Ruby red pomegranate seeds enliven our salads, meats, sauces, and desserts with their brilliant color and tart-sweet flavor. Pomegranate trees and shrubs (Punica granatum) grow easily here in the Bay Area and are best planted between September and November. This is also when the fruits are harvested.
Pomegranate lovers owe thanks to botanist Gregory M. Levin, author of Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist’s Exile from Eden, who collected more than 1,000 specimens from the vast dry slopes of Central Asia and brought them back to his Soviet research station in Garrigala, Turkmenistan. Levin propagated plants from wild stock and perpetuated several of the varieties we like to plant here in the Bay Area including the Parfianka variety, which he donated to UC Davis as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Pomegranate bushes are easy to grow, and since they need water only once per week, we can practically dry farm these rugged shrubs in the gaps between other plantings. Follow these steps for planting and caring for your pomegranate bushes:
- Start from a cutting or nursery plant and chose a sunny, warm spot for your bush.
- Plant before winter sets in. The young plants can tolerate wind, but once there’s been a week of rain, the soil becomes difficult to work.
- Plant the bushes in a mound one inch higher than the surrounding soil to protect the root crown in wet weather.
- Your soil mix doesn’t need to be super rich, but make sure it has air spaces. Do this by blending rock and stone into the hole.
- You can manage each bush to be as short as 6 feet or as tall as 18 feet through pruning.
Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay. In his monthly Gardener’s Notebook feature in Edible East Bay’s free e-newsletter, he offers lots more advice on how to implement gardening ideas like this one. Sign up for the newsletter here. Josh has also written for Mother Earth News and Edible Silicon Valley. Find him and his work at nativesungardens.com, and follow him on Twitter at @nativesungarden.