I’ve got pomegranate trees that produce reliably, but I know others who don’t and I want to help them. So this spring I’m learning more about pomegranate flowers and tree fruitfulness. Join me.

Pomegranate flowers, from start to finish

This week, on one of my trees I found flowers in every stage, from newly emerging to developing into fruit, and I photographed the stages.

Pomegranate flowers, location, fruit production and pruning

While taking the pictures I noticed where the flowers were growing. They were not growing on the interior of the tree, nor were they growing out of larger, older branches.

They were growing at or near the tips of small, young branches.

This made me think about pruning. If in the winter you pruned a pomegranate tree like a hedge, shearing off the sides or top, you would be cutting off the places where flowers would form. You would be greatly reducing the flowers and therefore fruit potential of the tree.

Pomegranate trees grow so well in my part of inland Southern California that some neighbors use them to line their property as a privacy screen from the road. Each winter, they hedge them back so they don’t encroach on the road. Here is what one of these pomegranate hedges looks like today.

Where are the flowers? There are almost none because of the hedge pruning.

If you have a pomegranate tree that makes little fruit, make sure it’s not because you are cutting off the ends of its branches during your winter pruning.

If you need to prune your pomegranate tree in order to keep its size down, use thinning cuts mostly. Thinning cuts are where you remove entire branches back to where they grow from a larger branch. This way you retain the ends of many branches. (See a 30-second video where I make a thinning cut on a pluot tree here.)

Pomegranate flowers, male or female or?

A friend told me some years back that some flowers on a pomegranate tree are male while others are female. I believed her because I knew how smart and experienced she was with other fruit trees, but when I looked at pomegranate flowers I could never see any difference.

This week I started reading scholarly articles and cutting into the organs of flowers to discover the truth about this. I’ve concluded that it’s kind of true, but not really.

Every flower that I cut into had all of the male and female parts.

However, there was a gradient in how big the female parts were.

Because of this, some people call the flowers with the biggest female parts “female” and those with the smallest female parts “male.” Here is a discussion on pomegranate flower terminology where the authors choose to categorize the flowers as either “bisexual” (rather than female) or “male.”

But what about flowers with medium-sized female parts? Other researchers put the flowers into three classes: “male,” “hermaphrodite” (female/bisexual), and “intermediate.” Here is how some flowers I cut open would be classified in those three ways:

Although the terminology debate is pedantic and of no practical importance, what I have found is that the flowers that a tree sheds would usually fall into the male and intermediate classes whereas the flowers that the tree holds and develops into fruit would be called hermaphrodite (or bisexual/female). Here are examples.

The top flower I pulled off the tree, but I picked up from the ground the bottom three. Note the long style (female part) in the top flower, and that the base of it (ovary) is now developing into a fruit.

And what I have observed after picking flowers from trees of different varieties is that some trees have more hermaphrodite flowers. This implies that such varieties have more fruiting potential. And here is a study of many pomegranate varieties that finds the same.

Lesson: Is your pomegranate tree not making much fruit? Perhaps it is a variety that has relatively few hermaphrodite flowers. Perhaps you’d get more fruit with a variety that makes more hermaphrodite flowers.

Which varieties are those? There are lists. (Find one in the study linked above.) But I wouldn’t bother trying to find a list. Rather, I would find a productive pomegranate tree in your area whose fruit you like and buy that variety (if you can learn the name), or grow a cutting from that individual tree. Growing pomegranates from cuttings is as easy as growing grapes from cuttings.

There are lots of reasons that fruit trees don’t make much fruit. And here we have insight into two reasons that pomegranate trees might not make much fruit: pruning off branch tips, and varieties that make few hermaphrodite flowers.

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