Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, discusses growing pomengranates. This is one of a series of articles she has written about growing fruit trees (see right hand sidebar). She has also written a number of articles about growing various vegetables, growing various herbs and general growing techniques.
The beautiful red fruit of the pomegranate (Pumica granatum) has increased in popularity as our culinary tastes have become more diverse and inclusive of Middle Eastern and North African dishes over recent years. Pomegranates are not cheap so why not plant a tree which will give you glossy green leaves, turning to mellow tones in autumn, pretty red flowers attractive to honeyeaters, plus tart, ruby seeds and refreshing tangy juice.
- Plant in the hottest part of the garden.
- Regular deep watering for the first 6 months.
- Prune lightly.
Position and soil
Pomegranate should be planted in the hottest part of the garden. In Melbourne’s climate, the trees need maximum sun exposure for the fruit to fully ripen. They prefer slightly acidic, well drained soil but will grow in a range of soils, including poor and heavy ones.
Planting in the garden
Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree and to the same depth as the root ball. Tease out the roots. Place into the hole and backfill with soil. Water well. Trees can attain a height of 5 -7 metres and are often 5m wide, especially if neglected over a number of years and have not undergone pruning of suckers and thinning in the crown. The tree will take 3 years to fruit.
One pomegranate is generally enough for a garden but, if planting two, separate them by 5 metres or more. If growing as a hedge, plant them 2-3 metres apart.
Planting in a pot
‘Nana’ is a dwarf pomegranate variety that is suitable for a pot. The pot needs to be at least 40cm in diameter. ‘Nana’ It will grow to 1m in height. Place it in the sunniest spot in the garden.
In the first 6 months, water deeply 2-3 times a week depending on how hot it is. After that, water once deeply each week.
Having said that, I know of a huge tree that is over 100 years old that is never watered except by rain and it produces prolifically each year. Presumably its roots are deep enough to draw water from deep beneath the surface.
Fertilising and mulching
Fertilise with compost or well rotted manure in the spring. Mulch around the tree, keeping clear of the trunk, with any type of mulch to help retain moisture in the ground. Wood chip works well.
Pests rarely affect pomegranates, thus making them easy to maintain. However, despite their leathery skins, they are subject to Queensland Fruit Fly. Pomegranates are difficult to net because of their sharp spikes so I recommend spraying the fruit with kaolin clay, or using large net sleeves over individual fruit. If using kaolin be sure to spray all sides of the fruit. Kaolin washes off easily in hot water. Use a scrubbing brush if any residue remains.
[Editor: King parrots appear to be partial to pomegranates so, if you have any of these beautiful birds in your garden, you will need to protect at least some of your pomegranates from being eaten by them. I usually put bags or sleeves around individual fruit.]
Establishment pruning: choose a tree that can be pruned to a main trunk with 4-5 branches coming off it to form the frame.
[Editor: Robin’s pruning advice above assumes that you want the pomegranate to grow as a tree. Alternatively, it can be grown as a multi trunked shrub, in which case your establishment pruning should be based on selecting up to, say, 6 trunks.]
Yearly pruning: prune suckers from around the base whenever they appear as these sap the energy of the tree and reduce fruit production. Prune lightly in autumn after harvest and do not tip prune all branches as pomegranates produce on spurs on these tips as well as on spurs further along the branches. In winter, remove any dead, diseased or damaged wood. Thin out wood that has borne fruit for several years to allow new branches to develop and also prune out thin, whippy branches. Thin fruit, if crowded, to increase the size of those remaining.
Pomegranates are harvested in autumn, generally between March and May. There are several indications that they are ripe [Editor: and waiting until they are ripe is important because they won’t ripen further once picked]. The first is that the colour of the fruit deepens, the shiny skin turns matte and the shape changes from a ball shape to a slightly 6 sided configuration. The fruit will also begin to split and this indicates that all the fruit is ready for harvest. The fruit will store for months but be aware that any split fruit, fruit left too long on the tree or bruised fruit may develop a grey fungal rot. Use split fruit first. If you observe any fungal rot, remove that section and the rest should be fine.
I recommend ‘Wonderful’ for garden planting. The pomegranates, when fully ripe, are large and their skin is a deep crimson. I find other varieties difficult to ripen in Melbourne’s climate. For pots, plant ‘Nana’.
Some people ‘complain’ about the difficulties of releasing the seeds from their capsule. One quick and easy way to remove the seeds is to cut across the pomegranate and use a small spoon or even a knife or fork to dig or scoop the seeds out of each segment. I do this over a bowl so that I retain the juice. It is important not to include any skin, pith or segment membrane as these are very bitter. By the same token, blitzing pomegranate seed for juice or molasses will produce a bitter aftertaste. A press will, however, work well as long as you avoid pressing down hard at the end and releasing the bitterness from the pith and membranes.
Pomegranate juice is used for both cold drinks (including Grenadine cordial) and for making pomegranate molasses (of which there are plenty of recipes on the internet). The seeds are used to flavour and garnish Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes, both savoury and sweet.