Growing persimmon trees (Diospyros spp.) is a rewarding endeavor offering aesthetic beauty and delicious fruit harvests. With their elegant foliage, attractive bark, and vibrant fruits, persimmon trees are a valuable addition to gardens, orchards, and landscapes. These trees belong to the Ebenaceae family and encompass a variety of species and cultivars, each with its unique characteristics and requirements.
Whether you're a novice gardener or an experienced horticulturist, understanding the fundamentals of persimmon tree cultivation is essential for ensuring healthy growth and productive yields. From selecting the right variety to providing suitable planting conditions, proper care, and effective pollination strategies, embarking on a journey to grow persimmon trees involves a blend of science, art, and patience.
In this guide, we will provide you with essential insights into the art of growing persimmon trees, covering everything from selecting the right variety for your climate to nurturing the trees through their growth stages.
Well-drained, loamy soil
USDA zones 4-9
What Are Persimmon Trees?
Persimmon trees are beautiful, large trees that provide both ample shade and delicious orange fruit! Growing up to 50 feet in height, these slow-growing fruit trees are a great addition to many yards and landscapes. The dark green leaves turn a bright yellow and orange in autumn, complementing the orange color of the edible fruit.
Types Of Persimmon Trees
There are two main types of persimmon trees, both native to very different regions.
American Persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana) - These persimmon trees are native to Eastern North America and are a particularly cold-hardy variety. They grow slowly, taking as much as ten years to produce fruit but grow almost twice as large as Japanese Persimmons. The fruit itself has a smooth texture, a creamy white interior, and a mildly sweet flavor.
Oriental Persimmon (Diospyros Kaki) - The most common persimmon varieties are the Japanese Persimmon and Asian Persimmon. These regions produce almost 80% of the world's persimmons! They prefer warm climates, and the fruit generally has a sweeter flavor than American persimmons. Many Asian Persimmon varieties are self-pollinating.
Because Oriental Persimmon trees can only be cultivated in a very small region of the United States, requiring a hot climate, this article will focus on the care of American Persimmon trees.
Persimmon trees can also be categorized by how their fruit ripens.
Astringent - The fruit of astringent varieties of persimmons must be allowed to ripen on the branch before they are fully edible. Waiting until the fruit is extremely soft before proceeding with the harvest is crucial! Otherwise, the persimmons will have an incredibly bitter taste. However, if you can wait until the fruit is fully ripe, the flavor will be much sweeter than the fruit of non-astringent varieties. All American varieties of persimmon are astringent.
Non-Astringent - The fruit of these trees can be harvested when they are still firm to the touch. They are sweet before becoming fully ripened, and the firmer texture makes eating them similar to eating a crisp apple.
Persimmon Tree Care Requirements
To produce a good harvest of fresh persimmons, Diospyros Virginiana needs a full sun growing environment. This implies that they require a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Full sun exposure is beneficial for photosynthesis, a crucial process for the tree's development and fruit yield.
If your summer sun is particularly intense, a few hours of afternoon shade will help keep the fruits from scorching as they develop. Persimmons do not ripen until late autumn, so keep in mind the change in light patterns as the seasons shift!
While persimmon trees require plenty of sunlight, they can also benefit from some protection against strong winds, especially in regions with cold winters. Wind can cause desiccation of leaves and even damage young trees. So, while providing sunlight, also consider the tree's exposure to wind.
Newly planted persimmon trees require more frequent and consistent watering to help establish their root systems for the first year or two. Water deeply within the root zone, maintaining soil moisture consistently without causing waterlogging. Strive for approximately 2-3 inches of water per week throughout the growing season.
Once persimmon trees are established and have developed a strong root system, they are more drought-tolerant. Nevertheless, consistent watering remains necessary, particularly during dry spells. Practice deep and spaced-out watering for mature trees, enabling the soil to experience slight drying between each watering session.
Different persimmon varieties have different levels of cold hardiness. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) thrives in USDA zones 4-9, whereas the Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki) typically flourishes in zones 7-11. Ensure you select a variety that aligns with the climatic conditions of your region.
Many persimmon trees, especially those of the Asian variety, require a certain number of chilling hours during the dormant winter period to break dormancy and promote healthy spring growth. Chilling hours are the cumulative hours that the temperature is between 32°F (0°C) and 45°F (7°C). Depending on the variety, most persimmon trees require around 200-1,000 chilling hours.
Persimmon trees can be sensitive to late spring frosts, damaging emerging leaves and flowers. If your area is prone to late frosts, consider planting persimmon trees in a location that offers some protection from frost, such as avoiding low-lying areas where cold air can accumulate.
Persimmon trees exhibit tolerance to varying humidity levels, yet they typically display a preference for moderate humidity. They can adapt to both higher and lower humidity environments, but extreme humidity conditions might impact their growth and overall health.
Moderate humidity levels can be beneficial during the flowering and fruit development stages. Adequate humidity can help with pollen germination, pollination, and fruit setting. However, excessively high humidity can also lead to issues such as fungal diseases if not properly managed.
Persimmon trees prefer well-draining soil that allows water to move away from the roots to prevent waterlogging. Persimmon trees thrive in loamy soils, which offer a harmonious blend of sand, silt, and clay. These soils provide good drainage, moisture retention, and nutrient-holding capacity. Soils that are heavy and have inadequate drainage can result in root rot and the development of other diseases. Consider creating raised beds to improve drainage if you have heavy clay soil.
Persimmon trees favor soil pH levels that are slightly acidic to neutral, spanning from 6.0 to 7.5. Deviating from this range can impact nutrient accessibility and the overall well-being of the tree.
Before applying fertilizers, it's recommended to conduct a soil test to determine the nutrient levels and pH of the soil. Conducting a soil test assists in identifying deficiencies and provides guidance for making informed fertilization choices. If your native soil isn't particularly high in nutrients, you can add some compost or other organic matter to the soil when planting your tree to give it a boost.
Fertilize persimmon trees in early spring, just before new growth begins. Avoid fertilizing too late in the growing season, as this can promote late growth that might not have enough time to harden off before winter.
Utilize a balanced fertilizer formulated with an appropriate ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) for fruit trees. A common suggestion might involve an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10 or 14-14-14. However, the specific ratio might vary based on your soil test results. Apart from the primary nutrients (N, P, K), persimmon trees necessitate diverse micronutrients like iron, zinc, manganese, and more. If your soil test indicates micronutrient deficiencies, you might need to use fertilizers that contain these micronutrients or apply them separately.
The optimal pruning time for persimmon trees falls within the dormant season, which spans from late winter to early spring, preceding the onset of new growth. Pruning within this period minimizes tree stress and mitigates disease risks.
Newly planted persimmon trees must be pruned regularly during the first few years to develop strong main branches. Otherwise, the fruits that cluster at the tips of branches will cause the branches to break.
Upon reaching maturity, enhancing air circulation and light permeation within the canopy can be achieved through thinning out branches. Eliminate branches that cross, rub against each other, or exhibit close growth. Aim for an open canopy to reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Remove suckers (shoots emerging from the base of the trunk) and water sprouts (vigorous upright shoots growing from branches) as they divert energy from the main tree and can lead to congestion.
For standard-sized persimmon trees, the recommended spacing between trees is typically around 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 meters). This provides enough room for mature trees to develop a full canopy without crowding neighboring trees. If you're growing dwarf or semi-dwarf persimmon varieties, you can space them a bit closer, around 12 to 15 feet (3.5 to 4.5 meters) apart. These smaller trees require less space and are often suitable for smaller gardens.
Certain persimmon varieties possess self-pollinating traits, enabling them to bear fruit independently without relying on pollen from other trees. However, even self-pollinating varieties can benefit from having another tree nearby for improved fruit set and yield.
A significant number of persimmon varieties exhibit dioecious characteristics, indicating that they host distinct male and female flowers on separate trees. These trees require cross-pollination with a compatible variety to produce fruit. In this case, it's essential to have a minimum of one male tree for every several female trees to guarantee effective pollination. Without both a female tree for bearing fruit and a male tree for pollinating, you will not enjoy any sort of harvest.
Harvesting persimmons takes place within a range extending from late summer to early winter, contingent on the specific variety and prevailing climate conditions. Monitor the color, firmness, and other indicators as the fruit approaches its expected harvest window.
The hue of the persimmon plays a crucial role in determining its ripeness for harvesting. Depending on the variety, persimmons can range in color from green to orange to deep red or purple when ripe. Different varieties have different color changes as they ripen, so familiarize yourself with the specific color characteristics of the variety you're growing.
Another vital aspect to take into account is the firmness of the fruit. When harvesting, persimmons should be firm yet not excessively hard. A gentle press with your fingers should result in a slight give without being overly soft. Furthermore, ripe persimmons should detach effortlessly from the tree when delicately twisted or lifted. If the fruit is still firmly attached, it's not ready for harvest.
Common Problems When Growing A Persimmon Tree
The pests that bother persimmons can typically be divided into two groups - those that mess with the ripe fruit and those that mess with the tree itself. Mealybugs and ants can do a number on your fruit harvest! Treat these pests through organic methods in order to keep the fruit safe for consumption. Other insects, such as the persimmon trunk borer, whiteflies, and thrips, will attack the tree itself. The borers should be manually dug out of the tree. Whiteflies and thrips can be managed through traps.
Leaf Spot Diseases
Leaf spots caused by fungal diseases manifest as brown or black marks on the leaves. To thwart the occurrence of leaf spots, establish adequate air circulation by employing correct pruning techniques, maintaining proper spacing, and promptly clearing away fallen leaves. Apply fungicides if necessary, following the manufacturer's recommendations.
This fungal disease can cause dark lesions on leaves, twigs, and fruit. Rake up and dispose of fallen leaves to reduce disease spread. Apply fungicides in the spring to protect new growth.
Powdery mildew is recognizable by the presence of a white, powdery layer on leaves. To combat this issue, enhance air movement, refrain from overhead watering, and administer fungicides as necessary.
Some persimmon varieties require cross-pollination to set fruit. Ensure that appropriate male and female trees are planted nearby for successful fruit production.
Cold winter temperatures can cause frost cracks on the bark and damage young branches. Protect young trees with mulch and consider wrapping the trunk to prevent winter damage.
Prolonged exposure to strong sunlight can result in sunburn on both the fruit and bark. Provide some shade during extreme heat, especially for young trees, to prevent sunburn damage.
Fruit Drop Before Ripening
Premature fruit drop can be caused by factors such as inadequate pollination, poor nutrition, water stress, or extreme temperature fluctuations. Ensure proper pollination, maintain consistent watering, provide adequate nutrients, and protect the tree from extreme weather conditions.
Poor Fruit Quality
Insufficient water, imbalanced fertilization, or inadequate sunlight can lead to poor fruit quality, including bland taste or lack of sweetness. Ensure proper irrigation, provide balanced fertilization based on soil tests, and choose a suitable planting location with sufficient sunlight.
Rapid fluctuations in moisture levels, often due to irregular watering, can cause persimmon fruit to split. Sustain even soil moisture by adhering to a routine watering schedule. Utilize mulch around the tree's base to assist in maintaining balanced soil moisture levels.
Are Persimmon Trees Pet Friendly?
Persimmon trees are not inherently toxic to pets, but pet owners should be aware of certain aspects of persimmons. The fruit of some persimmon varieties can be safe for pets in small amounts, while others can cause digestive upset. Non-astringent persimmons are generally safe to eat, but astringent persimmons contain tannins that can cause stomach upset, vomiting, or diarrhea if consumed in large quantities.
Persimmon seeds carry a risk of choking if ingested by pets. Furthermore, akin to numerous fruit seeds, they contain compounds that can be harmful in significant quantities. While pets may not typically eat persimmon seeds due to their size and hardness, it's still a good idea to prevent pets from consuming them.