Growing Pomegranates

I love growing exotic fruit. With some of them: I’m totally flying blind until I get to taste the first harvest, which can take years, and if I don’t like it I’ve wasted time and space on it. (I’m looking at you astringent persimmon: with the texture of snot and a taste like pumpkin after cooking. I should have just grown pumpkins. Nope. Did not appreciate that tree. However, non astringent persimmons rock! That is worthy of its own post, though.)

Astringent persimmons, variety: Saijo. Great performer, super sweet and pretty tasty, but I just don’t like the texture.

Fuyu non astringent persimmon. Wow! Delightful fruit! Delicious and very sweet. These taste a little like cantaloupe, but the texture is crisp like an apple. Got two thumbs up from the entire family!

Pomegranates, fortunately, I’ve had, starting when pom juice showed up at grocery stores years ago. So, I knew I’d like the bush. I did buy a variety that I hadn’t tried before, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a winner.

So far, I am very happy with my plant. This year was the first year I got enough from it to call it a harvest. My bush is about 4 years old and this year I got about 15 full sized pomegranates off of it. It made a nice pile of arils, that I’m planning on juicing. But, like most things that you are growing for the first time, there have been a few surprises.

Fence panel that I’m using to stop the “weeping” this plant has, it really just wants to lay on the ground. Lots of thorns to boot. This also suckers.

One of the things that I discovered is that I will never grow a weeping, thorned plant again! The variety I have is the Parfianka, it’s a weeping, dwarf bush (still about 11 feet tall, and as wide as I let it be.) Parfianka is supposed to be sweeter with edible seeds. The seeds are definitely softer than the Wonderful variety, but pomegranates are not a sweet fruit in general, they’re very tart, so the sweetness that you are getting is relative. I’ve got fencing bracing the outer branches until they harden, but getting up under the thorned first year branches was not fun. These have long straight thorns. Of course: I have a very thorny rose right next to it, in case I wasn’t bleeding enough from the pomegranate. It’s always so good to have a nice variation of rips and punctures available to me as I go about my business! Anyhoo.

The second thing I discovered was that this is not a “no spray” fruit. It’s listed by my county extension as no spray. My pear is a no spray. This is not. It has horrible issues with black spot and if you don’t treat it in the dormant season with some copper spray: it WILL show up. My bush dropped a lot of leaves and the fruit had sunken black areas on the exterior (which isn’t the edible part, so it’s just that it looks ugly.) This actually only causes issues if you are trying to sell the fruit, but it will also make for an ugly yard accent if you don’t work on it during the grow season. Neem oil and spraying with 1:4 ratio of milk to water helped mine tremendously, but yes: this thing needs some care.

This is just on the outside, so it doesn’t affect aril quality, but the whole bush gets it and it’s an eyesore.

Another issue is: that you can end up with ruined fruit if it rains heavily during the pollination of the flowers. There are two molds that start on the flowers and grow in the arils that create fruit rot: Alternaria fruit rot (Alternaria alternate) and Aspergillus fruit rot (Aspergillus niger). Usually these are not apparent until you open the fruit. I have found that stripping early fruit is the best way to work with these issues, as my spring is soggy and my summers are hot and dry. Summer rarely has the conditions for pomegranate fruit rot, down here in Texas. We get very little summer rain. However, my spring fruit is riddled with it. There is currently no treatment for this, so just be aware that it is a problem in rainy areas.

Lastly, me and my dumb self, didn’t prepare for the enormous mess that seeding large numbers of pomegranates creates. You will end up with arils on the kitchen floor and juice squirting all over your counters (and anything ON your floor or counters). Instead of trying the many “easy” ways of removing arils, I really suggest a citrus juice press, like this: citrus press from Amazon. You’ll need a heavy duty one for this application, but whoa! Way, easier! Plus no matter what technique you use to remove arils, you are going to make a mess, at least a juicer is more contained.

Put the citrus juicer down in your sink basin and have at the halved fruit. Or, if you have removed the arils already, you can dump them in a blender or food processor and pulse it until you have broken the arils (be careful not to liquify the arils as the seeds are bitter). Then press the pulp through a strainer to extract the juice. (I keep the pulp and freeze it to add to chicken marinades for Moroccan dishes or in bone broth. That way, nothing is wasted.) Add a little sweetener of your choice to the juice and enjoy!

I’m convinced that the healthiest fruit is the stuff that hasn’t been hybridized into being simple to process, so these have got to be close to the healthiest thing out there!

All in all, I’m very happy with the the plant. Keeping the few drawbacks in mind: can make for a great harvest of really healthy juice. You can get a decent harvest after about 4 years and, if you get a citrus juicer, you can get through these pretty quickly. I do recommend growing Pomegranates if you have dry summer heat and low chill hour winters (these do well above zone 7. I’m in zone 8b/9a. I get about 400-600 chill hours a season, depending on the year’s lows and winter length.) I don’t think you are going to really notice the difference between varieties unless you are a connoisseur, so instead, I would suggest finding a variety that does particularly well in your area.

A profusion of spring flowers. Most of these drop without developing into fruit. I strip the ones that do develop so I can avoid fruit rot. I wait until it is blooming in summer to start expecting fruit, once the weather dries up a bit.

As far as the Parfianka, specifically, I appreciate the soft seed, but the juice is still pretty tart. I put this variety in because it was a dwarf pomegranate. But the weeping, thorny part is a problem for me, so I would probably look for another variety that is upright with soft seeds, if I had a do-over. I also was kind of sad that this tastes very much like the Wonderful variety, as it is advertised as much sweeter, but this is a young plant and the sweetness may develop with the plant age, as cane fruits do.

November in Texas: roses and pomegranates

I read a blog once where a group went to a tasting event to try and find a pomegranate with a high enough brix content for wine. They failed to find one, and their verdict was that there’s not a lot of flavor difference no matter the variety. This has been my experience, too. And were I growing just for juice (and I am, so soft seeds really don’t matter) I might put in a Wonderful pomegranate next time. I like the fact that the Wonderful variety has such dark juice, and that means higher health benefits (at least in my book.)

You can also still harvest after the fruit splits. There’s usually visible damage near where the crack is, that’s IF you can’t use those exposed parts, (I had a lot split overnight and those were 100% undamaged) but even if that part is bad: the bulk of the arils will be fine.

So, the general vote on pomegranates? They get an A+ from me.

Variety: Parfianka? Meh. Solid B+. I’m pretty sure I’d be happier with something more disease resistant and the taste is not especially sweeter or more flavorful than Wonderful. The “plus” is for the soft seed. If I were eating the arils whole, then I might rate it higher. Soft seed does make the plant more useful for a wider variety of dishes. I also like that it’s a dwarf. There’s no way I’d want a huge thorny tree, so maybe this one is as perfect as I can get.

Keep in mind that this is a dwarf. There’s old homesteads out here with antique pomegranate varieties that get 20-30+ feet. Parfianka is a good size for a backyard fruit setting. I would not want to climb into the canopy of thorns to get fruit!

The leaves in spring make a tea used for insomnia. It has a nice herbal taste and it is very mild. You can also eat the young leaves as a salad or throw them into your favorite smoothie. There’s some powerful antioxidants in the juice. It’s a great way to improve your health.

Let me know your thoughts on pomegranates. Have you found a good difference in taste over the varieties, or did you have my experience? I’d be interested to know!

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