It is easy to understand why Persephone was tempted by the pomegranate seeds offered to her by Hades, as told in the ancient Greek mythological story, even though eating them would condemn her to spend three months of each year in the dark underworld.
*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
The seeds (technically called arils) are garnet-hued jewels with a uniquely flavored sweet juice. You may have enjoyed that juice in its pure form, in jelly, or even in a classic “Shirley Temple” drink. The grenadine syrup used for this beverage is made with pomegranate juice.
Though the seeds take a little work to extract from the leathery red fruits, it is well worth the effort. In addition to wonderful flavor, the juice from the pomegranate arils is nutritious, being loaded with a variety of antioxidants.
The trees, themselves, make great additions to the landscape. They are drought and heat tolerant, grow in even heavy clay soils, fast growing, and produce a large quantity of bright, red-orange, tubular shaped flowers. They are self-fertile, and are also relatively pest and disease free, so they are a fairly easy tree to grow.
Pomegranate is not very cold tolerant, however, adapted only down to zone 7. They also need the heat of summer to properly ripen the fruits, so they are really best suited to zones 8-10.
The natural growth habit of pomegranate is really as a large shrub, reaching up to 20+ feet high and 10-15 feet wide (though many varieties for home gardens are usually smaller). However, they can be pruned to a single trunk, or a multi-trunked tree if desired. Ours has been allowed to grow naturally in its shrub form, but once the leaves drop for the winter, we will be pruning it up into a multi-trunked form. This will make it easier for irrigation water to reach the base of the tree and for us to keep on top of weeds growing underneath.
Fruits are ready at the end of fall and should be harvested when the outer skin has become dark red, though some varieties are lighter in color when ripe. It is best to get to them before the skin splits, but they can still be harvested even after that. The fruits will remain on the tree after the leaves have dropped, but should be harvested by that point. The arils can be eaten fresh after harvest, or can be frozen for later use. The skins can of course be put into the compost for your garden.
- Height: depends on variety, up to 25-30 feet, most up to 15-20 feet
- Width: depends on variety, about 15 feet
- Sun: full sun
- Water: drought tolerant, but will produce better with irrigation during dry periods
- Soil pH: neutral
- Soil type: tolerant of various soil types
- Key nutrients: fertilize as you would for other fruit trees if needed
- Planting time: usually planted as bare root transplants in late winter to early spring, before leaves appear