Some gardeners fill their home orchards with classic fruit trees like apples, pears, plums, and citrus. But there are many other crops to consider, like the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana). This lovely ornamental tree is low-maintenance and produces a large crop of unusual fruit each fall with very little care.
Growing persimmons is a fun and rewarding project for the home gardener. Read on to learn more about persimmon tree care and how to grow these amazing fruit trees in your yard.
Quick Facts About American Persimmon Trees
- Botanical name: Diospyros virginiana
- Height: 40-60 feet (12.2-18.3 m)
- Spread: 20-35 feet (6-10.7 m)
- Sun exposure: full sun
- Soil requirements: tolerant, accepts clay; sand; loam
- Hardiness zones: 4-9
- When to plant: spring or fall
Persimmon Tree Characteristics
The American persimmon tree is an interesting garden specimen that grows in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9. They have gray bark and green foliage that fades to warm hues ranging from yellow to orange and bright red in fall. Persimmon trees have distinctive bark that’s thick and dark, and divided into square blocks like a chessboard. American persimmons produce urn-shaped blooms that appear in late spring then turn to fruit and ripen in fall.
In the wild, a persimmon tree can grow to 60 feet (18.3 m) in height, with branches spreading from 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10.7 m) and a trunk two feet thick. However, in home cultivation, persimmons are commonly much shorter and smaller.
Their vibrant orange fruits hang on bare branches into late winter and provide food that wildlife absolutely adores. As for humans, it seems like people either love or hate persimmons. The unusual edible fruit is hard as an apple when immature, but its flesh turns soft and creamy when ripe. The persimmon’s devoted fans love its unique taste, totally unlike any other fruit.
Persimmon Tree Uses
Early explorers to America valued this tree, as did Native Americans. They used the fruit, which hung on the tree past the first frost, for food during winter. The tree is attractive and valued for both its wood and as an ornamental plant.
The bark, which forms in thick square blocks that resemble alligator skin, covers wood that’s strong and resistant. Persimmon wood is commonly used to make golf club heads, flooring, veneers, and billiard cues.
Persimmon Tree Varieties
There are two distinct groups of persimmon trees, the native American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and the Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki). The American persimmon is an easy to grow tree with many uses. Its bright orange fruit has a distinctive beak at the base and tends to be smaller than the Asian persimmon. American persimmon fruits are astringent until ripe.
Persimmons native to Asia are also known as Japanese persimmons or Chinese persimmons. This group includes two kinds of fruit: one that is astringent until ripe, like the American variety, and one that is non-astringent and can be eaten while firm. Both astringent and non-astringent varieties are orange. These persimmon trees are smaller than native persimmon trees, growing only to 25 feet (7.6 m) tall. They were brought to the United States a century ago and offer large, high quality fruit. While American trees produce fruits the size of a plum, Asian persimmons grow to the size of a peach.
Where Do Persimmon Trees Grow Best?
The American persimmon, also known as the common persimmon, is native from Florida to Connecticut, west to Iowa and south to Texas. Home gardeners can grow persimmon trees in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. The American persimmon can tolerate temperatures down to -25 degrees F (-32 C) while the Asian persimmon only tolerates winter temperatures down to 0 degrees F (-18 C).
Planting Persimmon Trees
You can grow persimmon trees from seeds, cuttings, suckers, or grafts. After one to two years, transplant seedlings to an orchard. For the best quality trees, however, purchase or grow grafted or budded specimens.
When planting, be aware that persimmons have very deep taproots. Dig a deep hole for the root ball, mix 8 inches (20 cm) of soil and loam in the bottom of the planting hole, then backfill with more loam or compost and native soil.
Persimmon trees are not picky about growing conditions. Choose a sunny spot with moist, porous, and well-drained soil. Persimmon trees prefer soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, but they are extremely tolerant of many environments. They happily grow in urban conditions and they don’t mind drought or wind.
Persimmon Tree Care
There isn’t much to persimmon tree care other than watering. Water young trees well until established. Afterwards, water trees when there is no significant rainfall, such as during periods of drought.
Only use fertilizer on persimmon trees if they are struggling to thrive. As for pruning, you can prune your persimmon tree to a central leader when young. Otherwise, little pruning is required as long as trees bear fruit.
Do You Need Two Persimmon Trees To Produce Fruit?
It takes two to tango when it comes to native persimmons. Some trees are male and others are female. Female flowers on female trees only turn into fruit when there is at least one male flowering tree nearby. Asian persimmons, however, are self-fruiting and only need one tree to produce fruit. If you have a smaller garden space, consider the Asian persimmon.
How long does it take a persimmon tree to bear fruit? Grown from seed, a female tree will fruit in four to nine years. Grafted trees only take three years.
Growing Asian Persimmons
One advantage of growing Asian persimmons is that a single tree can produce female, male and/or perfect flowers. Many Asian varieties can even produce seedless fruit from unfertilized flowers. Varieties like Hachiya and Ichi Ki Kei Jiro, for example, produce quality fruit without pollination. However, pollination usually results in more regular and abundant crops.
Generally, Asian persimmon trees have the same cultural needs as native varieties. Both are low-maintenance and require minimal pruning and fertilization.
How do you know if a persimmon is ripe?
What’s the proper way to eat a persimmon?