Planting fruit in the home garden has become more and more popular recently and there are many reasons for this. One of the best reasons is the health benefits associated with fresh fruit.
And the fruit that is resurfacing due to its health benefits is pomegranate. The pomegranate, along with the fig, is often considered one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Believed to be native to the Middle East, the pomegranate is an interesting fruit with an interesting history and has been cultivated here in South Carolina for centuries.
But while many people are familiar with this wonderful fruit, few may know that it is a fruit tree that we can grow here in the Lowcountry.
The grenade, punica granatum, is a wonderful, small, deciduous tree that grows between 12 and 20 feet tall and can grow just as wide.
Like many of the other fruit plants we recommend here in the Lowcountry, the pomegranate is a low maintenance plant that thrives in most soils, but the soil should be well drained. Plant in full sun for best results, but it can tolerate some shade if the fruits are not of concern.
Pomegranate has surprisingly good drought and salt tolerance and should be considered for anyone interested in fruit along the coast.
Similar to figs, pomegranates can be sensitive to severe cold, which can damage or kill it on the ground if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The Russian cultivar series has the best cold tolerance and is one of the types recommended for the condition.
When fruit is desired, like most fruit plants, more care is needed to prevent fruit drop. As mentioned earlier, full sun is needed for the tree to produce an abundance of fruit. And with full sun, additional water may be needed, especially during times of drought similar to what the Lowcountry experienced last spring.
Be sure to mulch appropriately to reduce water requirements and prevent drying out between irrigation applications. This is true for most edible plants, whether they are flowering or fruiting. Be sure to fertilize with a complete fertilizer twice a year, once in spring and once in summer, for better fruiting.
Although pomegranates are considered small trees, they usually grow in the same way as various shrubs, producing several trunks. You can prune to have a single trunk, but the pomegranate is best suited in this area and the vegetable garden for growing if it is pruned to have multiple trunks.
That being said, thinning out interior foliage and removing suckers is recommended to allow light and air to circulate through the canopy. It is best to shape the pomegranate so that it grows with three to six main trunks. The best time to prune is late winter or early spring as it blooms on new shoots. Be sure not to prune too hard as this will reduce fruiting for the season.
The pomegranate blooms for a long time. It begins to flower, if conditions are favorable, in late May and can continue until fall.
Many pomegranates are not only in bloom, but are currently measuring fruit throughout the Lowcountry. The bright red flowers not only turn into wonderful fruit, they are very attractive to a variety of pollinators, including the hummingbird. Keep in mind that there are double flowering cultivars that are primarily grown as ornamentals, as these plants rarely produce fruit.
But if only flowers are desired, then there are many colors to choose from.
One of the pleasant attributes of pomegranates is the fact that they usually have few major problems and tend to survive for many seasons producing fruit.
There are leaf and fruit diseases that occur here in the Lowcountry due to the high humidity, but this does not normally reduce fruit quality and can be brought under control with proper sanitation and pruning practices.
Lack of fruiting can occur, however, if there is not enough sunlight or if there is inadequate pollination. It is recommended, but not necessary, to have at least two or more plants for cross pollination. Cross-pollination, as with many fruit plants, helps to improve fruit count and increase flower pollination.
Growing fruit in the home landscape is an incredibly rewarding experience and can provide many benefits. However, there are a lot of issues with certain species of fruit here in the Lowcountry, so sometimes we can be limited on what we can grow. But there are some worth trying, and the pomegranate is one of them.
For more information on growing pomegranates, visit https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/pomegranate/ or contact your local extension agent.
Christophe burt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Officer and Senior Gardeners Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]