Persimmon Tree Plant Profile

Ripe persimmon fruits on tree bare of leaves
Persimmons ripen late in the season; this tree in California lost its leaves before the fruits were ripe for picking.

barbara​ robeson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Persimmons are a small, bright orange fruit with an unusually vibrant flavor when ripe; when unripe they are very sour and almost inedible. The most common cultivated variety, Diospyros kaki, is the Japanese or Asian persimmon, and China produces about 80 percent of the world's commercial persimmon crop.

The name derives from the Greek and means "divine fruit," "God's pear," or "Jove's fire." The tree was first introduced to Europe and North America in the 1800s. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are more cold hardy than Asian persimmons. The name "persimmon" originates in North America, from Powhatan, a dialect of the Algonquin tribes of the Eastern United States, and means "dry fruit." The fruits were considered a household staple during early American settlement and recipes; Indiana has an annual persimmon festival with prizes for the best desserts.

This deciduous tree has blue-green leaves that turn yellow and orange in autumn. The fruits ripen in late autumn and may remain on the tree into winter, providing a sweet treat for lucky wildlife. While the fruit looks large for a berry, that is in fact its morphological form (similar to a tomato). The fruit tends to be more flavorful if picked when ripe and then allowed to soften for a day or more after harvest.

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
Native Areas East Coast of US, to Midwest and Texas; originally from Japan, China, Korea
Two persimmon fruits on tree with golden brown leaves.
This wild persimmon tree in Tennessee still has its leaves, which have turned golden brown, and the fruits are slowly ripening.  benbayphoto / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

How to Grow Persimmon Trees

Persimmons grow well in many areas where deciduous trees are common. They are seen in the wild in the Northeast, Northwest and Midwest states. The hunt for ripe persimmons used to be an occasion for expeditions into the countryside in search of the trees, but their increasing popularity means more people are growing these trees in their own yards.

There are a variety of persimmon cultivars available, categorized as "astringent" and "non-astringent" which affects 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. It's worthwhile to research these different varieties before choosing which ones to plant.

Light

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.

Soil

Persimmons like a slightly acidic loamy soil, but are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions. They do not do well in salty soils. As with any fruit tree, choose a site with good drainage to prevent rot and fungus problems.

Water

One 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 zone 4, and so 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, which like a moderate amount of humidity.

Fertilizer

Persimmons like a 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.

Planting

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 tap root that can go quite deep, so this needs to be taken into consideration also (and is why persimmons won't grow well in containers).

Propagating and Pruning

Persimmons may be propagated from stem cuttings or root cuttings The trees should be well-pruned in 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, so regular pruning helps keep the tree strong and healthy. In maturity, prune any dead branches, and to control size. Persimmons respond well to pruning and may be pruned into hedges or even espalier forms.

Pests

Persimmons are generally free from pests, but mealybugs or other pests associated with ants may become a problem. Treat with organic and non-toxic methods to protect the fruit.