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Gardening: Planting pomegranates in the Lowcountry

Pomegranate Flower

The pomegranate flowers for a long period of time. It starts to bloom, if conditions are right, in late May and may continue well into the fall. Christopher Burtt/Provided

Planting fruit in the home garden has grown in popularity recently and there are many reasons why. One of the best reasons is the health benefits associated with fresh fruit.

And the fruit that is making a resurgence because of its health benefits is the pomegranate. The pomegranate, with the fig, are often considered some 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 grown here in South Carolina for centuries.

But though many people are familiar with the wonderful fruit, not as many may know that this is a fruit tree that we can grow here in the Lowcountry.

The pomegranate, punica granatum, is a wonderful, small, deciduous tree that grows between 12 and 20 feet tall and can get just as wide.

Like many other fruit-bearing plants we recommend here in the Lowcountry, the pomegranate is a relatively low-maintenance plant that thrives in most soils, but the soil does need to be well drained. Plant in full sun for the best results but it can tolerate some shade if fruit is not of concern.

The 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 susceptible to severe cold, which may damage or kill it to the ground if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The Russian cultivar series has the best cold tolerance and is one of the the recommended types for the state.

When fruit is desired, like most fruit plants, more care is required to avoid fruit drop. As mentioned previously, full sun is needed for the tree to produce an abundance of fruit. And with the full sun, supplemental water may be required, especially during periods of drought similar to the one the Lowcountry experienced this past spring.

Be sure to mulch appropriately to reduce the water needs and prevent drying out between irrigation applications. This is true for most edible plants whether they are in flower or in fruit. Be sure to fertilize with a complete fertilizer twice a year, once in the spring and once in the summer, for the best fruiting.

While pomegranates are considered small trees, it generally grows in a similar fashion to various shrubs, producing multiple trunks. One can prune to have a single trunk, but the pomegranate is better suited in this area and the home garden for growing if pruned to have multiple trunks.

That being said, thinning of the inner foliage and removal of suckers is recommended to allow light and air flow through the canopy. It is best to train the pomegranate to grow with three to six main trunks. The best time to prune is late winter or early spring since it blooms on new growth. Be sure not to prune too heavily as this will reduce the fruiting for the season.

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The pomegranate flowers for a long period of time. It starts to bloom, if conditions are right, in late May and may continue well into the fall.

Many pomegranates are not only in bloom but are sizing up fruit right now throughout the Lowcountry. The bright red flowers not only turn into wonderful fruit, they are highly attractive to a variety of pollinators, including the hummingbird. Keep in mind, there are double-flowering cultivars that are grown mostly as ornamentals since these plants rarely produce fruit.

But if only the flowers are desired, then there are plenty of colors to choose from.

Pomegranate fruit

One of the pleasant attributes of pomegranates is the fact that they generally have few major issues and tend to survive for many seasons producing fruit. Christopher Burtt/Provided

One of the pleasant attributes of pomegranates is the fact they generally have few major issues and tend to survive for many seasons producing fruit.

There are foliar and fruit diseases that occur here in the Lowcountry due to the high humidity, but this does not normally reduce to the fruit quality and can be kept under some control through proper sanitation and pruning practices.

The lack of fruiting may occur, though, 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 of the fruit plants, does help improve the number of fruits and does help increase pollination of the flowers.

Growing fruit in the home landscape is an incredibly rewarding experience and can provide many benefits. There are many issues though with certain species of fruit here in the Lowcountry, so sometimes we may 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, go to https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/pomegranate/ or contact you local extension agent.

Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He can be reached by email at cburtt@clemson.edu.

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