Most people associate pomegranates (Punica granatum) with the late fall months. This may be because "Wonderful," which is not ready for harvest until the end of September or October, is the most common variety sold in grocery stores. When you grow your own pomegranate, you can choose an early variety that is ready to pick much sooner than the "Wonderful" pomegranates that appear in your local stores. Pomegranates that are ready the earliest may be picked as soon as the middle of August, depending on where you live. Regardless of the type of pomegranates you grow, for the best chance of a good harvest and a healthy tree, you should live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11.
There are several varieties of pomegranate that ripen a month earlier than "Wonderful." "Eversweet," "Granada" and "Early Foothill" are all ready to pick around the middle of August in areas with optimal growing conditions like hot summers and adequate irrigation. When you see that your pomegranates have ripened, remove them from the tree because the fruit that remains is likely to split if it gets rained on or to attract fruit flies and ants.
Problems Affecting Fruiting
Too much nitrogen, or applying it to the pomegranate later than the winter or early spring, could increase the time it takes before the fruit ripens, or it could cause the plant to produce excess vegetative growth and reduce growth of the fruit. Keep your nitrogen application to 1/2 to 1 pound sprinkled around the plant once a year in the fall or winter. The amount of water a pomegranate gets can affect the fruit number and quality, and even the moisture in the air makes a difference. In humid regions, a pomegranate plant may not produce as many fruit because it is a plant that thrives in dry, hot regions. Your pomegranate plant may not produce as many fruit if you are in a place with cool summers. Pomegranates will produce fruit through self-pollination, but if you have a second pomegranate, cross-pollination between the two plants will increase your fruit harvest from both. Drought conditions, while they will likely not kill the tree, will dramatically reduce the amount of fruit the tree yields. Keep the soil moist during the summer months with regular watering.
Knowing the characteristics of ripe pomegranates will ensure that you pick the fruit at the perfect time because pomegranates do not continue to ripen off the tree. Pomegranates with slightly squared sides, instead of a perfectly round shape, are riper because the arils inside are full of juice, which causes the fruit to bulge slightly. The crown's tips will appear to fold inward when the fruit reaches harvest time. The skin also softens enough to be scratched with only your fingernail. One of the best indicators is to listen to the fruit when you tap it. Ripe pomegranates make a metallic sound.
When you harvest your pomegranates, never pull them from the tree. Use a pair of shears to cut the stem as close to the fruit as possible. This prevents damage to the fruit and the plant. Once you pick your pomegranates, you can keep them in the refrigerator with temperatures between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to seven months. The ideal humidity for storage is between 80 and 85 percent to keep the fruit from shrinking, according to California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. While the fruit will not ripen any more, it will develop more flavor and become juicier. Always sterilize shears before use to prevent disease.
- California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.: Pomegranate
- Floridata: Punica granatum
- University of California Davis Home Orchard: Growing Temperate Tree Fruit and Nuts in the Home Garden and Landscape Varieties for Planting in the Home Garden
- University of California Davis Placer County Master Gardeners: Ask a Master Gardener – Pomegranates
- University of California Fresno County Cooperative Extension: Pomegranate Program
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images