Bible Gardening with Pomegranates

The pomegranate is called rimmon in Hebrew and is mentioned many times in the Bible, often as a symbol of longing for the Promised Land, for delicious foods or for beauty.

As the Israelites of the Old Testament journeyed in the harsh desert with water dangerously scarce and food monotonous, they came to the end of their strength and cried out, asking why Moses had led them to "this evil place." In Numbers 20:5, they lamented that the desert "is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates" (KJV).

In Deuteronomy 8:8, Moses evokes the Promised Land to his people as a land of brooks and fountains, figs and vines, and pomegranates. King Solomon admired this tree and had an orchard of pomegranates planted, as described in Song of Solomon 4:13.

Coins used in ancient Jerusalem had pomegranate-fruit artwork stamped on them, and a silver coin from A.D. 66–70 shows three pomegranates and the inscription, "Jerusalem the Holy." First Kings 7:20 discusses extensive pomegranate decorations in the Jerusalem temple, and verse 42 describes "the four hundred pomegranates for the two networks," which were carved into the capitals that were at the top of the temple's pillars.

With its red fruit, the pomegranate tree is a beautiful addition to any Bible garden. I once enjoyed living in a house with a pomegranate tree in the backyard. I marveled at its beauty in the fall, when the leaves turned zesty yellow, and the pomegranates blazed with their red charm. In winter, the leaves long gone, the tree held on to its pomegranates, becoming a natural Christmas tree.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) can be a shrub or a tree, usually no more than 20 feet tall, and reaching no more than 30 feet. In late spring, waxy orange-scarlet flowers emerge. For the best fruit, plant it in full sun and provide water in the summer during fruit formation.

Some people eat the soft seeds directly from the fruit or use them in recipes. I like to juice them by using an ordinary orange juicer. Pomegranate juice is the basis for the grenadine syrup, which is delicious when added to carbonated water.

An ideal climate for the best fruit is cool winters and hot, dry summers. Pomegranate trees are drought resistant, but they benefit from watering when the fruit is forming. Pomegranates can be grown outdoors as far north as Utah or Washington, D.C. However, in the northern regions, they should be considered as highly attractive ornamentals. For healthy trees that produce fruit, temperatures must stay above 10 to 15 degrees.

If you prefer a shrub of 6 to 12 feet, prune your plant when it is 2 feet tall; leave four or five shoots, starting about 1 foot from the ground, in a balanced pattern.

For northern gardens, consider growing the Japanese dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum var. nana) in a container. This will allow you to bring the plant inside or cover it with plastic when temperatures dip toward 15 degrees. This pomegranate is prized for its abundant 2-inch scarlet flowers. The flowering branches make a rich bouquet, especially when you share the Bible verses that describe the pomegranate.

Some popular varieties are Early Wonderful, Wonderful, and Paper Shell, or Spanish Sweet. Early Wonderful's fruit ripens 2 weeks ahead of Wonderful's and is very productive. Wonderful is the leading commercial variety in California; it is 10 to 20 feet tall, with juicy fruit. This is the most widely grown pomegranate in the world. Paper Shell, or Spanish Sweet, is no longer grown commercially, but has many fans among backyard growers, with its pale pink fruit, noted for its sweet flavor.