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Issue: August 28

Some New Mexico homeowners can grow pomegranates

Q. Last year I found a pomegranate growing in my yard and it was bearing fruit. I gathered the fruit (and enjoyed it very much) and it is bearing fruit again this year.

The tree is very tall and the branches are spindly, so weak that the pomegranate on the end of it makes the branch hang almost to the ground.

After I gather this year's crop, what should I do? Prune it or tie it up? If so, when should I do these things?

Betty J. H.

NE Albuquerque

A. Congratulations! It is nice to identify a desirable plant growing in your landscape. Even though some of my colleagues do not recommend pomegranates (as a commercial crop for New Mexico), pomegranates are a plant that many Albuquerque gardeners have in their landscapes. The "heat island" effect of Albuquerque and small urban properties allows them to grow and produce fruit fairly consistently in a region in which they would not otherwise prosper. However, remember that they are subject to freeze injury if we have an especially cold winter. This has not happened for many years,but it could happen any time. The pomegranate may freeze to the ground and grow back the next summer, or it may die. This will
depend on the status of the pomegranate plant and the severity of the winter.

Some people try to prune pomegranates to tree form, but that is not wise in our climate. This increases the chances that the plant will die in a cold winter. Maintaining it as a shrub increases the chances of surviving cold winters.

Commercially the branches are trimmed back (shortened), but this creates an unsightly shrub with clusters of branches just below the stub left by pruning. To maintain an attractive shrub for the landscape, but one that produces fruit, you can prune to remove some of the weak (shaded) interior branches. Prune them a few inches above the ground. Leave healthy, younger stems that develop from the ground and near the ground in the outer parts of the shrub. Prune away thin weak branches growing to the inside of the shrub because they will be shaded and grow poorly.

The pomegranate needs full sunlight most of the day. If there are trees shading the shrub, the shade will continue to make the stems on the pomegranate weak, so your pruning (as described above) will need to be a regular activity. If the pomegranate is in full sunlight most of the day, you may not need to prune except when the plant becomes unsightly or when it develops an excess of weak interior growth.

Tying it up is less desirable, but you can do that if you think it is necessary. When tying it, do not completely encircle the stem with twine or other tying material. A loop (not completely encircling the stem) of a broad fabric (canvas,t-shirt fabric, or even old hosiery) will serve. As the stem grows, the use of a loop, rather than an encircling material will prevent girdling and damaging the stem.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.