How to grow persimmons (Diospyros)
There are two types of persimmon commonly grown in gardens. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is a large tree that does best in zones 7 to 10. It isn’t fond of either extreme heat or extreme cold. This tree can easily grow to 60 feet tall and has a rather informal habit of growth. Both wood and fruit was harvested by the native Indians across the southeastern third of North America. The fruit is considered astringent and must allowed to soften before it can be eaten.
The Japanese or Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) has non-astringent fruit as well as astringent varieties. ‘Fuyu’, ‘Jiro’, ‘Gosho’, Izu and ‘Suruga’ are non-astringent; astringent varieties include ‘Hiratanenashi’, ‘Hachiya’, ‘Aizumishirazu’, ‘Yotsumizo’ and ‘Yokono’. These trees vary in height from 15 – 60 feet. Try the smaller-growing types like the Izu or Gosho for smaller spaces. Fruit bruises easily so clip the stems rather than twisting or pulling off fruit. Non-astringent fruit can be consumed when it is fully red and firm. Astringent fruit should be picked at the same stage and allowed to soften off the tree. Otherwise it can rot on the tree. Astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for a month, but should be taken out and given a few days to soften before eating. Soft fruit of both kinds are perishable.
Both types of persimmon have decorative fruit that looks like red-orange tomatoes. They are high in vitamin C and iron. Persimmons are likely to take 3 to 8 years before they begin to harvest. (The American varieties are slower to crop.) Give both varieties regular water and plant trees in full sun or light shade. They prefer fertile soil but are forgiving so long as they have good drainage. Once established, persimmons can be reasonably drought-tolerant. If the crop sets too thickly, thin it to keep the individual fruits large and healthy.
Persimmons are in the ebony tree family so don’t be surprised to see the roots are a dark black color. The trees grow a deep tap root so they are good trees to plant on hills or around foundations or cement work. They don’t have the damaging, spreading roots some other trees grow that can lift or crack hardscapes (permanent features). Because of these deep tap roots, persimmons are not suitable for pots or shallow soils.
American persimmons produce either male or female flowers so you will need both to pollinate blooms and set fruit. You can plant several of these trees in a group to make sure you have both kinds in your garden. Most varieties of the Japanese or Oriental persimmons are self-fertile. The latter are most commonly grown in landscapes, tend to be grafted to American persimmon root stock, and usually top out at twenty feet tall.
Use persimmon trees in a desert landscape or a Japanese garden to add color and productivity. They have rich green foliage that can blend in with more traditional style landscapes, too. The habit of growth creates a wide umbrella so they make good shade trees in the landscape, too.
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