Rick Gush
January 27, 2012
pomegranates

Photo by Rick Gush

 

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) tree growing in our garden is the only one of our fruit trees that I grew myself. That’s because rooting pomegranate cuttings is just so easy.

Six years ago, I took some cuttings in the fall from a pomegranate growing in a neighbor’s yard and stuck them in a pot of sand over the winter. When I took them out in April, the cuttings had all leafed out and formed roots. Pomegranates don’t seem to have root problems like plum, peach and apple trees, so there was no need to graft a fruiting scion onto a rootstock, and I could just plant the new, young pomegranates wherever I wanted. I gave most of them away, and the one that I kept is now a very attractive 7-foot-tall, braided, triple-stem tree that started producing a few fruits two years ago.

Pomegranates are unusual in that the suckers aren’t always bad. Pomegranates are naturally multi-stemmed shrubs/trees, so leaving a number of the suckers on does no harm. Because I wanted to grow a triple-stem, braided trunk, I let everything grow for the first few years and then selected the three biggest stems to braid into the eventual trunk. Now, I do cut off the suckers and lower side shoots; actually, I cut them back to a few inches but leave some foliage because I think having a lot of leaves growing up and down the trunk helps add to the overall pumping power.

Although pomegranates grow most notably in semi-tropical locations, such as the Caribbean and Central America, they will tolerate a lot of cold and will grow like weeds in places like San Diego, Calif.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Texas; and Virginia. The plant is originally from the Middle East, and it’s still hugely popular there.

Pomegranate maintenance is pretty easy and includes some occasional pruning that removes unwanted suckers, cowlicks and crossing branches. The bush usually favors branches that have short fruiting spurs on them. Small growers seldom have pest problems with pomegranates, but orchard growers need to watch out for a few potential bugs.

There is one important management goal once the fruits have reached close to their mature size: Avoid moisture-level fluctuations in the soil. It is a very bad idea to water a mature, fruit-bearing pomegranate, because new water can cause the fruits to swell and split. Rainwater can also cause fruit to split, so think about harvesting their mature fruit if it looks like it’s going to rain.

I really like pomegranate juice, but juicing pomegranates is always messy for me. I put the hand orange juicer in the bottom of our largest kettle and squeeze the pomegranate halves down there, where the inevitable crimson splashing isn’t a problem. I have to squeeze pretty hard to get all the juice, which means that I have to strain the juice one time to remove all of the little bits of bitter-tasting, white, seed-chamber lining. I don’t have a nifty leveraged citrus presser, but with the pomegranate tree in the garden growing very nicely now, I’m sure that one of those will be an acquisition target in the near future.

Read more of Rick’s Favorite Crops »


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