One of the fruits growing in popularity across the country is the pomegranate. Lately it seems like there’s been a pomegranate explosion in the food world with the fruit appearing in more and more recipes and showing up in your grocery’s produce section. But as a gardener, have you ever wondered how to grow a pomegranate tree in your own garden? Is is tricky? What does it take? Can it even be done where you live?
Pomegranate trees are pretty resistant to disease and even pests, which makes them a more low-maintenance option for gardens. Some trees are dwarf in size, at around only three feet, while others can grow between 20 to 30 feet in height. In the warmest climates, pomegranate trees can be evergreens and will attract hummingbirds for miles around.
If you are a fan of pomegranates or pomegranate tree and wonder if they’re right for your garden, then keep reading this guide on how to grow a pomegranate tree.
Where Do Pomegranates Like to Grow?
Pomegranates are thought to have originated in Iran (it was called Persia then). It quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, India, parts of Africa, and the drier parts of Asia. Pomegranates love it hot and dry.
In the US, pomegranates do best in hardiness zones 7-10. Click here for a map of those zones. If you live in one of those areas, congratulations — you can grow pomegranates!
Types of Pomegranate Trees
Before you begin your pomegranate growing adventure, you need to know which tree you will be planting and the purpose for planting the tree. Those who want to grow pomegranates for consumption or sale should not purchase just any pomegranate tree they see without knowing what kind it is first.
Here are three varieties to make you aware of.
The smallest of the pomegranate trees is the Nana Pomegranate tree. It is just over 3 feet and is the most adaptable in a colder growing zone at its tallest. This tree is often found in landscaping and used as border plants. While it does produce small fruit, the eating quality of them isn’t considered to be very good. So if you are looking to grow and harvest edible pomegranates, you should select a different variety.
The Wonderful Pomegranate tree is the most commonly found pomegranate across the country and it’s meant for harvesting. The Wonderful variety makes up 95% of the US pomegranate consumer market so if you’ve ever eaten a pomegranate, chances are that it was a Wonderful pomegranate you enjoyed.
The climates this tree grows best in are usually moderate or dry and very warm. The Wonderful Pomegranate tree is meant to yield fruit (lots, in fact), so if you want pomegranates as a source of income or personal consumption, this might be the right tree for you.
The Sweet Pomegranate tree produces fruit early in the season. These pomegranates are often much sweeter than the Wonderful tree variety. You can expect to get a successful harvest from these pomegranate trees, but their taste may not be what you are expecting if you’re accustomed to the flavor of standard, tart pomegranates.
But You’ll Need a Little Patience…
No matter which pomegranate trees you choose to plant, keep in mind that it will take at least two years before your first fruit harvest. After growing a pomegranate tree for a year and not getting anything the following season, you need not be discouraged. Sometimes it can take up to three years before the first pomegranate fruits start to form and ripen.
How to Grow a Pomegranate Tree: Getting Started
So now that you’ve selected your pomegranate tree variety, you’ll want to carefully plan when and how to plant the new addition to your garden.
When to Plant
Before you plant your pomegranate tree, you need to ensure that the last frost has passed, especially for trees that are still really young. The soil around the tree should be loose so that the tree and its roots can become established.
If your soil is too compact, take a hand or rake cultivator to the ground where you are planting the tree and break it up a bit. If you plan to plant a row of these trees, you may want to get an electric tiller to break up the soil in a row.
Either way, make sure that the ground is loose, and the temperature is starting to rise. You do not want to shock pomegranates by putting them in the ground and forcing them to go through an unexpected frost. This could leave your pomegranate tree vulnerable to diseases and pests. The shock could also stunt the growth of your trees for several weeks, even if they are able to survive the weather snap.
Space Out Your Trees
If you are planning to plant multiple trees, you want at least 15-20 feet between each tree, especially if harvesting the fruit is the goal. If you have the smaller ornamental shrubs that you are using as a border, your spacing can be anywhere from six to nine feet apart. These trees need enough room to spread out above ground, but the roots also need space below the dirt so that each tree has its own space.
Sunlight is Best
If you are not sure where to plant your pomegranate, select the part of your yard or garden that has at least six hours of direct sunlight. This area can be partially shaded, but you do not want full shade since pomegranates enjoy sun and warmth.
If you can put them in a location that gets more than six hours, your pomegranates will do even better.
Watering the New Trees
Once your pomegranate tree is planted, you want to ensure that it has adequate water for the first couple of months. Keep in mind that these trees, in general, are pretty tolerant of dry spells. Once they mature and their roots are established in the soil, they can showcase their hardiness when rain is few and far between. To prevent shock and give them the best start, steady irrigation on these trees is necessary.
Too Much Water Can Be Dangerous
Because these trees have a high drought tolerance, too much water can be dangerous, especially while the trees are young. If you have had excessive rain over the last week and the ground is getting saturated, you need to try and drain the water from around the trees. While pomegranate trees are usually resistant to disease, overly wet soil can lead to fungal infections, which can be dangerous for a pomegranate tree.
How to Care for Your Pomegranate Tree
Pomegranate tree care begins immediately once you plant your trees. You must take several steps weekly and even biannually to encourage the tree’s growth and a successful harvest of pomegranates when the time comes.
Weekly Tree Care
Early in the first two months, you want to make sure that the pomegranate trees are getting the right amount of water to keep them hydrated but doing so without drowning them. If you planted your trees and experienced an unusual dry spell, you may want to water twice a day to the trees hydrated. Make sure when you water them, you do so at the base of the tree so that you do not create conditions for fungal infections on the leaves.
As your pomegranate trees start to grow and develop strong roots, you want to cultivate around the base of the plant once a week to keep the soil loose early on. You do not need to keep this up after the first year, but while the tree is getting established, it is good to make sure the soil is well aerated.
Biannual Tree Care
Twice a year, you need to add fertilizer to your soil to give your pomegranate trees the nutrients they need. While they can survive in poor soil, they’ll thrive in soil that is amended. By adding fertilizer to the soil during these periods, you can replenish the nutrients that the pomegranate trees have absorbed and even change the pH of the soil to make it more acidic for the trees.
This is only required until you get your first harvest of pomegranates. Once fruit comes in during the growing season, you can dial back the fertilizer to once a year after the season is over and winter is starting to roll into the area.
Too much fertilizer over time can burn a pomegranate tree and its roots. Like water, there is too much of a good thing in over-fertilizing, and the fact that a harvest is producing means the need for fertilizer is reduced.
The time to prune your pomegranate trees depends on how well they are growing. Once you cut back on your weekly maintenance for watering, you still should step outside once a week and examine your pomegranate tree. Make sure you immediately remove any suckers before they grow much. If they are not pruned properly, the shape of your tree will start to change.
If you want to encourage a higher production yield when the time comes, prune away some of the branches. This lets the tree focus on the fruit and growth. As always, if you see any branches that look diseased or dying on the tree, remove them before infection spreads and causes severe damage to the tree.
Reduce Pests and Diseases
While it is no secret that the pomegranate tree is pretty hardy when it comes to diseases and pests, there are some times when they get the best of the trees because of current conditions. Trees that are stressed are most susceptible so keeping your pomegranate tree healthy is the best defense against disease and pests.
Be on the lookout for common pests like scale, mealy bugs, whiteflies, and pomegranate butterflies that take advantage of shrubs and trees that have not been properly pruned. They feed on diseased branches and then get into the trees, causing disaster.
When there is too much water, you can expect diseases like soft rot and fruit spots that are caused by fungal infections. Consider using an organic fungicide and insecticide on your pomegranate trees weekly to prevent either of these from taking over and destroying the trees that you have worked hard to grow.
Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor: Harvest Time
Now that the first two growing seasons have come and gone, it is year three, and you start to notice baby pomegranates growing on the branches. Make sure you stay on top of that preventative pomegranate tree care to keep the insects and fungus away. There are several signs to look for when it is time to harvest your pomegranates.
The first thing you notice about your pomegranates is that the color has gotten darker and more profound. They do not look shiny or glossy, but their color is so deep that it seems a bit flat and one-note.
If you think that the color has changed, you need to take a closer look at the shape of the fruit. Ripe pomegranates will be longer and look more like a hexagon with corners instead of fully round.
Finally, you want to tap your finger against the pomegranate and see if the sounds bounce back. It will sound tinny or even slightly metallic.
If your pomegranate fruits meet all of these criteria, then it is time to harvest the fruit.
Carefully Remove The Fruit
When you start harvesting your pomegranate fruit, you cannot simply pluck it off the tree — doing so can damage both the tree and the fruit. Instead, use pruning shears and cut the stem close to the fruit.
A pomegranate that is fully intact and undamaged will keep at room temperature for 1-3 weeks. When refrigerated, pomegranates will last even longer — about two months.
If a pomegranate has split, it won’t keep and should be used right away. Pomegranate juice and arils can be frozen for up to a year.
Common Culinary Uses for Pomegranates
After you’ve waited patiently for your pomegranate harvest to come in, you may wonder “How am I going to eat all this fruit?” If you think pomegranates are just for juicing or sprinkling into salads, you’re in for a tasty surprise.
Pomegranates are a versatile fruit with all sorts of culinary uses. There are the well-known ones like salads (both in aril form and also as a salad vinaigrette), juicing, and smoothies. But pomegranates can also be made into beverages like tea or lemonade, be used for desserts, used in baking, and they even have a place in savory dishes.
For inspiration, visit this link to our blog article of 21 recipe ideas for pomegranates.
If you live in the right planting zone, then we hope this guide has been helpful in providing what you need to know for how to grow a pomegranate tree in your garden. By taking steps to get your tree off to the right start, you’ll ensure that it’s healthy enough to fight off diseases and pests. Giving your tree the proper care it needs will result in a bountiful harvest of pomegranates that you can enjoy all winter long.
If you have a tip to share about growing and caring for a pomegranate tree, feel free to leave it in the comments below.