Name: pomegranate, Punica granatum.
Height: up to 5m (4m wide).
Plant type: deciduous or semi-deciduous tree (when grown in warmer climates).
Foliage: small-medium, glossy green leaves that turn yellow and fall in autumn.
Climate: cool and warm temperate, sub-tropical, tropical.
Soil: tolerant of most soil types, provided they are well drained.
Position: full sun.
Flowering and fruiting: scarlet, orange and yellow-hued crepe-like flowers appear in late spring and bloom singly or in clusters on the branches. Fruit soon follows and develops into round pomegranates with shiny red skin. The fruit is made up of many juicy red seeds (arils), separated by an inedible, soft white pith.
Feeding: liquid feed regularly throughout the growing season.
Watering: drought tolerant once established but grows better with regular watering.
An attractive tree with a multi-branched, shrubby habit. Its small, glossy green leaves are the perfect backdrop for the red, orange and yellow flowers that adorn the tree from late spring to summer. Fruit develops in late summer, growing into medium-large pomegranates that hang from the branches like lanterns. The fleshy seeds are red and juicy and contain high levels of antioxidants.
Pomegranates make ideal ornamental shrubs or trees for garden beds or pots. They grow naturally into a multi-branched specimen, but can be pruned into a single-trunk tree.
To eat a pomegranate, slice it in half, turn one half upside down and position over a bowl. Use a spoon to repeatedly tap on the back of the fruit to release the seeds. Eat them fresh, press into juices or add to soups, sauces and salads.
Pomegranates are best suited to climates with cool winters and hot, dry summers. As such, they thrive in temperate climates, but are adaptable to growing in subtropical and tropical zones. High humidity during summer can cause the fruit quality to deteriorate.
Choose a sunny spot with good drainage. Pomegranates will grow in a variety of soil types, from sand to clay, but do best in deep, loamy, well-drained soil. Improve the soil by digging in some organic matter like compost or well-aged cow manure.
The best time to plant pomegranates is late autumn or winter, when they’re available in store as bare-rooted trees. Soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed solution while you prepare the planting hole. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Create a small mound of soil in the centre of the planting hole. Place the tree in the centre of the hole and spread its roots evenly over the mound. Backfill with soil, making sure the tree is sitting at the same level as it was in the bag. Tamp down firmly and water in well.
Alternatively, purchase and plant a potted specimen during the warmer months.
Pomegranates are hardy once established, but regularly feeding and watering during the growing season will help them to grow and fruit well.
Fruiting normally occurs 3–5 years after planting, but may take longer. Pick fruit in autumn and winter, selecting the biggest and brightest fruit – only remove when it is full-sized and coloured, as it will not continue to ripen unless picked at the right time. Fruit can be consumed immediately or stored in a cool, dry and dark spot or fridge crisper for a couple of months.
If fruit is left too long on the tree, there is a risk of it splitting. This can also occur if there is a sudden increase in watering (irrigation or rainfall) while it is ripening. While split fruit is still edible, it will be attractive to birds and rodents. Exclude pests with bird netting and harvest when the fruit is ready.
While pomegranates are drought tolerant once established, they will benefit from regular watering, especially during summer when the fruit is developing. Help conserve soil moisture by applying a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, keeping it away from the main trunk. Avoid disturbing the soil around the base of the tree as this will cause suckers to develop.
Feed in spring with a complete organic-based plant food that’s formulated for fruit trees. Reapply in summer to encourage fruit growth and development.
Prune pomegranate trees in winter. Remove excessive growth, dead and diseased wood, as well as suckers around the base of the tree. Shortening the main framework each winter will help produce a strong, compact frame.
Protect plants from fruit fly by setting up traps and baiting early in the season. This is best done just as the fruit is forming, if not earlier. Traps will help indicate the presence of male fruit fly, but attractant baits will need to be applied to the tree and foliage – not the fruit – to help attract and kill female fruit flies.
Pomegranates can be propagated with seeds or cuttings. With seeds, there is no guarantee the fruit will be the same as the parent tree, but it makes for a fun project. Rinse seeds in water to remove the pulp and let air dry on a paper towel for a few days. Fill a pot or seed tray with seed raising mix, sow seeds 5mm deep, cover and gently water. Position the pot in a warm, sunny spot out of direct sunlight. Cover with an upturned plastic bottle or similar to help maintain humidity. Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Germination can take a few weeks, so you will need to be patient. Transplant to a bigger pot filled with quality potting mix once seedlings are well developed.
The best way to propagate pomegranate is with hardwood cuttings, taken from recognised varieties in winter. Take a cutting 15–20cm long and dip the ends into a rooting hormone. Insert the cuttings into pots filled with seed raising mix and lightly water. To help retain warmth and humidity, place a plastic cover over the cuttings, ensuring it is not in direct contact with the plant material. Position the pot in a warm, protected spot. Water regularly to keep the soil moist and remove the cover as needed to allow for air flow.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse fruit well before eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
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