Cut a pomegranate fruit in half and the beauty that is revealed inspires artists to paint it, draw it, use the pattern on fabric and write about it.

Common name: Pomegranate
Botanical name: PUNICA granatum
Origin: Southern Asia, Southeast Europe

There are several ways to propagate pomegranates. They will grow easily from seed, even when it is simply thrown onto loose soil, but the trees do better when propagated from 25 to 50 cm long hardwood cuttings. It is important though to start with a named cultivar that can be found in a nursery. The cuttings should be placed in a bed with one or two buds above the soil and allowed to remain in place for a year; thereafter they can be transplanted to their permanent positions.

Suitable climates
Pomegranates will grow in most places, but prefer arid or semi arid climates with cool winters and hot summers. They can withstand cold temperatures of as low as
-10°C. It is best to choose a cultivar that has been tested in the same region in which you will plant it. Pomegranates prefer a sunny position, but will also flower and fruit in the semi-shade.

Growth habit
Pomegranates grow into a small tree or large shrub and produce pretty scarlet blooms from spring to summer.

Growing requirements
Pomegranates can tolerate just about any condition and can be grown in soil that is alkaline or acidic, and anything in between. They are also fairly drought tolerant, but for a high fruit yield they should be irrigated. Keep the soil moist during the growing season and particularly during harvesting time in late summer and early autumn. This will also reduce the number of fruit that split. During late winter and early spring the trees should be fertilized with a high nitrogen product, like 5:1:2. Don’t delay the fertilizing process – late applications of nitrogen may extend the time it takes for the fruit to mature.

Fruit are borne only at the tips of new growth, so in the first three years it is prudent to shorten the branches annually, to encourage the maximum number of new shoots on all sides. After the third year trim the suckers and dead branches and maintain the shape of the plant. Even mature trees grow vigorously and send up a large number of suckers (shoot and basal) that need to be removed each year. Light pruning each year encourages the growth of new flower- and fruit-bearing
spurs. Bent branches, and those that interfere with others, need to be removed to keep the interior of the tree open.

The pomegranate is self-pollinated as well as cross-pollinated by insects. Crosspollination increases the fruit yield.

Cultivars or varieties
There are several cultivars that grow successfully in South Africa. Some, like Bedana, Paper Shell and Spanish Ruby, have relatively soft seeds and are usually called ‘seedless’. Examples of the cultivars that have medium to hard seeds are Kandhari, Alandi, Dholka and Muscat White. Bhagwa, Arakta and Ruby are grown for their skin colour, good taste and high yield. Mollar is one of the best known of the old varieties with yellow to pink skin and very soft seeds. Bhagwa has proved to be a winner in the Western Cape. Choose the most suitable cultivar for the growing conditions in your area to ensure you get the best out of the tree.

The fruit must ripen on the tree, which will happen six to seven months after flowering. The rule of thumb dictates that when you tap the fruit and it makes a metallic sound it is ripe. There is a fine balance in harvesting pomegranates: the fruit must be ripe, but when it is overripe it may crack open. This can be caused by a slight change in humidity, dry wind, rain or insufficient water. The fruit needs to be clipped off the tree rather than pulled off (because pulling the fruit off can tear the skin). Like apples, pomegranates have a long shelf life and can be stored for up to four months in optimum conditions.

Fruit uses
The pomegranate’s abundance of seeds is its claim to fame; they are delightful, whether eaten as is or used to add flavour and colour to salads and desserts. The juice is tangy and sweet with a rich flavour. It boasts health-giving properties and can also be made into wine. Pomegranate seeds or juice can be used as a substitute for citrus when it is called for in
a recipe.

Interesting facts
 Due to the high tannic acid content in the skins of pomegranates, the Ancient Romans used the skins in the leather tanning process.
 Pomegranate fruit is high in antioxidants.
 Pomegranate juice formed the base for the original French Grenadine – a thick, non alcoholic, red-coloured syrup used in cocktails. Not any more though, today’s Grenadine does not contain any pomegranate.
 In certain cultures the juice is used as a dye; take care because it also stains fingers and clothes.

The Gardener