- Author: Cindy Watter, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
A few weeks ago, I was at Napa Valley College, near the theatre. I noticed some attractive, rounded, leafy shrubs covered with red flowers--in November! As I drew closer, I saw that the shrubs were actually covered with beautiful red pomegranates. I had never seen a pomegranate shrub before, and I resolved to plant one this spring.
The pomegranate's name (Punica granatum) derives from the Latin words for "apple" and "seeded." It is considered an exotic fruit, because it originates in India. From there it migrated to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Then Spanish explorers brought it to the New World. The Spanish city of Granada was named after it.
The plant often shows up in literature and art, and it has religious symbolism as well. Remember the Greek myth of Persephone eating six pomegranate seeds when she was in Hades? Pomegranates appear in the arts and crafts of the Islamic and Jewish cultures, and the English Pre-Raphaelites often inserted the fruit in their paintings.
Pomegranates are long lived. Some in Greece are hundreds of years old (although younger ones bear more fruit).
What we think of as seeds are really arils, or little sacs that contain the juice, which surrounds the actual seed. During the winter holidays, we scatter the juicy gemlike arils in salads and other dishes and heap the whole fruits in decorative displays. But be sure to eat them. Pomegranates are rich in potassium, vitamin C and fiber and are delicious besides.
As for extracting the arils from the fruit, you can find many methods online. I carefully trimmed the end of the fruit, removing the skin (not the stem end) and cracked it sharply on a cutting board, and it obediently opened.
Pomegranates do well in Napa Valley and aren't difficult to grow. Local nurseries sell varieties that are suitable for our climate. ‘Wonderful' is particularly popular, with its deep red skin and fruit.
Pomegranates will survive in almost any soil, although they like it to be well drained. Choose a site with full sun. Dig the hole wide so the roots can spread and form a good base, but no deeper than the root ball. Fill the hole halfway with soil and pat it down a bit, then fill the hole with water. After it sinks in, add more soil, leaving the top of the rootball exposed. Top with mulch but keep the mulch away from the trunk.
Water regularly until the pomegranate is established. The plant can withstand drought but won't produce much fruit under those circumstances. After the first year, fertilize mature trees with nitrogen.
You can also grow a pomegranate from a seed, but the resulting tree will not be true to variety. Commercial growers prefer cuttings. Take a cutting eight to ten inches long from the previous season's shoot or sucker growth. Place it in soil with the top three inches exposed. Let it grow for a season before transplanting it.
Pomegranates are self-pollinating, with help from bees. You don't need to plant a second tree for cross-pollination although the fruit set will improve if you do. If your tree doesn't produce fruit, it may be because you don't have enough bees in your yard. You can fix that problem by bringing in plants that attract pollinators. Add a birdbath so bees have a place to drink.
You can also hand-pollinate using a cotton swab. Early in the morning, look for flowers that are open, with visible pollen ready to be transferred. Swirl the swab gently around the stamens, and then put the collected pollen on the stigma.
Pomegranates flower and fruit on the previous year's growth. Regular pruning, especially the first four years, helps promote a bushy tree or shrub that produces more branches, flowers,and fruits.
Plant your pomegranate in the spring and keep it watered over the summer. Depending on the age of the tree you planted, you should harvest fruit in the fall. It generally takes a few years of vigorous growth for a pomegranate tree to produce fruit, but in the meantime you can enjoy its attractive foliage.
A few pomegranate trees in a backyard will not attract many pests. The worst pests—no surprise here—are squirrels. You can protect your fruits by tying cloth bags over them, although some squirrels will chew through the bags.
You can also plant your pomegranate away from other trees, which will reduce the leaping from limb to limb. Some people apply pepper oil to their trees. Squirrels are very crafty and agile, however. One person I know has reached a compromise with them. He bags most of the fruit but leaves a sacrifice zone and hopes the accessible fruit will satisfy the little bandits.
Pomegranates are beautiful, and their sparkling fruit reminds us of summer even in the dead of winter.
Library Talk: Join UC Master Gardeners and Napa County Library for a free talk on “Trees: Moving to Greener Pastures” on Thursday, January 5, from 7 pm to 8 pm, via Zoom. Learn about the intricate subterranean fungal network that supports trees. Imagine with us what needs to take place for a community of trees to meet the challenges of our changing climate. Register to receive the Zoom link at https://ucanr.edu/2023JanTrees&FungiLibraryTalk
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Winter Rose Care & Pruning” on Saturday, January 14, from 10 a.m. to noon via Zoom. Learn how to prepare your roses for the upcoming growing season and how to choose the right rose for the right place in your garden. Attendees will be invited to join a hands-on pruning workshop at Napa's Fuller Park rose garden on Thursday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon to practice pruning one-on-one with a Master Gardener. Register at https://ucanr.edu/2023WinterRoseCare
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Garden - Garden Ergonomics: Using the Right Tool the Right Way,” on Saturday,
January 28, from 10 am to noon, at Las Flores Community Center,4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Learn proper body mechanics and how to avoid common gardening habits or activities that are risk factories for injury.
Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description of the problem. For best results, attach a photo of the plant. You may also leave a voicemail message with the same information at 707-253-4143.
UCANR 3382, pp. 462, 465, 483, 508, 509
UCANR Leaflet 2459, "Growing Pomegranates in California"
"How to Plant a Pomegranate Bush or Tree in the Ground or in a Pot," Wilson Bros. Gardens