What can you tell me about establishing a pomegranate orchard?

D.B.TexasAnswer:See the ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview. While you did not mention organic production, this publication addresses economic considerations for new orchard establishment applicable to all types of fruit production.The only parts of the U.S. with a history of commercial pomegranate production are Hawaii, California’s Central San Joaquin Valley, and possibly the desert Southwest.UC-Davis maintains a collection of 140 types for research, but a fruit collector with the California-based Rare Fruit Society boasts of 1,000 accessions?some recently collected from Afghanistan. David Silverstein (1) of CRFS, wrote last October that his ?Green Globe’ pomegranate grafted on a portion of his ?Wonderful’ has “large, sweet, aromatic, green-skinned fruit?of excellent quality.” Fruits weigh up to two pounds. He has not done an assessment of marketability, however.(2)Research on pomegranate cultivars for home gardeners was conducted a few years ago at Texas A&M, but no public breeding program exists to develop improved cultivars for Texas. Some promising cultivars in the trials died for unexplained reasons. Texas A&M Extension’s Horticultural Update recommends pomegranate ?Wonderful’ for homeowners in all zones of Texas. ?Wonderful’?developed in Florida?is the standard for fresh market pomegranate. The on-line catalog of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization formerly sold ?Wonderful’ and ?Big Red’ pomegranate trees. This organization no longer carries pomegranate and no longer sells plants, but describes the two varieties.?Wonderful’ pomegranate originated in Florida. The fruit is very large, dark purple-red, with medium-thick rind. Juicy wine-colored pulp encapsulates medium-hard seeds that are difficult to chew. The plant is vigorous and productive.?Big Red’ pomegranate is self-fertile, and productive. The seeds are soft and can be easily chewed.www.echonet.org/eln&herbs/fruittrees.htmTexas A&M recommends that pomegranate be trained to either a tree or a bush habit. The bush habit, with many trunks, has the advantage of increasing the chances that at least one or two trunks will survive during an unexpected cold snap.ECHO’s notes on pomegranate in Florida follow (from its old plant list):The tree is tolerant of almost any soil type, but prefers a fairly dry climate. In southwest Florida, it fruits better after a cold winter. Fruit can be produced the first year, but it usually takes 2 or 3 years. For the first three years, the bush should be pruned heavily to form a main stem with many short branches. After 3 years, only suckers and dead branches are removed. Pomegranate is hardy to about 12 degrees F. In northern Florida the pomegranate bears July ? November, but it may produce year round in the southern part of the state.www.echonet.org/eln&herbs/fruittrees.htmBelow you will find a link to a bulletin published for home gardeners by Texas A&M Cooperative Extension on raising pomegranate. There is also an old Crop Factsheet from the University of California at Davis, providing information on commercial production in California in the 1980s.I encourage you to contact Dr. John H. Braswell (3), Coastal Research and Extension Center, Mississippi State University Extension. Dr. Braswell has a keen interest in Gulf Coast pomegranate production.Sources of pomegranate stockMost mail-order nurseries that sell pomegranates offer them as specimen (single) backyard shrubs. Rohde’s Nursery and Nature Store, Dallas, was asking $25 per tree on the Internet; Garden of Delights, $35/tree. Aaron’s Bulb Farm, Sumner, GA (www.aaronscanna-amaryllis.com/contact) also sells pomegranate trees on-line (call toll-free line, 800-913-9347 for quotation).The Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory (3rd edition, 2001) published by Seed Savers Publications (4) is the most comprehensive and recent compilation of pomegranate cultivars?listing 50 suppliers, 23 of whom can provide ?Wonderful.’ Other popular varieties are ?Sweet’ and ?Dwarf.’ Southern suppliers of other varieties than ?Wonderful’ are listed as Garden of Delights, Davie, FL (5), supplying ?Indian Apple,’ and Hidden Springs Nursery, Cookeville, TN, supplying ?Russian Dwarf’ (6).I’ve found several new suppliers on-line, including Paradise Nursery, Virginia Beach, VA (http://store.yahoo.com/paradise-nursery/abparnur.html) and Ingoldsby’s Nursery and Floral Shop, Lindsay, CA (www.olive-trees.net/pomegranate). Both supply by mail.You will need to determine whether the nursery sells in the standard 1?3 gal. container size by contacting the nursery or visiting the Web site. Retail suppliers would be more likely than wholesalers to stock these sizes.MarketingPomegranate has been valued mainly as a processing fruit. It is the source of Grenadine syrup, juices, and flavorings. Traditionally, the juice has been used as a meat marinade, as a souring agent, and in bulgar wheat salad. Imported “pomegranate molasses” is available from specialty food stores. In contemporary merchandising, according to the product data service Productscan, some 215 new pomegranate-flavored foods and beverages were brought to market in the first seven months of 2006, compared to just 19 for the whole of 2002. Pomegranate flavors are finding their way to everything from natural fruit juices to chewing gum and even sausages. Pomegranate is now being marketed as a health food.As a fresh fruit, pomegranate has the disadvantages of tough exterior skin, tendency to stain clothing, and seeds (of some varieties) that, while edible, may be hard and unpleasant to chew. Unlike oranges, the membrane between seed sacs is inedible. Fresh pomegranate fruits have been most valued for decorative effect. There are recipes that relegate the hard preparation work to the kitchen and feature a scattering of the brilliant seeds over a finished dish?especially curries.Some varieties, while tasty, have light-colored flesh that is less attractive to consumers. Ornamental dwarf varieties do not produce edible fruit. Some varieties are known as “soft” fruit varieties.References:1) David Silverstein, Chair California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) c/o Paul Fisher, San Diego Chapter 1266 Vista Del Monte Dr. El Cajon, CA 92020 chair@crfgsandiego.org 619-440-2213 (Fisher) vicechair@crfgsandiego.org2) Silverstein, David. 2006. The view from the Chair. CFRG: San Diego Chapter Newsletter. Vol. 2, No. 1. p. 1ff. 3) Dr. John H. BraswellExtension Horticulture SpecialistMississippi State UniversityCoastal Research and Extension CenterP.O. Box 193Poplarville, MS601-795-4525601-795-0653 FAX601-795-5558 cell phonebraswell@ext.msstate.edu4) Seed Saver Publications3076 North Winn RoadDecorah, IA 52101www.seedsavers.org5) Garden of Delights14560 SW 14th St.Davie, FL 33325-4217954-370-9004954-236-4588godelights@aol.comgardenofdelights.com6) Hidden Springs Nursery170 Hidden Springs LaneCookeville, TN 38501931-268-2592Resources:News release. 2006. US: Pomegranate popularity and acreage on the rise. FreshPlaza. October 2. 1 p. LaRue, James H. 1980. Growing Pomegranates in California. 8 p. Sauls, Julian W. 1998. Home fruit production?Pomegranate. Texas Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. 3 p.