Days to germination: Seedlings are usually purchased
Days to harvest: 3 years
Light requirements: Full sun to light shade
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Well-drained and fertile soil
Container: Not suitable for pots
Though not particularly common in North America, the persimmon is a popular fruit in Asia and South America where it is more frequently grown as a crop.
There are two types of fruit available, depending on variety and how they are pollinated. Some need to be completely ripe and soft in order to be edible, and the others can be eaten while the flesh is still crisp (like an apple). The first kind are called “astringent varieties”, and include Eureka and Hachiya. The other kind are labeled as “non-astringent” and include varieties like Fuya and Jiro. Sometimes, non-astringent types of fruit are just called “sweet persimmons”.
A persimmon looks quite a bit like a tomato, though these fruits grow on trees rather than low-growing plants. Most varieties are red or dark orange when ripe, but the black persimmon deepens to black (hence the name). The variety most often grown in North America is the American Persimmon, and it is hardy only to zones 7 through 10. It can’t tolerate freezing temperatures when in leaf, but also is unable to withstand overly hot weather either.
As long as they have been properly ripened, you can eat persimmons raw and fresh, or use them in cooking. They are high in vitamin C and iron.
Starting your Tree
Plant your tree where you will have space for a mature tree that can reach 25 feet in height. A sunny location is great, but persimmon would be find in a spot with a little shade as well.
You need to choose a place where the water drains well, so not in any hollows where you may see water accumulate after a rain storm. Dig a hole large enough to hold the plant’s root ball, and don’t be dismayed if the roots are black. A relative of the ebony tree, persimmons naturally have black roots.
These trees will develop very deep roots, so try not to choose an area with any underlying rock formations.
For the first year, water it regularly until the roots are established. After that, most persimmon trees will thrive without additional watering. However, hot and dry weather would probably stress your tree and a weekly watering would become necessary.
If a tree has a particularly good pollination year, you may find it overloaded with fruit. It may seem like a good thing, but the fruit will all stay very small and actually provide a poor harvest in the end. Once the fruit are growing, you should remove some of the extras so the plant can produce full-size persimmons. Leave approximately 1 fruit on each fruiting branch.
A basic fertilizer mixture (no high-nitrogen formulas) can be applied for a spring feeding each year. An extra application later in the summer may be helpful if the leaves are not a dark green. Yellow or light-green leaves would indicate a need for added nutrients.
You should also plan on doing a little pruning each year, to maximize your tree’s fruit production. Heavy or elaborate pruning isn’t necessary but a little well-placed trimming can really help. Each spring, cut away any dead branches and any branches that are growing downwards. If there are any pairs of branches that cross or rub, remove the smaller of the two.
A persimmon tree naturally has a very long taproot, which means it will not grow at all in containers. If space is a problem, you can try varieties such as Izu or Gosho. They are not true dwarf trees but they will grow smaller than the usual persimmon tree.
Pests and Diseases
Luckily, there aren’t very many insect pests that are specific to this tree. Unlike most other fruit trees, you probably won’t
need to do any large-scale spraying to protect your trees. That doesn’t mean they are completely problem-free though.
Scale insects, mealybugs and ants are all possible pests for persimmons but none of them are usually present in enough numbers to do any harm to your trees.
In some parts of the southern United States, persimmon wilt can be a problem. The tree will have wilting leaves, and some may drop off. It’s caused by a fungus infection, and it usually kills the plant. You can protect your trees by sealing up any cuts in the bark, and also sealing or treating any cut branches during pruning. Anti-fungal products for this purpose should be available at your local nursery or garden supply store.
Harvest and Storage
Persimmon trees will start to produce fruit after around 3 years, and you’ll get a full harvest from your trees at about 6 years of age. At that point, you can hope for around 40 to 50 pounds of fruit each year.
As mentioned the type of fruit (astringent or non-astringent) will determine how you harvest your persimmons. Astringent fruit need to soften, but you will likely lose a lot of your crop if you leave them on the tree at this point. The best route is to pick them once they have turned their mature color but are still hard to the touch. Let them ripen up the rest of the way at room temperature indoors until they are soft and sweet.
Non-astringent fruit can be picked and eaten as soon as their coloring matures, without the wait to soften up.
Either type of fruit will bruise easily, so be careful when picking. A pair of shears is best to snip them off rather than trying to pull or twist off the fruit.
Astringent persimmons that are still hard can be stored in the fridge for a month, but will need to be left out at room temperature for a few days to soften up or they will be far too sour to eat. Once they have started to soften, they won’t store for much longer and should be eaten quickly.