Every time I turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, I see pomegranates.
Pomegranates make great landscape plants, and the added benefit of the fruit makes this a desirable plant. Also, the health benefits are well-advertised.
Many people wonder if pomegranates will grow in this area. They will, but they might not produce fruit every year.
Pomegranate is a deciduous (rarely evergreen) shrub or small tree that typically grows from 12 to 20 feet tall. The plant will also have a spread nearly the same as its height. Pomegranates sucker profusely from the base, and if not removed routinely the plants quickly become dense with many stems.
The stems tend to be slender and thorny, with reddish-brown bark that becomes gray with age. The leaves are glossy, dark green, and somewhat leathery; they turn yellow in the fall and may linger on the plant until early winter.
Pomegranate plants have a moderate growth rate. They will flower sporadically the first year after planting into the landscape. The plants may bear one to two fruits the first year. More commonly they will start to bear two to three years after planting. Although considered long-lived plants (some in Europe are more than 200 years old), their vigor will decline after about 15 years.
In our area, pomegranates are mostly enjoyed for their highly attractive flowers, which occur over a long period from late May until fall. The flowers are borne at the ends of branches with one to five flowers in a cluster. The flowers are 1 to 2 inches wide, with five to seven crepe paper-like petals.
Flower color varies from scarlet, orange, yellow, white or variegated, depending on the cultivar. Plants may be single- or double-flowering, with double flowers resembling carnation blossoms. In general, double-flowering cultivars produce little, if any, fruit. Also, pomegranate flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.
Plants might be striking in the fall during years that climatic conditions allow good fruit set. The globe-shaped fruit are generally 2 to 3inches in diameter but can grow to 5 inches. They mature from green to several different shades of red, depending on the cultivar, and resemble Christmas ornaments. Fruit typically ripens in early fall.
Pomegranate plants are well suited for shrub borders, and they make a great backdrop for small shrubs and perennials. These shrubs make good screens. There are compact forms that perform quite well in large containers.
Pomegranate plants are easy to grow and require little maintenance once established. They perform best when planted in full sun but will flower and fruit sporadically in partial shade.
They are adaptable to most soils, but they grow best in soils that are well drained. They prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Like most shrubs, they benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and require minimal fertilization if fruit production is not the goal.
If fruit production is the goal, irrigating to provide even soil moisture will reduce fruit drop and prevent fruit splitting. Also, fertilizing these plants in March and July with a pound of 10-10-10 for every 3 feet of plant height will aid in fruiting.
These shrubs are cold-hardy to Zones 8. Our area is Zone 8a or 7b. They can survive here, but will be damaged when temperatures drop below 10 degrees. They will usually resprout from the crown after such cold. Planting in a protected location may prevent cold injury.
Pomegranates flower on new growth; therefore, pruning should be done before new growth starts in the spring. Removal of suckers and dead wood should be all the pruning that pomegranates need. Fruit are produced on short spurs found on 2- to 3-year-old stems, so light annual pruning will encourage new fruiting spurs to develop. Heavy pruning will reduce fruiting.
Pomegranate plants are relatively trouble-free when the proper conditions are provided. Leaf and fruit spots are common because of our high humidity, but these diseases don't require treatment. Deer will occasionally browse the foliage.
The most common problem with pomegranate is its failure to set fruit. Inadequate sunlight and lack of pollination are two of the most common reasons pomegranates do not set fruit. Plant two or more pomegranates because cross-pollination increases fruit set. Also, high humidity levels will reduce the amount of fruit. Pomegranates are native to warm, arid regions.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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