Jacqueline Soule here this week to tell you about a lovely landscape plant that bears luscious fruit – and you can plant now.
Easy to grow, pomegranates are an “in-between” plant. They are either a short shrub-like tree, or maybe a tall tree-like shrub. Mature plants have multiple trunks and reach 6 to 12 feet high and generally 5 to 10 feet around. This size makes them good for a smaller yard, and their multiple trunks make them a good screen.
Pomegranate plants offer year round interest in the landscape. Rich, bright green leaves in summer turn golden yellow in autumn and drop, leaving the smooth cinnamon and gray bark in visible in winter. In spring, the leaves grow once again emerging at first with an almost bronze hue. Spring also brings several weeks of radiant flowers. Bloom color depends on variety, from lacy pink and white to salmon, to red, or scarlet. These bright blooms are pollinated by our calm native bees as well as European honeybees. Soon the fruits start to develop, and take long slow months ripen.
Pomegranate fruits come in a variety of colors when ripe, from a yellowish green with red freckles, to pink, to crimson, to an almost black hue. The fruit that is lighter colored when ripe are less bothered by birds than those that turn red. The interior of the fruit varies in color as well. The ‘Kino Heritage White’ is popular because it does not stain fingers.
Pomegranates are self-fruitful, so a single tree is all that is needed for fruit production. Some pomegranate varieties can have thorny stems, so select plants carefully.
Pomegranate plants require full sun, but appreciate some afternoon shade in our summer. They grow well in our alkaline soils, not needing extensive soil amendments and constant monitoring like citrus trees. One exception is clay soils. If you live in an area of clay soils, plants can easily drown if you over-water them. Amend such soils before you plant with ample sand and compost.
Blazing hot Southwestern summers are not an issue for pomegranates, nor are cold winters. Found in the snowy Judean mountains of Israel, they tolerate winter lows to 10 degrees F. While the trees are fairly drought tolerant, they get water once a week when they have leaves, they will fruit better.
Pomegranates are a good xeriscape plant. That said, the trees are fairly drought tolerant, but if you water them once a week through the summer, they will fruit better.
Don’t expect fruit the first year or two. My tree is three years old and had 7 fruit last fall. Fruit drop during the plant’s juvenile period (first 3-5 years) is quite common. Fruit drop is aggravated by too much fertilizer and excess water – making this a good tree for the forgetful gardener.
Fruit ripens in October and November and can be used right away or stored for months in a cool place. Technically the part you eat are called “arils” it is a sweet flesh that covers the seeds. Eat the arils fresh, or press them for juice, or boil them with sugar to make grenadine syrup or jelly.
Spring is almost upon us and it can be a busy time of year. But in the next few weeks I hope you will find some time to plant at least one of these lovely trees. They do quite well planted before the heat of summer is upon us.
Dr. Jacqueline Soule has been writing about gardening in our region for over three decades. Her latest book Month by Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press) just arrived in December. It’s a good companion volume to Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2014).