Japanese or Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) glow in the autumn, but you will find more reasons to think about these fruit trees for your own garden. They are not too tall, usually reaching about 30 feet in height and spread, and can be espaliered to take up less space. Their mild green leaves turn yellow and reddish in autumn even in warmer climates. And after the leaves drop, you’ll still have the fruit as a garden accent — it could stay on the tree until winter.
Persimmons are hardy to zone 6, but do not despair if you reside in a colder climate. Native American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) could be grown down to zone 4, and fared well in more humid regions. These tend to be a bit bigger than Japanese persimmons. Additionally, there are a growing number of hybrids, bred to combine the hardiness of the American persimmon with the sweetness of the Japanese.
All types of persimmons require hardly any technical care and are rather resistant to the problems and pests which could irritate other fruit trees.
There are two commonly available forms. Astringent, or soft, persimmons (including American, hybrids and many of the Japanese) are incredibly tart till they are totally mushy, such as a soft jelly; then they’re wonderfully sweet and ideal for baking. Nonastringent, or challenging, persimmons continue to be business when they’re ripe, and are excellent for eating fresh.
Some persimmons self-fertilize, a few need a pollenizer, and a few will set fruit without another tree, but the fruit will be tastier if you have a pollenizer nearby. Check before you buy. Also, while you can find a few dwarf persimmon types, you can easily prune standard trees to keep them in bounds.
Where to grow : Grow Japanese persimmons in USDA zones 6 to 10 (find your zone) and hybrid and American persimmons in zones 4 to 10.
Favorite Japanese astringent persimmons: Hachiya, Saijo, Sheng, Tamopan, Taneashi
Favorite Japanese nonastringent persimmons: Early Fuyu, Fuyu, Giant Fuyu (Gosho), Izu, Jiro (Apple Persimmon), Maru, Nishimura Wase (Coffee Cake)
Favorite American and hybrid persimmons: Early Golden, John Rick, Meader, Nikita’s Gift, Ruby, Russian Beauty, Szukis
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Planting guidelines: Plant bare-root persimmons in the spring, when the soil can be worked. Container-grown persimmons can be planted almost year round, though you should prevent the hottest summertime. Do not be astonished by the black follicles; that’s their natural color.
Japanese persimmons prefer full sunlight, while hybrid and American persimmons can take some shade. Well-drained soil is always preferred, but persimmons, especially the Japanese, are extremely tolerant of different lands. American persimmons have a long taproot, so the soil should be loose.
How to plant: To get bare-root plants, dig a planting hole that is about the exact same depth as the origins and twice as wide. Create a cone in the middle of the hole that is tall enough that the crown of the tree will sit just above the soil line. Scruff up the surfaces of the hole to encourage roots to spread. Set the tree in place, spreading the roots out round the cone, and fill with soil.
For container-grown plants, dig a planting hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide, then create a small shelf about an inch or two deep on the bottom of the hole. Scruff up the sides, then place the plant in the hole and spread the roots out. Fill with soil and create a small watering berm around the outside of the hole.
After planting, prune to eliminate varicose branches and shape the tree. Water deeply and add mulch, keeping it at least 3 inches away from the trunk.
Care Requirements for Persimmons
Persimmons are hardy and among the simpler fruit trees to take care of. You will need to do a little bit of work, but they are not quite as fussy or problem-prone since a number of the fruits. Your most likely issue, particularly the first few years, is fruit drop on Japanese persimmons. Correct this by watering consistently rather than overfeeding.
Watering: Japanese persimmons are fairly drought tolerant, but you’ll get better fruit if you water at least every few weeks. Do not overwater; the soil should be somewhat (though not entirely) dry before you water again. Hybrid and American persimmons benefit from a regular watering program.
Feeding: Fertilize Japanese persimmons in late winter or early spring, when you can work the soil. Feed American and hybrid persimmons just when they are not growing well. Often you’ll just have to use organic mulch for them back on track.
Thinning: When a young tree is overburdened with fruit at the cost of its general development, remove the surplus. Otherwise, there’s no need to thin.
Pruning: Japanese persimmons should have either an open shape, with no central trunk, or a modified center where the trunk branches out around the top to form a vaselike shape. Prune the first few years to come up with your preferred shape and remove any excessively narrow or long branches. Then simply prune to maintain the contour; to get rid of diseased, dead or crossing wood; and to open up the canopy. Also remove any suckers around the base of the tree.
For hybrid and American persimmons, just remove any broken, dead or diseased branches and get rid of some suckers at the base of the tree.
Pests and diseases: Young trees can fall prey to gophers, and birds will probably be enticed by the fruit. In humid climates, such as the Southeast, anthracnose might be a issue, and moist conditions will encourage it. Maintain the leaves as dry as possible and provide decent air circulation. Remove and destroy affected branches.
Harvesting: Persimmons are a fall harvest; you’ll find fruit on the trees even after the leaves have fallen. Cut fruits on the stem, so the collar and part of the stem remain together with the fruit.
Harvest astringent Japanese persimmons when they’re fully ripe in the autumn, which means entirely soft. Should you have to pick them sooner, wait till the flesh is totally colored and let them continue to ripen indoors or in a cool place until they get to the right level of softness.
Pick nonastringent persimmons when they’re ripe. Do a taste test and, for good measure, let them sit a day or two before eating.
American persimmons ripen early in the autumn, generally after the first good frost. They are fully ripe when the skin is wrinkled and they’re fully soft. You may want to pick them a little sooner if the birds have been eying them , but let them ripen fully before eating to prevent the tartness.
Your turn: Do you grow persimmons? Please tell us in the Remarks which variety does where you reside.