Fun Facts About Growing Pomegranates
My first thought was to write an entire guide to growing pomegranates, but pomegranates need such little care and attention here in Southern California that this blogpost took a little different turn. True story: there’s a local trail here where pomegranates just grow on the hillside with no added irrigation or any care! Now, those particular pomegranate fruits are very small in size (probably due to their lack of care and water), but the trees are very much alive and growing. It’s a true testament to the power of growing plants that love your climate!
Therefore, today’s blogpost is devoted to mostly fun facts about pomegranates and things I didn’t know until I started growing pomegranates in my own backyard. If you really do have any specific questions about pomegranate tree care or cultivation, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll happily share what I do.
About Pomegranates in General
Are pomegranates trees or shrubs? Pomegranates grow most like large shrubs—extremely large shrubs! For example, our pomegranate is currently 12 feet tall, which I personally think is too large. I plan to do some good pruning this Winter/early Spring. A majority of pomegranate shrubs have multiple trunks at the bottom, but they can be trained into a “tree” with a singular trunk if desired. For example, you can see the multiple trunks on our pomegranate, but also tons of sucker branches. Eventually, these sucker branches will be removed as they won’t produce fruit and simply take energy from the tree.
Pomegranates do love a warm, dry Summer and mostly mild winters. Many sources say that pomegranates are native to the regions from Iran to Northern India, but they have since naturalized in other climates too. There are certain varieties that can tolerate frost better than others (be sure to know your garden zone and search for trees that can tolerate your coldest temperatures), but pomegranates are extremely happy in mediterranean climates especially.
If you’re planning or designing a year-round backyard orchard, it might be helpful to know that pomegranates are a fruit that ripen anywhere from September-November here in Southern California. I’ll provide some tips below for how to know when your pomegranates are ripe, but they mostly ripen all at once during the Fall.
Pomegranate Trees are Deciduous
A fun, yet important fact about pomegranates! Imagine getting your first ever pomegranate tree, planting it in the ground, and by the end of the year the leaves are turning yellow and falling off! Wouldn’t you panic? I did! When I first started growing my own pomegranates, I didn’t make the connection that these trees were deciduous. Essentially, this means that pomegranate trees will lose all their leaves in the Fall and Winter. Actually, it’s a quite a beautiful display of fall color (which we desperately appreciate here in Orange County). Rest assured, the pomegranate tree will start to push out green growth in early Spring—-that is actually when we fertilize our pomegranate tree!
Pomegranate Trees Have Thorns – Ouch!
I’d put this fun fact on the list of “things no one ever tells you before buying a pomegranate tree.” Before I had my own tree, I definitely did not know that pomegranates have thorns! Now, pomegranate “thorns” are not like rose thorns. Pomegranate tree thorns are big and needle-like. They are long, thin, woody, and much more akin to those cartoon bramble looking thorns or that thicket surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Always be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when working with pomegranate branches. Thankfully, the thorns aren’t all over every branch. Instead, they are pretty spread out along each branch.
Types of Pomegranates to Grow
As you know, I tend not to write about things I haven’t experienced first-hand. So, I’m not going to admit to knowing the “best tasting pomegranate” ever. Lucky for you though, I’ve got two favorite pomegranate varieties that grow well here in Southern California. One variety is pretty famous, and the other is actually not red inside!
The pomegranate I grow in my garden is a ‘wonderful’ pomegranate. I can’t verify if it’s the exact type used for the infamous POM wonderful juice sold in stores, but I can say that the juice we make from ours tastes just like it—-actually better. ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates are known for being extremely large with juicy deep red arils. As mentioned above, they do indeed make incredible juicing pomegranates! Furthermore, I remove the arils from ours and store them in an airtight container to simply snack on throughout the week. I have no regrets about growing this incredible pomegranate variety! Personally, they are the quintessential balance between tart and sweet for a pomegranate.
A second pomegranate that incredibly tasty, is the ‘eversweet’ pomegranate. This pomegranate actually has clear/blush arils inside! Eversweet pomegranates are said to be a variety that fairs well in coastal climates, and I know quite a few gardeners that grow them (which is how I’ve tasted them). In regards to taste, I find that ‘eversweet’ pomegranate trees produce a fruit that is less tart/acidic than the ‘wonderful’ pomegranate. In fact, the arils are indeed super sweet! Honestly, these two pomegranate varieties make a great pair because of the different flavor profiles and colors.
How to Tell If a Pomegranate is Ripe
After quite a few years of growing our own pomegranates, I’ve nailed down when to pick them and have assembled these facts about ripe pomegranates below. To start, we need to look at the time of year, color, skin texture, and shape to determine if the pomegranates are close to being ripe. Here’s a little breakdown:
Time of year– your pomegranates will start to ripen in the Fall, anywhere between September-November.
Color– depending on the variety, pomegranates should be the correct color. For my ‘wonderful’ pomegranates, the color changes to a beautiful red all around the fruit.
Skin texture– I won’t go as far as to say that all shiny pomegranates are not ripe. That hasn’t been my experience exactly. But, in general, the outer pomegranate skin will start to look a little less shiny the more the pomegranate fruit leans towards being ripe. Remember, we need to look for all these signs to determine ripeness.
Shape– Probably the best indicator for ripeness is the shape of the pomegranate fruit. A truly ripe pomegranate will actually change in shape once it is ready to be picked. Most pomegranates start out very round, like a smooth ball. As the pomegranate arils (the juicy parts inside the pomegranate) start to swell with juice, the pomegranates start to look boxy or hexagonal. This is indicative of the arils being plump!
Weight– Last but not least, ripe pomegranates will feel “heavy.” Now, this is a tough thing to judge, but the fruit will feel like it’s full and not hollow. Again, don’t use this as the only way to tell if a pomegranate is ripe.
The Best Way to Remove Pomegranate Arils (peeling the pomegranate)
Of all the fun facts about pomegranates I’m sharing today, pay close attention to this one. This right here is the best way to open pomegranates and remove the arils. First, I’m not a stickler for how to start cutting the pomegranate. In fact, I’ve seen so many beautiful videos online of people opening pomegranates perfectly, but I’ve never had it turn out that way for me….and the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. How you cut open the pomegranate does not effect the flavor of the arils, it just can be more messy and you might accidentally break some arils!
That being said, I would avoid cutting pomegranates around the “equator” of the fruit. Ideally, start by cutting a square in the calyx-side (pictured above) and then scoring down the sides where you see separations (white peel/pith) dividing the pomegranate sections. These sections can also correspond to the “ridges” of the pomegranate when it is boxy and ripe. From there, you can technically pull apart the pomegranate fruit—now remember, I have terrible knife skills so this method rarely works as well as I’ve seen online.
Finally, the best way to remove the pomegranate arils is to take your pieces of pomegranate and remove the arils underwater! Using a bowl of water, you can hold each section of pomegranate under the water while using your fingers to gently break the arils off. Also, you’ll notice some creamy, waxy pieces that separate the quarters of the pomegranate. These pieces should float to the top so you can scoop them off later. When you are done separating the arils, scoop and compost anything that’s floating and the peels. From there, you can strain the arils from the water and enjoy! Watch my video below if you want to see how I open and peel pomegranates using this underwater technique.
How I eat pomegranates
Growing up, my mom would remove the arils from pomegranates and keep them in a Tupperware in the fridge. It was a favorite treat of mine to take a spoon and eat pomegranate arils straight from the container! Honestly, I still eat pomegranates this way. We didn’t have a tree back then, so we would only eat pomegranates when they were in season from a local Persian grocery store.
Now, some people have a condition where they can’t eat seeds or don’t want to. In this case, they actually eat the arils and spit out the seeds. I can’t speak on eating them like this because I’ve never tried, but it does seem like a lot of work.
Alternatively, you can juice pomegranates to get a rich, seedless fruit juice. This is my second favorite thing to do with them. You can even freeze your homegrown pomegranate juice to use in the future for making pomegranate molasses or simply drinking! If you are interested in juicing pomegranates, I have to share with you this amazing manual juicer! We bought a manual juicer originally for our tangerines, but it also presses the juice out of pomegranates perfectly. Ideally, you don’t want a juicer that’s going to blend up the white pith or peels of the pomegranate because that can cause your juice to be bitter. Even when we use the manual juicer, we are careful to not overpress and release any bitterness into the juice. Also, DO NOT press the pomegranates whole—we usually cut them in half to juice them. Furthermore, the manual juicer sometimes does let juice squirt out the sides while it is pressing….so don’t wear clothes that you don’t want stained (just in case).
Growing Pomegranates in Southern California
Although this is not a pomegranate grow guide, I will take a moment to share some of the simple things we do throughout the year to keep our pomegranate happy. First, our pomegranate is planted in full sun in our native (more clay) soil amended with compost. Pomegranate trees are truly forgiving when it comes to soil quality. They can tolerate a wide array of soils. When we first moved in, we bought our pomegranate as a bare root tree and I followed the steps outlined in this blogpost to plant it in the ground.
Second, we do water our pomegranate, but we water sparingly and deeply. For example, our irrigation soaks the whole root system maybe 2-4 times a month in the warmer season. As the tree has gotten older, we have decreased the watering even more. Remember the “wild” pomegranate trees I pointed out before? They can survive on less water, but it might reflect in the quality of the fruit. In the beginning, Sam installed these deepwatering stakes next to some of our fruit trees to help direct the water lower into the root system. While I don’t believe these are necessary (and we don’t use them anymore for our mature trees), in some circumstances these stakes have helped us be sure that water was penetrating deep enough to the roots.
As for pruning, we mostly prune to shape our pomegranate tree in the late winter/early Spring with the rest of our fruit trees. Like most fruit trees (especially citrus), get rid of any sucker branches when you prune and also try to remove any dead/diseased and crossing branches to promote a nice vase shape with our pomegranate. In regards to pruning in general, I think pomegranates and citrus are the trees that make me the least nervous! It’s always the stone fruit trees that make me worry that I’m cutting off the wrong branches and such. Don’t worry too much about your pomegranate! If you need more in-depth help with pruning, I highly recommend checking out your local Master Gardener’s extension. Here’s a great article from the Inyo and Mono Counties on pruning pomegranate trees.
Last but not least, we only fertilize our pomegranate tree once a year. After we prune our tree and it starts to push out tiny little green leaves, I take an organic fruit tree fertilizer and scratch it into the soil all around the base of the tree. Additionally, cover that with some compost too. You know I love compost!
So, did you learn something new today? While I knew some of these fun facts about pomegranates prior to having my own tree, I remember being surprised by some things when we started growing our own pomegranates (ummm like those thorns?!). In the meantime, it’s time to harvest our pomegranates