The biggest challenge could be fungal diseases that proliferate in Florida’s hot, humid climate.
One called botryosphaeria “appears to be a major factor” in growing pomegranates in the state during the summer, Castle says.
Pistachio growers in California are testing some promising chemicals to fight botryosphaeria, he says, but the fungicides are not currently registered in Florida.
Leaffooted plant bugs also were a problem for some Florida growers last year, Weinstein says.
“[Plant bugs] hamper the fruit’s appearance, but they didn’t hamper the fruit at all,” she says.
Easier than peaches
Pomegranates are easier to grow than peaches, McTeer says, and about as labor intensive as blueberries.
But thorns on the branches do pose an additional challenge.
“They come back with a vengeance when you cut them back,” he says. “That’s going to keep us busy.”
McTeer has not sold his pomegranates commercially. They’re used for taste tests, field day demonstrations and for training on pruning.
With consumers craving antioxidants, pomegranates do hold potential for small farmers, McTeer says, “but on a small scale.” It’s unlikely that Florida will compete with California’s 35,000 acres of pomegranates, Castle says, but growers may find pomegranates to be a lucrative alternative to citrus.
Nurseries sell well-grown cuttings in 1-gallon containers for $7-8 apiece.
If trees are planted 242 per acre (12- by 20-foot spacing), and if pomegranates are picked two years after planting and sold for a conservative estimate of $1.50 each, each tree would produce $75 worth of fruit. Gross income per acre would be $18,150.
“Given what it costs to grow them, that’s not bad,” Castle says.
Learn more about pomegranates by visiting the University of Florida pomegranate project.