Persimmons and Medlar

Native and Oriental Persimmon Trees

Asian or 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). Occasionally we have young trees in the nursery for sale though only small plants as they transplant poorly. 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 orange-red in color, they have an incredibly rich, sweet flavor. Astringent varieties often have more intense sweet flavor, but must be eaten soft. 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 for the N.W. 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. 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. They can also be dried with some care.

The native American Persimmon, Diospyros 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 any 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 roots 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 is not planted in a bath tub. Roots do need oxygen! -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. If grafted, as in all grafted trees, 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 a few inches above 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 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 keeping 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 susceptible to winter injury. Use a balanced time released fertilizer. I like chicken manure-pelleted form.

Harvest

American and Kaki persimmon ripen 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. Reliably sweet in W. Washington is Diospyros lotus, the “Date Persimmon”.

Medlar Mespillus germanica

Medlars are small trees with large, attractive apple blossom-like flowers and decorative edible fruits with a taste and texture that resembles apple butter though more like a paste. They are unchanged over thousands of years, hardy, disease resistant and will give you a hearty crop of delicious medlars for eating raw (after a few freezes, aka ‘bletted’), making jam, cheese or jelly. They are ready mid or late November when most of the other fruit is finished.

The Common Medlar (Mespilus germanica) originated in southwest Asia and southeastern Europe (the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey). They grow into small trees up to 25′ tall with a spread of about 20′, though 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide is typical in 10 years

They have leathery dark green leaves that turn yellow or brick red in autumn. The five-petalled pink-white 2″ flowers with red anthers are produced in late spring. The fruit is up to two inches in diameter, with prominant sepals, turning a golden yellow-brown before ripening to a mat brown, often with a dark red blush.
Medlars like to be out in the sunshine, so choose an open, sunny site. If they are in light or dappled shade the fruit crop will be reduced and you won’t get that lovely, golden autumn colour. Make sure you don’t plant in frost pockets as medlars flower in late spring.
Medlars are environmentally tolerant trees growing in most soils though prefering moister, heavier soil than other fruit trees, similar to pear this way. If possible give them a moisture-retentive soil- amended with compost.

GERMINATION, SOWING, AFTER CARE FOR MEDLAR

The Medlar has a long and complex double dormancy within the seed and this can only broken after lengthy periods of pre-treatment.

To begin with soak the seeds for 48 hours in warm water, then drain away the water and prepare a free draining medium into which the seeds are to be mixed, this can be a 50/50 mixture of compost and sharp sand, or perlite, vermiculite. The chosen medium needs to be moist (but not wet), if you can squeeze water out of it with your hand it is too wet and your seeds may drown and die.

Mix the seeds into the medium, making sure that their is enough volume of material to keep the seeds separated. Place the seed mixture into a clear plastic bag (freezer bags, especially zip-lock bags are very useful for this -provided a little gap is left in the seal for air exchange) If it is not a zip-lock type bag it needs to be loosely tied. Then write the date on the bag so that you know when the pretreatment was started.

To begin with the seeds require a cold period to break the final part of the dormancy, this is achieved by placing the bag in the fridge (4 Celsius or 39F) for around 52 weeks.

Next the seeds require a period of warm pretreatment and need to be kept in temperatures of around 20 Celsius (68F) for a period of at least 36 weeks. During this time make sure that the pretreatment medium does not dry out at any stage or it will be ineffective!

Following this, the seeds require a second cold period for around 17 weeks. Towards the end of this period it is quite possible for the seeds to germinate in the bag at these temperatures when they are ready to do so, (it is worth checking the bag every few weeks for germinating seedlings) if they do, just remove them from the bag and carefully plant them up.

Alternatively seeds can be placed in a protected pot and placed in a sheltered place outside and allowed to experience the natural seasonal temperature fluctuations. The best results will be obtained from experiencing a long first winter, then summer followed by a second winter. Seedlings should begin to germinate during the second Spring.

When the pre-treatment period is completed the seed is ready to be sown. Pots or seed trays can be used, filled with a good quality compost with the seeds sown on a firmed compost surface, covered with a thin layer of compost (up to1cm) and watered. It is often best to remove established germinated seedlings from their containers and pot them up separately.

After the first growing season do not throw away the contents of the pots and trays but leave them outside in a shady place through summer and winter and further seedlings will appear the next Spring. This process can continue for as long as 5 years with some seedlings germinating each year,- so don’t give up on them too soon!

Do not expose newly sown seeds to high temperatures (above 25 Celsius) otherwise a secondary dormancy may be induced and the seeds will not germinate until they have been pretreated again. Keep the seedlings well watered and weed free.

A few months after germination developing seedlings should be fine in full sun. Growth in the first season is slow but will accelerate in the second and subsequent years and the developing young trees should be re-potted as necessary preferably during the dormant season. After perhaps 2 or 3 years they are ready to be planted in their permanent position.

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