Thursday 22 December 2022

Just Pomegranate - The Essential Guide to Probably Everything you Need to Know about Growing Pomegranate - Punica granatum

Pomegranates are surely one of the most fascinating plants in existence and have been catching the hearts, stomachs, and minds of humans for over 7000 years.  In the right climate, they are easy to grow on any well-drained soil, require little care and attention once they are established, and are generally free from pests and diseases. The plants have, since antiquity, been considered to bear one of the most delicious and nutrient-rich fruits, containing a bounty of vitamins within the precious-jewel-like seeds. With the arrival of modern cold resistant cultivars, it's little wonder that this plant is fast becoming something that gardeners are keen to try and cultivate, even if the odds may be stacked against them. 

The only bad thing you could say (and it's a biggy) is that Pomegranate could be partly responsible for all of humankind's toil and tribulation. It's thought that it was most likely a pomegranate and not an apple that tempted Eve, the result being, getting booted out of the Garden of Eden forever.

During this post we'll take a detailed look at this special plant, including its incredible history, how to grow it, the uses of Pomegranate, growing Pomegranate in polycultures, permaculture, and agroforestry, and we'll introduce some hardy cultivars that we're offering from the nursery this season. 


Pomegranate belongs to the small family Lythraceae which contains just one genus Punica and two species, the world-famous Punica granatum - Pomegranate and its largely unnoticed sibling Punica protopunica, which grows only in the Socotra archipelago in the northwestern Indian Ocean. P.protopunica differs in having pink flowers and smaller, less sweet fruit. 

For the rest of this post, we will focus on Punica granatum

Punica granatum - Pomegranate

Latin name - Punica granatum
Common name -Pomegranate
Family - Lythraceae

History - There is evidence that suggests pomegranate was cultivated by humans way back in 4000 BC which makes it one of the earliest fruit crops to be domesticated and planted. It is believed to have originated in the east of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran) and moved westward over time. Its spread can be traced by archaeological evidence with carbonized remains of pomegranate peels found from the Early Bronze Age in Jericho and Arad as well as in Iraq, Lebanon, Greece, and Spain. By the Middle Bronze Age 1500-1200 BC, pomegranate grew throughout the Levant and appeared in Egypt.

The pomegranate features often in the art of Ancient Egypt. These opaque glass bottles in the form of a pomegranate are considered to be from the Ramesside period 1295–1070 B.C. now on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The fruit also had spiritual significance and Ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates in the belief that the qualities of sexual energy and fertility that the blood-red exterior and seedy interior of the pomegranate conveyed would encourage a successful rebirth.

Pomegranates, (Circa) 2300 BCE, A large bowl of Pomegranates depicted on the East Wall of the tomb of Irukaptah at Saqqara, Late 5th Dynasty - Egypt

In fact Pomegranates feature often in historical art and literature of many cultures, appearing in the Quran three times, the pomegranate is often mentioned in relation to Heaven and Allah's gift to humankind. In Hinduism, Persian and Chinese culture, like the Ancient Egyptians, the pomegranate is considered a symbol of fertility and procreation, associated with earth goddesses. Continuing on the theme of fertility and procreation, The Song of Solomon from the Bible features a series of lyrical poems that seem to celebrate the sensuous and mystical quality of desire between a man and a woman with the Pomegranate referenced at least six times in the book, including this one 'Come forth, my beloved, Let us go forth to the field, let us see if the vine has budded and the Pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love"

Probably the most bizarre reference to Pomegranate I've come across is the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. In short, Hades, a nasty God that lived in the underworld kidnapped an amiable goddess called Persephone. Although initially a captive, Persephone grew to love Hades and ended up becoming queen of the underworld. Persephone's mother, Demeter (goddess of the Harvest), went into mourning for her lost daughter and all green things ceased to grow. Zeus was not impressed and commanded Hades to return Persephone. Hades, unhappy at the prospect of losing his wife, endeavored to find a workaround. It just so happens there was a "rule of the fates" that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. So he offered Persephone a Pomegranate of which she ate just a few seeds. The plan did not work entirely and it was decided by Zeus that every year from then on, for each seed she ate she would have to return to the underworld with Hades for a month. And so she returned to Hades and during these months, winter would come to the world. When she would make the return trip, her mother would be filled with joy and everything would start to grow again. This (or some variation of this) became the highly plausible ancient Greek explanation for the seasons :) 

Growing Range -  Today Pomegranate is cultivated on five continents. The main production countries are India, Iran, Turkey, China, and the USA, where more than 76% of the world's production is being produced. The world surface dedicated to the cultivation of pomegranate trees is more than 300,000 ha and world production is probably higher than 3,000,000 t. The map below shows records of places on earth where Pomegranate is grown. You can find the interactive version of this map and visit each recorded point on the discover life website here.

Pomegranate is primarily mild-temperate to subtropical and naturally adapted to regions with cool winters and hot, dry summers. It grows well under semi-arid conditions and thrives well under hot, dry summers and cold winters provided irrigation is available. 

Description -  A medium-growing deciduous shrub/small tree, that can be easily pruned to develop into a single-stemmed tree but naturally is multistemmed. Can reach a height of 6m and a width of 6m. The leaves are glossy and have a narrow, lance shape and some plants may have spines (thorns) along their branches. Flowers emerge in April(northern hemisphere), about a month after bud break.  I've often seen flowers developing throughout the summer when the tree has already set fruit, as you can see in the photo on the left taken in Albania - Fushë-Krujë in August. The fruits are botanically referred to as a "berry"

Life Span - There are reports of Pomegranate trees living up to 200 years old in Europe however the plants are considered to be productive for around 30 years with peak fruit production occurring at around 15 years of age. 

Habit -  The plants sucker from the base and naturally take a shrub form.  More often than not pomegranate is grown as a large multi-stemmed shrub but can be pruned to single-stem trees for orchard layouts. The plants take very well to trimming and can be trimmed to a variety of shapes making them suited for hedging. (see polyculture edible hedge below). There are dwarf cultivars available that typically reach a height of just a meter and produce fruit that is a miniature version of a standard-sized Pomegranate. 

Sexual Reproduction - The same pomegranate plant can carry three types of flowers; namely hermaphrodite, male and intermediate forms but the majority of these flowers are hermaphrodite and therefore we can say that the tree is generally self-pollinated. 

Like most fruit trees, Pomegranate will benefit from cross-pollination that is carried out by bees and other insects. For cross-pollination to occur at least two different cultivars of pomegranate that flower during the same period, should be planted.  Flowers develop on the tips and just below the tips on spurs of newly developed branches of the same year. 

There are double-flowering cultivars available that are grown chiefly for ornamental value. Interestingly, several of these double-flowering cultivars from India, Russia, China, and Turkmenistan also produce edible fruit. 

Hardiness - USDA: 7-11. We are attempting to stretch the outer limits of this using cold hardy cultivars in well-thought microclimates. We are growing them in our gardens 6a although we have just started to grow them. The last 2 years (winters have been mildish) and they have not reached fruit-bearing age yet. We'll see. 

Light Preferences - Prefers full sun, but can cope with dappled shade as long as it has long periods of the day exposed to the full sun

Water needs -  The trees are drought-tolerant; however irrigation is necessary during tree establishment and is critical for commercial fruit production. Without irrigation during prolonged periods of drought, fruit production will be lost, and substantial injury to young trees is likely. 

Ecology -The flowers of the Pomegranate are extremely attractive to bees and hummingbirds. In its shrub form (especially plants with spines along the branches) it will likely provide refuge to a host of wild animals and invertebrates. 

Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Where to Plant

Climatic Limitations - Most Pomegranate cultivars are hardy down to -10C, with the hardy cultivars reportedly okay with temperatures of -15 C. The tree is most resistant to the cold in the winter months and tends to be more susceptible to frost damage prior to reaching full "dormancy" in the fall and at bud break in the spring. There are many reports of the necessary chill hours (exposure of the plant to temperatures below 7 °C ) that range from 100 to as high as 400 hrs.  However, these recommendations mostly do not have sufficient scientific documentation. Most Pomegranate cultivars or varieties do not necessarily need winter chilling.

On the flip side,  Pomegranates are extremely heat-tolerant and perform best when temperatures are above 30 degrees C for at least 120 days a year. They can also be grown in subtropical and tropical climates where they are evergreen and will flower throughout the year, depending on the cultivar.  High levels of atmospheric humidity form a limiting factor to the establishment of a commercial Pomegranate plantation. Flowers may fail to set or abort if conditions are too humid. For commercial growers, you can find a great overview of climatic limitations for Pomegranate here.

Soil - Pomegranates are adaptable and can grow reasonably well in many soil types but as with the majority of fruit-bearing plants, they prefer well-drained soils. Long periods of overly wet conditions will harm the trees. They will not grow well in heavy clay that has drainage issues. Trees can tolerate moderately acidic to slightly alkaline soils and grow best in a soil pH range of 5.5 to 7.2. They also can handle moderate levels of salinity in the soil,

Location - It's a good idea to research a cultivar that will do well in your particular hardiness zone. There seems to be quite a variation in height within the cultivars on offer, so this will need to be considered. For a stand-alone tree, chose a location that receives at least 6 hours of full sun a day and is sheltered from the prevailing winds. If you live in a wet area then planting the tree on a slight slope will aid drainage. There should be space for adequate airflow around the tree to encourage pollination, especially in the spring during bloom.  For orchard planting aligning the orchard rows, north-south will maximize sun exposure. Consider drainage options in regions with high rainfall.

In colder climates, the correct microclimate can make all the difference. Avoid planting in frost pockets and aim for planting next to South facings walls or large rocks that will provide warmer conditions.

Pollination/Fertilisation  -  Planting near other cultivars that flower at the same time will encourage cross-pollination that will result in better yields. The pollinating partner tree should be 4 -6 m away for the best results. 

Feeding, Irrigation, and Care

Feeding - Pomegranates require little fertilization. When planting out new trees top dressing the planting hole with 20 - 30 L of compost and repeating this in early spring for the first 2 years will be more than enough to get them going. After this, they should be fine.

Irrigation - Pomegranates are drought tolerant but water is the most critical nutrient for the establishment of young Pomegranate trees, particularly during the first year after planting. Furthermore for fruit production and general tree health watering is likely to be necessary. To illustrate this point, take a look at the Pomegranate orchards below. This photo was taken in Dalyan, Turkey, Summer of 2022, on the same day in the same area. One of the fields had a drip irrigation system set up the other did not. Not only will the unwatered plants not produce fruit, but, following the stress of a drought summer, their growth will probably be stunted for years to come. 

How much you water will depend upon the variables on your site, such as soil type, drainage, rainfall, etc. In our region, it isn't unusual to have a period of at least 12 weeks without rain during the summer months and extending into the autumn.  That being the case we apply around 20-30L per tree every 2-3 weeks without rain. Avoid excessive watering close to harvest time to avoid fruit split and to preserve the sweet flavor. 

Weeding - Mulching plants with a 10 -20 cm deep mulch each spring and pulling weeds that start to grow through in the summer is good practice when the plants are young. As the trees mature they will grow well amongst other plants of all kinds.

Pruning - Pomegranates produce fruit buds on the new season's growth, so pruning via reducing the size of the branches, before fruiting occurs, will result in no fruit for that season. Pomegranates will often be pruned in order to realize a tree form. This is usually carried out by thinning out crowded stems from the middle and cutting down suckers. If you let a pomegranate sucker freely it will put a lot of energy into growing branches and foliage,  resulting in lower yields. In addition to this, the weight of the fruit can be significant and cause branches to snap out.

To train your Pomegranate into a single- or multi-stem tree, wait until the plants are 2 to 3 years old and at least 1 - 1.5m in height. You should select 1 to 3 suckers that you want to keep to form the main trunks of your tree. Remove all others by cutting them off at the ground. Sometimes a trunk may die back or get injured. If this happens, remove the old trunk and allow a sucker/shoot to grow and replace it.

The single-trunk approach has the advantages of easier orchard floor maintenance and reduced costs associated with pruning out suckers, while opting for multi-trunk gives you more outs - if a frost causes serious damage to a section of the tree, you can simply remove the damaged area, and train a vigorous sucker to take its place, rather than lose the entire tree.

Harvesting - Harvesting time is typically 6 - 7 months after flowering which will normally be September and October. Pomegranate doesn’t continue to ripen after picking from the tree so you need to wait until they are ripe before picking. The general consensus seems to be that when you notice the first fruit splitting, the whole tree can be harvested.  Another way to tell ripeness is to wait for the brilliant color and then tap its bulb. If you hear can a metallic sound, the pomegranate is ready to be harvested. It's best to use pruners to cut the fruit from the branch, leaving the stem attached to the fruit. 

Yields - The plants should start to bear fruit in the 5th or 6th year and by the 10th year, trees should be established. Production can be between 100 to 150 fruits per tree. In a well-managed orchard, the average annual yield can be as high as 200 to 250 fruits per tree.  Peak production is generally reached by the time they're 15 years old. Annual yields from wild trees in the Himalayas averaged 32kg per tree

Propagation - Hardwood cuttings are the most successful method of propagation and they should be 10 - 20cm in length. Taking suckers from the base of the plant often ends up being the most decent wood for cuttings. 10 to 20 in (25-50 cm) long. Place the cuttings in beds with 1 or 2 buds above the soil for 1 year before planting out. Propagation through seed is also possible and Pomegranate seeds have high germination rates, although it will be potluck what type of fruits you receive from seed-grown plants. Grown from seed it will take 5 or 6 years before they start to bear fruit.

Pest and Diseases - Below I have listed what seems to be common diseases of Pomegranates, although encouragingly, they are fairly resilient, and if they do strike appear to account for a small percentage of damage to overall yield. Properly caring for your plants will further reduce the likelihood of problems
  • Alternaria fruit rot (Alternaria alternate) if you've ever opened a pomegranate only to find it partially brown inside, you might have encountered Alternaria fruit rot, also known as Black Heart. The pathogens may overwinter on plant debris, in the soil, and on unpicked or dropped fruit.
  • Aspergillus fruit rot (Aspergillus niger). External decay is usually close to the calyx of fruit, with the rind of the fruit sometimes turning a lighter shade of red, or sometimes with some brownish-yellow discoloration. Inside the fruit, there is black powdery sporulation and a brownish, often mushy decay of the arils(seeds). 
  • Gray mold (Botrytis cinerea). Gray mold infects flower parts at bloom time and lay lurking there during fruiting when they activate after either being washed post-harvest or stored at high humidity. Eating fresh will avoid this issue.

Pomegranate Uses

Fruit - Pomegranate is a highly nutritious fruit, high in fiber and vitamins B6, K and C, and also contains potassium and folate. Each little seed (aril) is encapsulated with the tasty stuff and 100's of these arils are beautifully packed into the peeling.  There is an art to getting to the fruit without spraying yourself with dark red staining juice, an art I have not yet mastered. This method sounds good. Cut the pomegranate in half through the equator, then hold it over a bowl of water, cut side down. With a wooden spoon, smack the skin assertively and repeatedly and the seeds will rain down.

The dried fruit is used as a seasoning in dal, fried samosa, stuffings, and chutneys and a molasses can be made from the fruits, prized in Persian cuisine. The juice from the fruit is my favorite way to enjoy the fruit. For how to juice a pomegranate see below. The skin can also be used in cooking and has been used to make yellow and green dyes for fabric.

Flowers - In the spice bazaar of Istanbul, you will find Pomegranate flowers among a myriad of others. They are used to make pomegranate tea, a beverage considered as having medicinal value since ancient times. 

Ornamental - Pomegranates are often grown for their ornamental value with double-flowering cultivars available. The versatility of the plant's form makes it a great option for shaping.

Hedging - due to their natural inclination to grow in the form of a shrub, they really make excellent and attractive hedging plants that have the added bonus of providing a superfood treat.

Wood - Due to its thin trunk, the pomegranate tree is not often harvested for its timber but as the yellow wood is very hard, some wood crafters use it to make decorative pieces, walking sticks, and other artifacts. In Morocco, the bark of the pomegranate tree, with its high tannin level, was traditionally used for curing leather.

Soil Erosion/Reclamation: A deep rooting tree, it is important in soil erosion control, and is planted along rivers to stabilize banks. Being drought-tolerant the tree is suitable for arid and semi-arid zone afforestation. 

Ecology - Pomegranate flowers are highly attractive to bees, whose activity positively affects yields.

Biomass Plants -  Due to their suckering nature and drought tolerance, they should make a reasonable candidate as a biomass plant, producing an annual supply of arisings via trimming.  Leaf litter from pomegranate is slow to decompose, providing a slow-release mulch.

Medicinal uses -   Various studies have been carried out on antioxidants and they are known to reduce inflammation and promote cell health. Pomegranate juice contains considerably higher levels of antioxidants than most other fruit juices, red wine, and green tea and is currently the subject of several research studies into its role in cancer prevention. It has conclusively been shown to help treat hypertension. The juice of a single pomegranate has more than 40% of your daily requirement of vitamin C and is a good source of folate and Potassium. 

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Pomegranate Polycultures, Permaculture, and Agroforestry

Pomegranates have good polycultures potential. They are drought and wind tolerant making them a good option for hedging and support and seeing as they produce suckers and take well to trimming, they can be used as chop-and-drop plants or grown as part of a polyculture for biomass if provided with enough water. We've included Pomegranate as part of an edible hedgerow/windbreak, although we have not yet implemented this design we intend to once we are sure that the Pomegranate cultivars we are growing will survive a very cold winter. 

Polyculture Edible Hedge - The primary purpose of the polyculture is to provide a low-growing/low-maintenance edible boundary hedge that, when mature, can keep livestock in/out (not including goats or drunk adolescent humans). Other purposes include biomass production, food/fodder production, pollination support for orchards and market gardens, and habitat provision to a range of borgs. The polyculture can also serve as a fast-forming windbreak. 

An illustration of the hedgerow when planted out and at maturity 

The Polyculture is modular and can be repeated to make up longer hedges within a landscape 

Illustration of Lifted Standard Trees spaced at 10m intervals within the hedge row

Agroforestry Potential - Pomegranate makes a good option for growing in a semiarid climate, being drought tolerant and tolerant of wind it can be an important shade tree within a silvopastoral system. The dense multistemmed habit of the plant also makes it a good choice within a shelterbelt given that the plants can withstand windy conditions, although you would not expect to get high yields of fruit growing this plant in these scenarios.  I included Pomegranate in a shelterbelt design for a site in Albania, the main reason being it was already growing wild in the windy area where the belt was proposed. The purpose of the belt was to slow the wind before it reached the cement factory preventing the wind from carrying dust beyond the factory.  

Shelterbelts are highlighted in green with wind direction and intended zone of protection.

Modular planting scheme that repeats throughout the length of the shelterbelts. Pomegranate is included in the Leeward Row(the side not facing the wind directly)

Illustration of the belt when planted out and at maturity 

Mixed Orchard and Intercropping - On good soils and provided with irrigation, Pomegranate can grow well with grapes in Mediterranean countries. I have often seen trees planted on the perimeter of mixed citrus and olive orchards and with 8m wide alleys between rows it's possible to maintain the growth of light-demanding crops between tree rows.

Pomegranate Cultivars 

We have two Pomegranate cultivars available this season. These cultivars have been developed for colder climates and are hardy to -15 C. We have been growing these plants for the last few years and although they have survived the winters so far and are growing well, they have yet to produce fruit so we can't vouch for how good the fruit tastes at the moment

Punica granatum ' Acco 126'

Description: Delicious, dark red fruit, large in size​ (600-700 g per fruit) One of the sweetest cultivars that grow outside the Mediterranean zones of Europe 
Fruiting Period: Ripens around September 15 to September 25
Pollination: Self-fertile, but benefits from a pollination partner - 'Wonderful'
Disease Resistance: Good - resistant to common diseases and pests
Form: Multistemmed and suckering. If winter dieback occurs, the suckers that emerge the following season will be true to form 

Punica granatum 'Wonderful'

Description: Large fruits that have Sweet and tangy flesh is ideal for juicing, also great eaten fresh.
Fruiting Period: September to October 
Pollination: Self fertile, but benefits from a pollination partner - 'Acco 126'
Disease Resistance: Good - resistant to common diseases and pests
Form: Multistemmed and suckering. If winter dieback occurs, the suckers that emerge the following season will be true to form 

Both cultivars are 15 EURO per tree. All orders over 500 EURO receive a 10% discount and we can also provide bulk orders of 100 plants or more for heavily discounted prices. If you would like to place an order send us an email at or contact us on Whatsapp at +359988342649 with your order. We look forward to hearing from you. 

How to make Pomegranate Juice 

During the ripe seasons, throw a stick anywhere in Turkey and you're probably going to hit a Pomegranate juice stand. It's a perfect drink in the hot weather and has super nutritional value and taste and juice is a more convenient way of ingesting the beneficial health compounds that are present in Pomegranate fruit.

A press (like the photo above) is the easiest way to get the juice out but in absence of this tool, separate the arils (gem-like seed things) and then press them in a cheesecloth, or use an electric blender followed by straining to remove the seeds. Juice should be consumed fresh or stored in the refrigerator for only a short period of time.

That's all for this post. 

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Pomegranates of ancient Egypt: representations, uses and religious significance - Cultivar list - Pome in Folkelore - History of Pomegranates - Kabbalistic Tree of Life - Pom/high priestess - general information - good for images

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