HOME FRUIT PRODUCTION-POMEGRANATE
Julian W. Sauls
Professor & Extension Horticulturist
December, 1998



Pomegranate originated in southern Asia and was widely cultivated from India to the Mediterranean during ancient times. From Spain, it was introduced into the Americas by Spanish missionaries during the sixteenth century. Its colorful, orange-red flowers and dense, bushy growth habit make pomegranate an attractive ornamental.

While pomegranate can be trained as a small tree, it is more commonly grown as a bushy shrub. The leaves are deciduous, usually glossy and dark green. The plant may have spines (thorns) along its branches.

The fruit may be yellow to bright red in color, up to about 4 inches in diameter. The rind is smooth, but leathery, with a persistent, tubular calyx at the blossom end. The numerous seeds are surrounded by a pink to purplish or crimson, pulp which is juicy and subacid.

CLIMATE

Pomegranate is common to the tropics, subtropics and subtemperate regions and is well adapted to areas with hot, dry summers. It is considerably more cold hardy than citrus; some can tolerate temperatures as low as 10 degrees but others may be damaged at 18 degrees. For best results, pomegranate should be grown in full sun.

Because of its variance in cold hardiness, some types may well survive typical winters in north central Texas, especially the ornamental types which produce only small fruit, if any. The fruiting types should survive most winters throughout south, central and southeast Texas.

SOIL AND SELECTION

Basically, pomegranate is well-adapted to practically any soil that has good internal drainage. While some authorities content that its pH range is slightly acidic to neutral, pomegranate grows very well on the moderately alkaline soils of south Texas and northern Mexico.

For best results, pomegranate should be grown in full sun. If the intent is to grow it as a small tree, then adequate space for development should be provided. Otherwise, it is well suited to bring grown as a hedge or clump of shrubs.

According to some literature, pomegranate has poor salt tolerance, but we have seen no serious problems with the existing salinity of soils and water in the Valley.

VARIETIES

'Wonderful' was the primary variety of commerce in California; 'Purple Seed' and 'Spanish Ruby' were popular in Florida. Because there has been no commercialization of pomegranate in Texas, named varieties may be hard to find.

According to Bill Adams, County Extension Horticulturist in Harris County, a number of varieties were tested in the Houston area. 'Cloud' grows well and bears sweet but white-fleshed fruit that is not as appealing as the red-fleshed fruit. 'Cranberry' grows well and bears nice fruit, but it has some problems with fruit rot. 'Davey' is similar to 'Cranberry' but is apparently less productive. 'Fleishman' froze out in 1989, while both 'Mae' and 'Eve' were taken out for various reasons.



As there is no quarantine on pomegranates, named varieties may be available through mail order from out-of-state nurseries if you cannot locate plants locally.

PROPAGATION

Pomegranate seed will germinate in about 6 weeks and is a common means of propagation. Seedlings, however, do not come true-to-type. Air layering is successful but tedious. Hardwood cuttings stuck in late winter to early spring is the preferred method to produce plants of desirable characteristics.

PLANTING AND ESTABLISHMENT

Since pomegranate plants will most likely be container-grown in soilless media, it is best to wash an inch or so of the potting medium from the root ball so as to expose the peripheral roots to the soil in which they must go. Such plants should commence growth soon after planting, in contrast to those that are simply planted intact from the nursery container.

Water thoroughly at planting and again every few days for the first couple of weeks, after which the interval between waterings can be lengthened gradually. At establishment, the plants shouldn't require watering more frequently than every seven to 10 days. To facilitate watering, construct a ring of soil several inches thick and high, a couple of feet in diameter, around the newly planted tree. Then just fill the ring with water as necessary. The ring will melt into the surrounding soil within a few months, by which time the young plant will have become established.

Fertilize lightly after growth commences. Generally, one to two cups of ammonium sulfate in the first year should be sufficient, especially if it is split into three to four applications. Use about twice as much fertilizer in the second year and three times as much in the third year. Split applications in February, May and September are adequate.

To enable rapid establishment, all other vegetation should be removed within a foot to two of the young pomegranate. Turfgrass can be killed initially with a systemic contact herbicide, followed by organic mulching to prevent weed and grass competition as well as to conserve soil moisture.

PRUNING AND TRAINING

Because pomegranate suckers profusely from the crown, frequent sucker removal will be necessary to train the plant into a tree form. The process must be started soon after planting to maintain a single trunk, otherwise too many suckers will have developed that it will be difficult to change. Unless there is a strong desire for a tree-form, the bushy, free-growing shrub develops naturally.

Annual pruning of bearing pomegranates is not really necessary--but dead or damaged portions should be removed as time permits, and some thinning of suckers or branches may be necessary from time to time.

MATURE PLANT CARE

Basically, the same care as practiced during establishment should be continued for the mature plant, whether tree-form or natural shrub.

PRODUCTION, MATURITY AND USE

As seedlings, pomegranate may undergo severe fruit drop during its first couple of years of production, but this will change as the plant emerges from its seedling juvenility. Severe fruit drop should not occur with vegetatively propagated pomegranates.

In temperate climates, fruit maturity will commence in summer and extend for several weeks in the fall. Obviously, the amount of fruit produced will increase with increasing size of the plant, but reliable estimates of production are unavailable.



Pomegranates are commonly eaten fresh, although the fleshy pulp around each seed in perceived as a hindrance to fresh consumption. The juice may be made into a beverage or into syrup, and can be blended with other juices.

PROBLEMS

Perhaps the most serious problem with pomegranate is the occurrence of a fungal disease which affects both the leaves and the fruit, causing premature leaf loss and also resulting in fruit splitting on the plant. While the leaf drop may be ignored, fruit splitting cannot, since the splitting usually occurs just as the fruit begins to mature. Copper fungicide use during fruit development of late spring through summer may alleviate the problem.

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