‘Wonderful' is the pomegranate most of us pick up at the grocery store. Originally found in a bundle of cuttings from Florida, ‘Wonderful' has been propagated widely in California since the early 1900s. But the story of pomegranates (Punicagranatum) goes back much further.
Also called Chinese apples, pomegranates are one of the oldest documented edible fruits. They require long, hot summers and can survive under myriad conditions. For best fruit production in Napa Valley, plant pomegranates in a sunny location in ordinary soil with good drainage. For the first two years, water deeply every two to four weeks in dry weather to encourage root establishment and fruit production.
When pomegranate plants are about two feet high, select four or five of the healthiest-looking branches, preferably well-spaced, and cut them back to 12 inches.Remove the remaining growth and any shoots or suckers that appear above or below these chosen branches.
Pomegranate trees can be grown as dwarfs, but most reach 15 to 20 feet tall. Disciplined pruning can keep them tidy in smaller spaces.
The pomegranate produces fruit at the end of new growth. Judicious pruning annually for the first three years will produce bushy plants with abundant new growth each year.
With their shiny, dark leaves, bright orange flowers and dramatic red fruits, pomegranates make attractive, long-lived additions to the garden. Their ruby arils—the pulp-covered seeds—are beautiful in salads and make a refreshing juice. The fruit is also used commercially for making grenadine, the sweet red syrup in a Shirley Temple. Local birds appreciate any fruit left on the tree.
No wonder the Spanish missionaries considered pomegranates essential to propagate along El Camino Real in the 1700s. Pomegranates are still often found on old homesteads and in historic gardens across the state.
By 1927 California boasted 2,750 acres of pomegranates. As of 2011, the last year the USDA tracked commercial production, California had more than 30,000 acres of pomegranate orchards.
Some fruit trees, like plums, are susceptible to oak-root rot and can't be grown near diseased oak trees. Fortunately, pomegranates do not have this issue. Sometimes the pomegranate rind splits, exposing the seeds to insects, moisture and mold. Regular watering minimizes splitting, as it does for tomatoes and other fruits. Cease watering two to three weeks before your anticipated harvest.
Allow pomegranates to ripen fully on the tree as they won't ripen further after harvest. Clip the stem to avoid damaging the fruit; do not pull the fruit off the stem.
Pomegranates actually improve in storage, becoming juicier and more flavorful. Keep the fruit cool but not cold. A temperature below 41°Fwill turnred arils pale and promote decay. Stored at the proper temperature and around 85% humidity,the fruit can last for up to seven months. When the arilsstart to fade and look streaky, flavor fades, too, and it is time to put the fruit in the compost.
Pomegranate seeds germinate readily, but you may not get a high-quality tree from seed. Most pomegranates are propagated from rooted cuttings.
A few years ago, University of California Extension fruit-tree specialists Paul Vossen and Deborah Silver published a paper recommending pomegranate varieties for our area (http://home orchard.ucdavis.edu/plant_pomegranate.pdf). They describe ‘Wonderful' as producing large, deep-red fruits with juicy red arils, small seeds and good flavor. Vossen and Silver also suggest ‘Grenada' and ‘Eversweet' for a harvest that begins in August instead of September.
And if you have space for only one? Taste different varieties to find your favorite. The good news is that even ordinary pomegranates from your grocer's shelf can be Wonderful.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Making Wreaths from Your Garden” on Sunday, December 6, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Learn what plants from your garden will make good wreaths and how to choose and prepare plant materials to make them last a long time. Get tips and tricks for designing and making easy creative wreaths for the holidays or any time. Each participant will create a wreath to take home, using locally collected plant materials and supplies provided. To register, call the Parks and Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its web site.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.