Persimmon Trees: Natural Fruit Jellies And Snacks
Persimmon trees, whether astringent or not by variety, are common throughout the US. We discuss their care and maintenance!
Some of the most rewarding plants to grow for the patient gardener are persimmon trees. These fruit trees provide gardeners with sweet, delicious fruits in early autumn. Once they set fruit, gardeners have access to sweetness for years to come.
Depending on the species, a persimmon tree grows either bitter, astringent fruit or sweet fruits. Once they are ripened, they’re incorporated into pies, salads, jellies, and more. Growing persimmons is a worthwhile endeavor, and there are persimmon trees suited to multiple climates.
So, are you convinced? Do you want to grow your own persimmon? If so, we’ve compiled our tips on getting off to a good start!
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Persimmon, Jove’s fire, putchamin, pasiminan, pessamin, velvet apple|
|Scientific Name||Diospyros spp.|
|Days to Harvest||120 days|
|Water||1 inch per week|
|Soil||Loamy, rich, well-draining|
|Fertilizer||Full-spectrum applied 3 times per year|
|Pests||Persimmon borer, webworm, hickory horned devil, mammals|
|Diseases||Persimmon wilt, leaf spot|
All About Persimmon Trees
Diospyros kaki, is known as the Japanese, Korean, or Asian persimmon – sometimes velvet apple. The American persimmon is Diospyros virginiana. There’s a persimmon native to Texas, called Diospyros texana. These are a few of the 2000+ varieties of persimmon trees out there.
The Greek words “dios” and “pyron” (of Diospyros) translate to the English ‘fruit of the nettle tree’. The word persimmon originates in the Algonquin words putchamin, pasiminan, and pessamin, which translate to ‘a dry fruit’. The persimmon originated in East Asia, namely in China where it was cultivated 2000 years ago. Persimmons made their way to the west from Japan via military men who visited the country in the 1850s.
The persimmon is a deciduous tree that grows between 15 to 60 feet tall. It either stands upright or crooks to the side. It has glossy bluish oblong green leaves that are 3 to 6 inches long, ¾ of an inch wide, and grey on its undersides. In fall, persimmon trees take on characteristic reds and oranges. Most trees have either male or female flowers and require cross-pollination for fruiting. Male flowers are pink, and cluster in threes. Female flowers are creamy-white and grow singly. Some varieties have both flower types.
The blooms open in late spring. Then petals die away, and persimmons grow, ripening in early fall. Some are astringent before they ripen. When they’re ripe, persimmons are yellow, orange, or dark brown. Fruits are either astringent varieties or non-astringent varieties, meaning they either need to fully ripen for sweetness or are sweet even when slightly unripe.
Persimmon trees do not bear fruit until at least 5 years of growth, and sometimes 7. Those who plant a persimmon tree are in it for the long haul.
Types of Persimmons
The most common persimmon is the Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki). This tree grows both astringent and non-astringent fruits and grows to 20 to 30 feet tall. It has a rounding, spreading crown and thrives in USDA zones 8 through 10. Its distribution map covers the southeastern part of the United States. Its leaves are 6 inches long. They turn bright red in autumn and emerge light green in spring. Some have self-pollinating blooms, while others require cross-pollination to form bright orange fruit. There are two prominent cultivars of Asian persimmons. The Fuyu variety is squat like a tomato, and non-astringent. Hachiya is an astringent variety. Hachiya persimmons are peeled, dipped in alcohol, hang-dried, and made into a dried persimmon product called hoshigaki. It’s a delectable treat!
American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is native to the Eastern United States and has been cultivated for centuries by Native Americans and settlers alike. Male and female blooms are on separate trees. The small fruit is round and orangey-yellow. Sometimes it takes on a bluish hue. Some varieties are seedless, and several are very productive. Most are astringent and need to fully ripen to softness before consumption. American persimmon is hardy in zones 4 through 8. In colder zones you can grow American persimmon through winter.
The drought-tolerant Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) is native to Oklahoma, Texas, and parts of northeastern Mexico. Its fruit is dark purple to black, and is more akin to a berry in size. D. texana blooms in March and April, and fruits ripen in August. Due to their astringence, they are sometimes left on the tree until early winter, harvested, and made into jams and jellies. These shrubby trees grow to roughly 10 feet and have male or female flowers. Unlike Asian persimmon or American persimmon, male and female blooms are white. This variety is perfect for growing persimmons in USDA hardiness zone 8b. You can grow it elsewhere, as long as proper care is taken in winter.
Growing persimmons is possible in a container. For container-grown trees, we recommend Air Pots, which are professional-grade planters that air prune roots as they grow. Plant bare-root trees in the ground in autumn or winter they have time to get established before spring. For in-ground planted trees, map out and select a site in your yard or garden that has rich, loamy, well-draining soil. A location in full sun to partial shade out of a direct wind pattern is best. Grow persimmon trees 10 to 20 feet apart.
Dig a hole that accommodates the root system. Plant the tree at the same depth as the nursery container it came in. Then, fill the hole, mound soil around the tree, and water it in. If you want to grow persimmon trees in a container, plant them in a container with enough space to accommodate a hole 4 times the width and the depth of the nursery pot. Fill it in and mound the soil around it. Water it in and you’re set. If you grow persimmon trees in containers, repot them with fresh soil every 2 to 3 years. Mulch well in the garden and in the container.
Persimmon care is easy once the tree is established. Let’s discuss the foundational conditions needed to grow persimmon trees.
Sun and Temperature
Persimmons enjoy 8 hours of full direct sunlight per day. Growing persimmons in partial shade is possible, but yields reduce. Common persimmon enjoys USDA zones 5 through 9. American persimmons grow in zones 4 through 9. American persimmons tolerate cold temperatures down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, while Asian persimmons handle 0 degrees. Wrap them in frost cloth, or bring in container plants in a freeze. They enjoy subtropical climates and easily handle hot summers, like those in Florida. Without enough warmth or sunlight, persimmons drop. Pollination slows in a summer season accompanied by drought. If you live in humid Florida, no problem!
Water and Humidity
Water once per week in clay soils, and twice per week in lighter soils. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses help the water penetrate to the roots. Water in the morning, and increase watering if the top 2 inches of the soil dries out quickly. Some drying out between irrigations keeps your persimmon healthy, especially in the fruiting phase. If it’s exceptionally rainy, there’s no need to water. Persimmon is drought tolerant.
When you transplanted persimmons, make sure you transplanted in loamy, rich garden soil. These trees do well in heavy clay soils, but not so much in soil that’s too light and airy such as soilless mixes. Well-drained soil is a must. If you’re working with light media, add some rich compost to the mix before planting the persimmon in your garden. A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is best.
The only time you need to add fertilizer to a persimmon is when it doesn’t seem to grow enough. If the branches aren’t growing 1 foot per year, spread a 10-10-10 powder fertilizer around the planting area of your garden and water it in. Do this only after a few years of growth in late winter or early spring. Too much fertilizer will cause fruit drop.
Pruning is an important part of persimmon tree care. Without regular pruning, tree branches will become overgrown and require more trimming. Prune in early spring or late winter. For trees that are 1 to 5 years old, remove branches that cross one another or the trunk. Shape the branches so that the canopy spreads evenly. Allow at least one foot of space between young branches to give them an attractive aesthetic and keep them healthy.
For pruning trees that are 5 years or older, remove dead or diseased branches. Cut them back to the parent branch or the trunk as needed. Prune off branches that cross one another or the trunk here too. Prune suckers that pop up from the base of the tree too. Remove damaged or overcrowded fruit. When they’re ripe, they’ll naturally drop from the tree. The leaves will also drop into your garden in autumn.
While it’s possible to grow a persimmon tree from seed, it’s much easier to grow cuttings of cultivars that become clones of the parent persimmon tree. Take 6 to 8-inch softwood cuttings in spring with shears. Then remove all the bottom leaves and cut off half of the top leaves. Dip the tip of the cutting in rooting hormone. Put the cuttings in potting soil, and seal the plant and pot in a clear plastic bag. Place it in a warm area out of direct light. Open it every 10 days to mist the leaves and water the soil. Reseal the bag. Within 2 to 8 weeks you should see new growth. Then select a place in your garden for your new tree.
Similarly, persimmon trees can be grafted onto new rootstock. Begin by pruning softwood, and then bark graft it onto another tree. Affix the branch, and within a month new growth should show if the graft took.
Harvesting and Storing
Now that we’ve discussed persimmon tree care, let’s talk about harvesting. The harvest season for persimmons is autumn or early winter, before the first frost. Here’s how to collect persimmons from the garden and store them.
Don’t eat astringent persimmons should not be eaten until they are fully soft. These taste bitter if they’re still firm. Other varieties are ready to be eaten even when they’re firm. For non-astringents that already have that sweet taste, check the color to determine ripeness. Some turn yellow, while others are orange. Some plants have dark purple fruits. Nurseries have information about the fruit that results from your plants.
Most garden varieties are ready in mid-September. Remove them by hand, or let them hit the ground and gather them there (note, this does not work well if you let them ripen to fully soft states). Then, take them from the garden and gently wash them in lukewarm water.
Ripe persimmons keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 weeks, and sometimes longer. Puree the flesh and keep it in the freezer for at least 6 months. The same goes for sliced and frozen fruits with seeds removed. At median temperatures (72-ish degrees), dehydrated fruits keep in airtight containers for 6 to 12 months. Remove the seeds as they aren’t edible. Instead, save the seeds to try propagating trees when temperatures allow.
Persimmon tree care is simple, but there can be accompanying issues. Let’s talk about those so you can garden them easily.
If you grow a variety of persimmon suited to subtropical environments in a colder region and don’t give it coverage in frost, it gets cold damaged. Remove any severely-damaged branches as quickly as possible so the tree does not run the risk of becoming diseased, and provide cold protection.
If your soil doesn’t drain well, this weakens the tree and leaves it susceptible to diseases.
If you prune the tree too much, or improperly, it gets stressed and won’t produce enough fruit. Similarly, if you don’t prune overcrowded fruits they may become malformed.
Persimmon borers are flat, metallic beetles that feed on the inside of branches and trunks. They implant larva inside the tree that eat their way out. Larva subsists in shallow holes in the trunk and leaves sawdust-like frass. To control them, remove damaged branches and areas where frass is present. Mechanically kill the larva by stabbing in the holes they’ve bored with a thin wire. Blacklight traps kill adults by drawing them out of the tree where they can be removed by hand. Apply pyrethrin sprays to bark in 10 to 14-day intervals. Do not spray in warm seasons as this may burn the tree.
Webworms and hickory horned devils are hard to miss. The first of these caterpillars spin tight, dense webs around the branches and leaves of trees. They congregate in large masses, too. Hickory horned devils are spiny caterpillars that are green with black and red horns all over their bodies. Adult moths of both species are colored orange. The webworm moth has a slender frame, whereas the horned devil moth has a wide wingspan. The best control for both is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) spray. Spray the entire tree in the morning, and again in 7 to 10 days if the problem persists.
Just like humans, other mammals enjoy persimmons. To keep them out, consider planting where they won’t go, or tie mesh bags around ripening fruits. Give them something else to eat, or prune the tree so deer and ground-dwelling non-climbing animals can’t get them. A fruitful tree can stand to give a few to wildlife, especially when there’s enough for you.
Persimmon wilt is caused by the fungal pathogen Acromonium diospyri. When the disease strikes, the leaves wilt, and then branches wilt from the top down. It’s difficult to catch the disease, and affected trees should be removed and destroyed immediately. There is no treatment.
Leaf spot is a fungal disease caused by colletotrichum. It appears as dark black spots on leaves and then spreads to fruit. Affected adult trees aren’t in danger, but young ones need treatments. Spray bordeaux mix diluted in water as a preventative after the leaves have fallen off the tree. If you don’t have access to the supplies to make bordeaux mix, you can use a commercial copper fungicide. Rake and dispose of any damaged leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do you need 2 persimmon trees to produce fruit?
A: For varieties that have either male or female flowers, yes.
Q: How long does it take a persimmon tree to bear fruit?
A: 120 days from flowering. But at least 5 years of growth before that.
Q: Where do persimmon trees grow best?
A: In East Asia and Southeastern USA.
Q: Is persimmon tree easy to grow?
A: Yes! As long as you give it the basics, it will do well.