Question from Karen:
I live in a coastal town in California. My house is about five blocks from the ocean in a canyon that runs east west. Two years ago my then twelve-year-old daughter asked for a pomegranate tree for Christmas. That is all she wanted. We got one and planted it in our back yard. It is now three years old has never born fruit. My daughter is asking when it will bear fruit.
Answer from Pat:
Pomegranates will grow and bear fruit in Sunset Zone 24 where you probably live but they need full sun. If you live in an east-west canyon your tree is perhaps not getting enough sun to bear flowers. Another possibility is that you did not get a fruiting variety and another is that you planted it in a lawn. There are several fine varieties of pomegranate. ‘Wonderful’ is the best known, but also make sure that you didn’t purchase an ornamental tree or bush grown only for its flowers. If you have a proper fruiting variety but it has not born fruit there are several possible reasons.
First, the pomegranate might be getting too much nitrogen and not enough bloom ingredients.This can happen if it’s growing in a lawn. Secondly, pomegranates are native to hot dry climates and will grow and even thrive with little attention even in alkaline soil but they need a hot spot. Some varieties will get mildew near the coast and if in too much shade. Sometimes people live in a canyon and don’t even notice that their garden may be in shade all winter long or at least for most of the day. When the sun is far south as in winter the sun may be hidden behind the canyon wall to the south of your garden, plus other houses and trees higher on the hill may be casting a shadow on your garden. In summer the shadows may come from trees or houses or fences to the east, west, and north. So pay attention to where the shadows are in your garden when planning where to put a pomegranate. Full sun means six hours of sun a day.
Despite this problem we might be able to find a way to make your pomegranate bloom. First, in January or early February as the tree begins to put out a few new leaves, go all over the tree and prune off the tips. If it has not grown much, just clip off the outer four to six inches or less. Go all over the tree and cut a few inches off each branch to make it put out new wood. But if the tree is vigorous already, then cut back a foot or two all over to make it branch and be bushier. This is because pomegranates only bear on new wood. One really should prune a pomegranate for the first three years of its life to get it to branch and put out new growth. I doubt you have done than in the past, but now by pruning in late winter (late January or early February) just as the plant begins to grow and put out new tip growth you can correct the problem and make it put out new wood. You want it to be bushy.
Secondly, immediately after pruning, feed it with an organic fertilizer high in bloom ingredients and little nitrogen. This means the first number (nitrogen) should be low and the second number (phosphorus) and third number (potassium) should be very high, 2-10-10 is an example. After fertilizing water the fertilizer inot the ground. If your tree is growing well already showing that it is getting plenty of nitrogen, then just fertilize with two cups of bonemeal and half a cup of Sul-Po-Mag at this time of year. Sprinkle these over the roots and use a cultivator to gently till into the soil under the tree so you don’t harm roots, then cover with mulch or compost. After fertilizing and mulching water the fertilizer into the ground. Feed the tree in January with this high bloom formula. In February fertilize again with an organic fertilizer for citrus and avocado, such as 4-6-6. If you can, push the mulch aside, put the fertilizer under the mulch all around the drip line of the tree (under branch tips) and then replace the mulch and water unless rains are adequate. Another option for fertilizing is to get a bag of seabird guano and feed with this. This will take care of all the needs of the plant. Follow package directions and water it into the ground. (When fertilizer is placed on top of mulch you need to use more of it since some will be absorbed by the mulch.)
Thirdly, you didn’t state whether the tree blooms. If the tree bloomed but bore no fruit, there probably were no bees in your garden when it bloomed. If there are no native or domestic bees or other insects the flowers won’t be pollinated and won’t become fruits. So when your the tree blooms in spring, take a sable paint brush and pollinate all the flowers. Just play like a bee and go from flower to flower spreading the pollen from one to another. Sometimes people use a feather duster for this job but a paintbrush is better. You don’t need a second pomegranate tree. Pomegranates are self-fruitful but the blossoms must be pollinated for it to bear fruit. Since the tree belongs to your daughter it will work best to have her do this job so she gets the tree to bloom. If she is part of all these processes: Pruning to stimulate tip growth, fertilizing for high bloom, and pollinating and if all these steps result in fruit, your daughter will have a genuine feeling of accomplishment from the experience. If none of this works the tree must be in too much shade, but I hope it works!
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