By Betty Beeman
Pomegranates are easy to grow, have beautiful flowers and are well suited to our desert environment.
They have an ancient history and were repeatedly mentioned in the bible. Native to Iran and the Himalayan Mountains, pomegranates spread throughout the Mediterranean region and northern Africa. They were brought to Mexico, California and Arizona in 1769 by the Spanish Explorers.
Pomegranates grow on woody plants that more resemble shrubs than trees. Mature plants usually grow 6 to 12 feet high and can be espaliered against a wall or fence. They are deciduous, have small oval leaves and are somewhat thorny. They require full sun, tolerate our alkaline soils, summer heat and winter lows to 10 degrees. They tend to be drought tolerant but should be irrigated once a week during the first growing season for the best fruit quality.
Mature fruits are 2 to 5 inches in diameter and have purple to reddish skin (some varieties are pink), which contain hundreds of seeds. The fruits resemble apples but are actually berries and ripen in August and September. Inside the tough outer skin are seeds, each surrounded by a membrane that encloses a juicy pulp. They are an excellent source of antioxidants.
Plants are available from nurseries usually in five gallon containers. “Wonderful” is the best fruiting variety for our area. Cuttings of 6 to 8 inches long can be taken in February or March and placed vertically in soil with the top, dormant bud exposed. Dusting with a rooting hormone on the cut end will enhance root formation.
Pomegranate trees best perform for 15 to 20 years. They are self-fruitful so a second tree is unnecessary for fruit production. Severe fruit drop during the plants’ first three to five years is not uncommon. Once established, applying nitrogen fertilizer can enhance fruit quality and plant vigor. Like many of our desert trees, overwatering and excess fertilization prevent a healthy plant.
On YouTube there is a tutorial by Utah State University Extension on “How to deseed a pomegranate.”
Once you remove the seeds you can add them to salads, juice them or make jelly. Or eat them as is.
September Gardening Tips:
1. Weather is cooling down but water needs are still high. Planting is not as hard on the plants if you wait until the night temperature falls in the 70s to do your plantings.
2. In the vegetable garden, plant beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, peas and radishes.
3. If you didn’t fertilize your citrus in August, do it now. Follow directions on package and be careful not to put fertilizer too close to trunk or it could burn sensitive bark.
Betty Beeman is a Maricopa resident and Pinal County Master Gardener.
This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.