Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Plant to Ponder: Fruiting Pomegranate

Pomegranate flowers © Tyler StoreyThe fruiting pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a tough and colorful multi-purpose plant for the Desert Garden. This large shrub or small tree grows at a moderate rate to eventually 15 to 20 feet tall and about half as wide. In late Spring it is covered in clusters of hot orange-red blossoms, each about 4 inches across, followed by equally decorative and edible fruit. The deciduous foliage is a bright dark green of medium texture, and the overall form of the plant is fountain-like, arching gracefully at the ends of the branches. The pomegranate does well with full sun, brutal reflected heat, or slight shade. Once established, it does well on moderately low water, and it will take salty soil, dry soil, wind, drought, and cold.

There are non-fruiting varieties of pomegranates available, but the toughest, easiest, and most beautiful variety is called "Wonderful," a variety that also yields large edible fruit. As long as you're going to take the trouble to plant and water it, you may as well get some good fruit out of it. For good fruit production, the pomegranate doesn't require heavy irrigation, but it does need even moisture throughout the fruit-development period.

Of Asian origin, Punica granatum spread around the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin in ancient times, and seems to have developed cultural significance wherever it's grown. The fruit appears in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, and in paintings of the Madonna by both Leonardo and Botticelli. Granada, in Spain, is named for the pomegranate. It was introduced to North America by Spanish missionaries, and Navajo squash-blossom necklaces depict pomegranate flowers and fruit, not squash blossoms.

The generic name of the pomegranate, Punica, is the Roman name for Carthage in Northern Africa, whence the fruit came to Italy. The species name, granatum, is Latin for "many-seeded," as apt an epithet as any.

Use the pomegranate as a medium-textured deciduous shrub anywhere in the garden where it can have room to grow in its natural form, and where you can enjoy its bright flowers and fruit. It's a good plant for a transition zone between desert and and greenery, and can be used as an eventual small patio tree. The pomegranate makes a good wide hedge, but won't look or grow very well if it's pruned or sheared.


Lacewing egg © Tyler StoreyUnexpected bonus: Look again at the photo above, in the top center. See that little white dot? Here's an enlarged view to the left. That tiny white dot at the end of a little filament is the egg of the Lacewing, a diaphanous green insect that you may see around the Desert Garden. Her larvae are voracious devourers of aphids and other pests, so when you see this little egg on its stalk, let it be.

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