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For The Garden

Passion for Pomegranates

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: February, 2012, Page 63
Photos by Michael Woodall

Patrick Hallman holds a scored pomegranate from a tree in his yard. The gardener grows 28 pomegranate varieties, which produce fruit that is ready to eat in fall and early winter.


PATRICK Hallman Transforms his yard into a Proving Ground for this unique fruit

Patrick Hallman’s front yard offers no clue that his central Phoenix landscape yields close to 2,000 pounds of produce annually for his family, with plenty left to share with friends. His small backyard is packed with edibles, including a vegetable garden, 18 semi-dwarf citrus trees and 28 pomegranate varieties.

Hallman transplanted many of the pomegranates from cuttings within the last four years as part of plant trials organized by the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers garden group. He and other members are studying how varied pomegranates perform in local conditions.

Pomegranate benefits
In addition to offering tasty fruit with disease-fighting antioxidants, pomegranate plants offer many benefits to low-desert landscapes, Hallman states. “The ‘Wonderful’ cultivar commonly grown in Arizona produces orange or reddish-orange trumpet blossoms in spring that hummingbirds love,” he says. Other varieties have white, pink or coral flowers, some that resemble carnations.

Round red fruits decorate the trees like Christmas ornaments from as early as August to as late as January. When temperatures turn cool, leaves change color, adding golden yellow to the fall palette.

Pomegranate fruits add rich color to fall and winter landscapes.
Pomegranate plants also help reduce household utility bills, notes Hallman, an architect and LEED-accredited professional. Pomegranate trees are deciduous, dropping foliage in cold weather. In summer, their leafy green canopies create shade; in winter, the sun’s rays shine through bare branches to warm the house. “Planting deciduous trees against a west- or south-facing house wall can cool it by as much as 20 degrees, which equates to significant energy savings in our hot summers,” he explains.

Hallman transplanted a row of six pomegranate trees along the west wall of his home to create effective solar protection. “Pomegranates grow naturally as large shrubs or small trees, so their root systems are not as invasive as most landscape trees,” he says. “Plant them at least 4 feet from your home, and roots shouldn’t interfere with the foundation.”

GROWING TIPS
Cultivated since ancient times around the Mediterranean region—which has similar growing conditions as the Sonoran Desert—pomegranates thrive here with limited care. “Stands of pomegranates estimated to be more than 200 years old grow in southern Arizona,” states Hallman. “They are fine with our alkaline soil and salty water and suffer no nutritional deficiencies.”
Planting—Transplant in February or March while the plant is dormant. Dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and three to five times as wide. No soil amendments are needed.
Spacing—A full-grown pomegranate tree averages 12 feet tall and wide. However, in limited space, the trees can be planted as close together as 8 to 10 feet and still provide plentiful fruit. Pomegranates intended to be grown as hedges should be spaced 6 to 7 feet apart.
Mulching—Maintain a 6- to 12-inch layer of organic mulch around the tree. As it decomposes, organic matter adds nutrients and promotes soil microbial activity, which promotes healthy tree growth. Mulch keeps roots cooler in summer and maintains consistent soil moisture.
Watering—Consistent irrigation and soil moisture are key, advises Hallman. As pomegranate fruits mature, they split naturally as a way to expel seeds and propagate. However, if soil moisture fluctuates, fruits split prematurely. Hallman waters twice a month from April through early September. “I stop watering in late September through November until all fruit is harvested, because changes in soil moisture seem to promote fruit split.” In winter, water monthly, or not at all if rain is sufficient. Water should soak 3 feet deep with each application for mature trees.
Thinning and protecting fruit—In early May, when fruit is about the size of a golf ball, thin fruit to 16-inch spacing. This results in fewer fruits but greater size. To protect the skin from sunscald, Hallman covers individual fruits with cotton or muslin bags, which also act as barriers against pests.
Harvesting—Start harvesting ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates around mid-October. The seeds—called arils—may be pale pink, but they usually are sweet. Fruits left on the tree longer tend to develop more colorful arils and skins.

Photos - From left: Deciduous pomegranate trees enhance a home’s energy efficiency. After leaves change color and drop in fall, winter sun shines through bare branches to warm the house. • Pomegranates split naturally to expel seeds and reproduce. Splitting also can be caused by inconsistent irrigation.
   
“Pomegranates are easy to maintain, provide healthy fruit and offer something special in the landscape year-round,” states Hallman. “A pomegranate growing in every Valley yard is my mission,” he says with a smile.


HOW TO CLEAN A POMEGRANATE
Slice the tip (flower end) off. Cut into as few of the seeds—called arils—as possible, but slice deep enough to see the papery membrane structure supporting the arils inside the rind.

Remove as much pith from the middle of the fruit as possible to make spreading the sections easier. (Some varieties have more than others.) The more pith removed, the easier the arils will separate from the rind.
Find the membrane lines as they radiate from the center of the fruit to the outer edge. With a sharp knife, score through the rind along the membranes about 1/16" deep, taking care not to slice into the arils. Score four or five lines down the fruit to about an inch from the stem end.


Gently spread the sections apart along the score lines.
Hold fruit upside-down over a deep bowl and tap the pomegranate with the knife or a big spoon to dislodge the arils. Start to tap gently at the bottom of the fruit so as not to crush the arils. As the bottom arils fall, move the fruit up until you are tapping the very top of it while your hand cradles the bottom of the fruit.


Patrick Hallman and members of the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers cleaned hundreds of pounds of pomegranates for a public taste testing. “This method was the most efficient,” he says.

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