegranate

As I’ve grown older, this large multi-stemmed shrub (15 ft/ 4.5 m) has become more significant in my life. Perhaps it’s because it begins to flower near Rimakej’s birthday and bear edible fruit around my birthday. Production continues into the late fall when most fruit production is over.

Maybe it’s because they’re fun to eat. Maybe it’s because they’re available during two of my favorite fall holidays, Samhain (October 31st) and Yule (Winter Solstice). Pomegranates store very well extending our season for fresh fruits into the winter. This is often why you see them as winter holiday decor.

Perhaps it’s the fascinating lore (it’s known as the tree of the dead), it’s culinary versatility and history, or the herbal properties I’m just now learning about. Maybe it’s that they are so easy to care for. 

Growing Pomegranates

Pomegranates take pruning well and produce fruit on new growth. This means you won’t lose a crop if you prune anytime from winter when the leaves drop to early spring before leaf out. Pomegranates, being desert natives, are a low-water-use plant. Some varieties grown in the Middle East thrive and fruit off only 4 inches of rain a year!

Note: Please don’t starve a newly bought Pomegranate nursery tree for water. Nurseries pamper plants and they cannot handle sudden changes in watering frequency, light intensity, or wind intensity. This is why hardening off greenhouse plants is critical. There are many factors in desert growth, including land management and tree lineage. I don’t cover those here that allow the trees I mentioned to thrive.

Pomegranates reproduce easily via hardwood cuttings in the winter after the tree has dropped its leaves. Just stick the cuttings right side up in some soil in a pot and water it occasionally. I simply leave mine outside on the back deck, exposed to the elements. Remember though, that I’m in a mild climate (USDA zone 9) that rarely freezes.

Come spring you’ll see new leaves that are often red in color on the cutting. The leaves tell you that the cutting took root and is growing. Pomegranates will grow well in a container long term, but I prefer to plant them in the ground when possible. Generally, pomegranates are self-fertile but they fruit better with another tree nearby to pollinate.

Nerdy info: The red coloration on leaves is a pigment called anthocyanins which are controlled by sugars in the leaf itself. Yes, it’s the same anthocyanin pigments that give the blues, purples, and black colorations to fruits like blueberries, blackberries, and elderberries.

Of the many plants I have, my pomegranates do not suffer from the intense heat (up to 117°F/ 47.2°C), occasional hard freezes (down to 18°F/ -7.77 °C), or the incredibly strong gusts of wind (up to 60 mph/ 96.5 km/h) my property is prone to. They make excellent windbreaks because they are flexible and wind can move through the multiple stems. The purpose of a windbreak isn’t to stop the wind, it’s to slow it down. This works best when the barrier is permeable!

Pomegranates (especially the Sonoran White Pomegranate) have a history of being planted as a living fence to mark field edges in some indigenous cultures here in the U.S. with remnants of plantings found in Arizona, Southern California, and Georgia.

Aside from eating the seeds (technically arils) raw, the juice can be extracted, and either drunk or turned into molasses (this was the origin of grenadine) or jam. The dried seeds with the pulp removed also serve as a spice in some cuisines, and the dried rind is part of folk herbal medicine. 

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