Answer: Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a unique fruit native to China and Southern Europe. These plants thrive in areas with hot summer temperatures. They grow and bear in the U.S., though the fruit does not always mature well north of the Carolinas. In the southernmost counties of Virginia's Eastern Shore, pomegranates are grown in home gardens primarily as ornamentals. Fruit production, though it cannot be relied upon, is considered an additional asset.
Pomegranate fruit grows on deciduous shrubs or small trees 10 to 12 feet in height and width. The plants have numerous, slender, twiggy branches clad with shiny leaves. In spring, hibiscus-like, scarlet flowers with a long period of bloom cover the plants. In summer, cultivars such as 'Wonderful', may set fruit which dangle from the branches and ripen late in the season. Some varieties bear no fruit and are used exclusively as ornamentals. These are excellent for accent plants or a hedge. Sometimes they are espaliered. The cultivar, 'Nana', sold as dwarf pomegranate, matures at 6 feet, making it suitable for container culture.
Pomegranate trees are self-fruiting; plants begin bearing several years after planting. Fruits have a hard, leathery, yellowish-orange skin with a rich, red blush. The interior of the fruit consists of many tiny seeds arranged in compartments and enveloped in juicy, red pulp. The fruit of the common pomegranate is acidic, but cultivated varieties bear fruit with a sweet flavor. After cleaning the seeds from the rind, some people dry the hollowed out fruit for use in Colonial Williamsburg-style floral arrangements. In order to retain its round shape, the shell is stuffed with paper towels until it dries.
In the Tidewater area, one can try growing pomegranate outside. 'Wonderful' is a popular cultivar in the region. Transplants are best placed in full sun in a wind-sheltered location where they can be protected with a light straw mulch in winter. Temperatures below 0 degrees F will kill the plants. Gardeners in the piedmont and mountain areas can raise potted dwarf pomegranates provided they overwinter them indoors. Greenhouse gardeners may choose to keep plants inside year round.
A sunny site with deep, heavy loam suits the pomegranate. Plants do best when not located in a lawn. Overall, the trees are relatively disease-resistant and require little pruning. Fruit forms on new growth. An occasional thinning of old or decaying branches aids the appearance and keeps the tree vigorous.
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