Native to Iran and northern India, the pomegranate has been cultivated since the times of the ancient Egyptians and grows throughout the Mediterranean region. Spurred by the healthful effects of its fruit and juice (which is also used to flavor the cocktail syrup grenadine), Southerners are now getting in on the act. Pomegranate prefers growing in areas with hot, dry summers and cool winters. However, new selections with increased cold hardiness and adaptability encourage more people outside the ideal range to grow them. (For ornamental selections grown just for flowers, see Punica granatum.)
Pomegranate forms a rounded, small tree or large shrub about 1520 ft. tall and wide, although most growers prune them to half this size. Showy red or orange flowers appear at the branch tips in spring and develop into 5-in.-wide fruit with a leathery skin and a prominent tubular calyx at the blossom end. No cross-pollination is necessary for fruit production, although it will produce larger crops.
Each fruit contains hundreds of sacs of seedy, sweet-tart, juicy pulp. Harvest fruit when it reaches full color. Fruit left on the plant is likely to split and rot, especially during rainy weather. Fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven months. To eat fresh, cut into quarters or eighths and pull back the rind (starting from the ends) to expose the juicy sacs; eat them, seeds and all. To remove juice for drinking fresh or use in jams, jellies, and sauces, cut in half and ream with a juicer. Or roll the fruit firmly on a hard surface and then cut a hole in the stem end and squeeze out the juice.
Recommended selections include:
'Ambrosia'. Bears huge fruit up to three times larger than that of 'Wonderful', with pale pink skin and purple pulp.
'Angel Red'. Considered by many the top selection. Heavy crops of bright-red fruit that is extra juicy with soft, chewable seeds.
'Granada'. Red fruit with pink pulp ripens in August, a month ahead of 'Wonderful.' Juice is less tart.
'Kashmir'. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Pinkish red fruit has red seeds with intense flavor that's great for juice.
'Russian 18'. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Cold-hardy selection from Russia. Medium to large, bright-red fruit with excellent, sweet-tart taste.
'Salavatski'. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Cold-hardy selection from Russia. Large red fruit with sweet flavor.
'Sweet'. Medium to large, very sweet fruit with pink skin and pulp. Seeds hardly noticeable. Very productive.
'Utah Sweet'. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Very sweet fruit with soft seeds and pink pulp and skin.
'White'. Whitish pink skin with white, transparent pulp. Very sweet and juicy.
'Wonderful'. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. The old standby. Large, purple-red fruit with tangy flavor. Reliable producer.
Choose a container-grown selection that is cold hardy in your area. Soil can be acid or alkaline, but good drainage is a must. Thoroughly water new plants at planting, and repeat every few days for the first two to three weeks. Then gradually water less often until you're depending only on rain. Feed with a slow-release fruit tree fertilizer once in spring and summer.
Pomegranate is best maintained as a large shrub. Prune as you would for its cousin, the crepe myrtle (Lagerstromia sp.). Select three to five shoots to become the main trunks, and remove all others at the ground. In late winter, open up the plant by pruning away twiggy growth, dead branches, and any branches growing inward toward the center. Shorten main trunks to 10 ft. to make harvesting easier. In the Upper South, plant against a south or west wall for extra cold protection. Pomegranate isn't well-suited to Florida.