Persimmons are small, bright orange fruit with an unusually vibrant flavor when ripe—when unripe they are usually very sour and almost inedible. The most common cultivated variety is the Japanese or Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki), and China produces about 80 percent of the world's commercial persimmon crop. They are cultivated in the United States, but only in the warmest states (California, Florida, and Texas).
American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are native to Eastern North America, and while they are not nearly as widely cultivated and not yet considered a commercial crop, they are much more cold-hardy than the larger Asian persimmons. This makes them the ideal choice for amateur enthusiasts to try planting in their yard in spring after any frost has passed. The American persimmon is the focus here.
These trees are rather slow-growing and it can take seven to 10 years for them to be fruit-bearing. When ripe, the fruit has what can be described as a custard-like texture and the sweet flavor is often said to remind people of honey. This deciduous tree has blue-green leaves that turn yellow and orange in autumn.
|Botanical Name||Diospyros virginiana|
|Common Name||American persimmon|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||35 to 50 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, afternoon shade|
|Soil Type||Tolerant of all soils except salt, loam preferred|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7.5|
|Bloom Time||Late spring|
|Flower Color||White or pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 9 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Eastern North America|
How to Plant Persimmon Trees
Choose a site with ample sun and well-drained soil. American persimmons can grow very tall (up to 50 feet!), so make sure they have plenty of room to spread.
These trees have a strong taproot that can go quite deep, so this needs to be taken into consideration—this is why persimmons won't grow well in containers.
Persimmon Tree Care
As with most fruit trees, full sun is best for growing persimmons. Some afternoon shade is all right. Be aware of shifting light patterns through the seasons, bearing in mind that persimmons ripen in late autumn.
Persimmons like slightly acidic and loamy soils but are adaptable to a wide range of conditions. They do not do well in salty soils. As with any fruit tree, choose a site with good drainage to prevent root rot and fungus problems.
Once established, persimmon trees should not need extra watering, except during an exceptionally dry season. During a drought, water once weekly, deeply at the roots. They do need regular watering after being planted or transplanted.
Temperature and Humidity
American Persimmons are hardy to USDA zone 4, and thus can withstand harsh winter conditions and temperatures to -25F. They like some air circulation, but take care not to plant them where they will be too vulnerable to winter winds. They can also handle warm temperatures, up to Zone 9. They're not as likely to fruit in desert climates but do best in areas where deciduous trees proliferate and like a moderate amount of humidity.
Persimmons like loamy soil but are generally happy without extra fertilizer. If your soil is not very rich, add some good soil amendments when planting your persimmon tree to give it a healthy start.
American Persimmon Varieties
There are a variety of persimmon cultivars available, categorized as "astringent" and "non-astringent" which affect when they can be eaten. An astringent cultivar must be soft before it can be eaten, but a non-astringent cultivar may be eaten crisp like an apple. However, all American persimmon cultivars, unlike the Asian persimmon, are classified as astringent.
The Asian persimmon has a very wide range of cultivars. When it comes to the American persimmon, because it isn't widely cultivated, there is a much more limited selection and often they will be sold under the general name with no information about the type of cultivar. If you are looking for something specific, it would be best to seek out a specialist nursery.
Some of the more readily available cultivars known for large, tasty fruit include Claypool, Dollywood, and Early Golden.
Because of their pungent astringency, it is important to let American persimmons ripen fully before picking. They also continue to ripen after they are picked. It is best to allow them to become fully soft to appreciate their full sweet taste.
The fruits ripen in late autumn and may remain on the tree into winter, providing a sweet treat for lucky birds and other wildlife. While the fruit looks large for a berry, that is, in fact, its morphological form (similar to a tomato).
American persimmon trees should be well-pruned in the early years to give them a strong main branch structure. The fruits can grow heavy at the tips of branches when the fruit clusters mature and may break branches. Regular pruning helps keep the tree strong and healthy. In maturity, prune any dead branches.
Persimmons respond well to pruning and may be pruned into hedges or even espalier forms.
Common Pests and Diseases
Persimmons are generally free from pests and diseases, but mealybugs or other pests associated with ants may become a problem. Treat with organic and non-toxic methods to protect the fruit.