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Tree of the Month - March 2005: Dwarf Pomegranate
By Ken Schultz
Dwarf Pomegranate, scientifically know as Puncia granatum nana, is described as a slow growing shrub with bright green leaves, showy flowers and edible fruit; though I can’t remember ever having eaten them. These plants come from Southeast Asia and are not hardy outdoors in Columbus. They are reportedly hardy to zones 8 and 9. They need a winter “resting” period of 50-65 degrees. They can survive temperatures down to 40 degrees. I keep them in my unheated greenhouse until the out door temperatures are near freezing, by this time they usually drop their leaves and I bring them into the basement with the rest of my tropicals, soon they begin to leaf out again. Pomegranates are considered to be semi-tropicals, because of their need to go into a resting period, they aren’t for everyone. The leaves are narrow, spear shaped and smooth edged. They can be over 1” long. The leaves are also thin and if you miss a watering on a hot summer day may get burned along the edge. Because of their leaf size most specimen bonsai are 15”– 20” tall
During their resting period watering should be reduced, infact over watering in winter is usually my weakness. This results in root rot with this plant, but at the same time waiting for them to dry out will result in limp leaves. Too much of either will make the leaves drop. The plant will weaken and eventually die (yep I’ve killed them, but I keep trying). New leaves have a slight coppery color and in bright light, which you will need to encourage flowering, they do get a reddish edge on the leaves. Needless to say they like well drained bonsai soil; though one reference said they like a heavy soil to promote flowering, another attributes flowering to being slightly pot bound. If you are going to repot, do so in mid spring, when the buds are developing. Watering is tricky with this plant; try to keep it damp, without rotting it. Feeding during growth is every 10 days using half strength Miracle Grow, with a monthly dose of fish emulsion.
The flowers are normally flame orange, pear shaped and typically hang with their opening tipped downward. Color varieties range from red to yellow, Four Seasons of Bonsai showed a white flowered variety. There are non-dwarf varieties, which have coarser growth habits. These may grow to 10-20 feet high in the ground; the dwarf varieties are smaller reaching only 18”. They may occasionally be found in greenhouses where bonsai are not sold. One year I found them in among the indoor greenhouse plants in one-gallon pots for $6.00, I bought two; unfortunately they were pot bound and while they survived the initial repotting and a very hot dry summer, I watered them to death when I brought them in doors. The bonsai specimens are much more costly, and usually not very large, as the dwarf varieties grow very slowly. While a sunny location is needed, one source said that some shade is recommended starting mid summer. If too shady they may not flower. You are also cautioned that too much water and fertilizer will give wonderful leaf growth, but few flowers, much like a Bougainvillea.
Flowering and bonsai are almost mutually exclusive terms, as the flowers form at the end of new shoots from mid-summer to fall. Pruning results in a very dense twiggy plant, with few flowers. When you take the plant outdoors and it responds by putting on some very quick growth, you will need to decide where you want it to flower and be willing to sacrifice good bonsai shape until you are ready to put it into dormancy. The other branches will need to be pruned frequently to keep them from becoming too leggy. Wiring is very tricky as the wood is brittle and will easily snap rather than bend; fortunately, they back bud easily. Fruit will weaken the tree’s strength if left to develop. The trimming in early spring may be used to start new plants. If you find a multi-stemmed shrub you may be able to divide it into two acceptable trees. Because this plant is naturally a shrub, you will need to prune off buds that will emerge near the soil or on your trunk.
The bark on an older specimen will eventually get craggy, younger tree’s bark is smooth gray. The trunks on older trees also seem to twist, these may be a variety know as Nejikan (plan to spend more for these). Because it flowers, pomegranates look best in a glazed pot, especially blue. However be warned, do not use a shallow pot.