Native and Oriental Persimmon Trees

 KAKI PERSIMMONS

Diospyros kaki

The name Diospyros  in context means more or less “Divine Fruit” or “Divine Food” and is an apt description for the wonderful succulent persimmon.  Persimmons are one of the most widely planted fruits in the world (the majority of the acreage is in Asia) and are a member of the Ebony family (known for their hard wood where persimmon is used for golf club heads).

The American Persimmon ( D. virginiana) is native to the east and grows wild from Florida up the eastern seaboard to New York and has a small fruit with an excellent, nutty sweet flavor.  However, if it is eaten unripe, it has alum in the flesh and is very astringent (makes your mouth feel like cotton).   We offer a selection of the new varieties of Kaki (Asian) persimmons of both astringent (must be eaten soft and completely ripe) and non-astringent (can be eaten hard like an apple with no astringency) and the astringent American Persimmon seedlings as well as grafted cultivars.

Kaki are extremely popular in Asia – they consider them like Americans do apples – a persimmon a day keeps the doctor away!   The flavor of persimmons is unique.  Non-astringent cultivars can be eaten when still firm/hard and yellow-orange in color, with a crisp texture and soft flavor (great in fruit salads!).  When completely ripe and red in color, they have an incredibly rich, sweet flavor.  Astringent varieties often have more intense sweet flavor, but must be eaten soft (as we say, in the bathtub!).  They are truly a unique and wonderful fruit!   The most common commercial varieties grown today are Hachiya (astringent, conical shape) and Fuyu (non-astringent, flat shape).  However, there are excellent new varieties that offer better flavor, or ripen earlier.   There are several very cold hardy cultivars that can be grown in protected locations as far north as zone 5, especially in the milder microclimates along the coast. Kaki thrive throughout the South.

Kaki Persimmons are a profitable orchard crop.  Grown commercially in California (primarily the variety Jiro, but sold as Fuyu), orchards of non-astringent varieties can produce yields of up to 10,000 lbs/acre and bring prices of $1.00/lb or more wholesale.  Persimmons are fairly easy to grow, with few major pests.  Non-astringent cultivars can be harvested while just showing color and shipped readily in standard fruit packing boxes.  Even astringent varieties, when picked still hard, will ripen completely on the shelf over several weeks, making it an easy crop to bring to market. “For a supply of persimmons which lasts until harvest the following October, fill a freezer with fully ripened Saijo, Gionbo and Hachiya using small sandwich-sized freezer bags.  The persimmons are frozen whole after removing the stems.

The native American PersimmonDiospyros virginiana, is very deeply tap-rooted and has little side branching, unless grown in a root-enhancing container. Trees will have a much better transplant rate when planted small (less than 2 feet).

Site Selection

Persimmons tolerate a variety of soils, but like so many plants, they perform best in a well-drained sandy loam of pH 6.0-7.0.  Pick a planting site with good soil drainage and do not plant in the bottom of swales or areas that stay saturated for long periods of time. Most trees do not grow well in wet soils.  Also, avoid frost pockets (bottom of valley) because late frosts can hurt fruit production, especially in northern locations. Prepare the area by removing an weeds prior to planting.  This step is often overlooked but is absolutely critical to any successful planting.  Weeds and grass steal light, water and nutrients from your trees.

 

Planting

Plant your persimmons in full sun in a hole slightly larger than the container it was grown and big enough to spread out the roots. Roughen up the sides of the hole to encourage the rots to grow into the surrounding soil. (A smooth surface can keep roots circling round and round.) If planting in heavy clay soils, break up the ground under and around the hole, so that the tree in not planted in a bath tub. Roots need oxygen to be able to breathe.

Carefully remove the tree from the pot keeping the soil around the roots intact.  Backfill with the parent soil, filling in under the roots to avoid leaving any air pockets.  Make sure the graft union is a few inches above soil level. Bare root trees will have a noticeable color difference between the roots and the trunk.  Plant  at the depth of this color difference.  Set the tree in the middle of the hole. Using some soil, secure the tree in a straight position.

We recommend creating a water-holding basin around the hole and water the trees in thoroughly at planting. Remove the berm at the end of the second growing season.  Water slowly at the drip-line.   Water in thoroughly making sure there are no air pockets around the roots. Air pockets prevent roots from growing into the soil around it. After the water has soaked in, spread a protective layer of mulch 2-4″ deep around the trunk pulling the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to keep the moisture from accumulating next to the bark. Choices for mulch, leaf litter, hay, shredded or fine bark,  or pine needles.

 

Because persimmons leaf out based on number of hours exposed to warmth rather than on exposure to chilling, they can be slower than most.  In some areas, a newly planted persimmon may not break dormancy until late spring in warmer climates and summer in cooler climates.

Your climate plays an important role in whether a persimmon tree will produce fruit or even survive. Persimmon trees grow well between plant hardiness Zones 6-9. Before ordering a variety, be sure the trees recommended hardiness zone range includes your area.

 

Fertilization

The best time to fertilize fruit trees is during the growing season, starting in early spring (after bud-break) and finishing by July.  Fertilizing too late in the season can cause trees to grow when they should be shutting down for the winter.   This tender new growth, when pushed too late in the season, is also more susceptible to winter injury. Use a balanced time released fertilizer.

Harvest

American and Kaki persimmon fruit ripens from late October until late November, depending on the variety and particular year. Fruit is harvest by hand clipping, when it has attained the proper color, but is still firm.  Fruit then is ripened at room temperature, or can be stored under refrigeration.