Persimmons in the garden.

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

The Persimmon is an  edible  fruit that  resembles  a large tomato that can have a very sweet  flesh when fully ripe. I remember the first time I had Persimmon bread, a customer brought a few slices in the nursery to share with me. I took one bite and it was so delicious, moist, and soft. I thanked her greatly. She said, “It was a tree I bought here several years ago and you help me pick it out. That Hachiya Persimmon tree is so productive and the bread has no lingering taste of puckering my mouth. You also helped me pick out the Fuyu Persimmon and those fruits are great for fresh eating just like an Apple”. From that time I was hooked I wait patiently when Persimmon season is and start eating them.

Botanically speaking, a Persimmon is a berry measuring 2-5 cm wide, greenish to yellowish with a high astringent pulp (on some varieties) before ripening. During the fall, the fruit turns yellowish-orange to reddish orange and sweet. Each fruit has 1-8 flat seeds. The botanical name for the Oriental Persimmon is Diospyros kaki. Lets dissect the genus name- Diospyros. “Dios” means God, and “pyros” means food, thus the name means “Food of the Gods.” Some say it is not an accurate translation but it gives you an idea of how much people throughout history have valued the Persimmon. The most common and familiar Persimmon is called Fuyu and it is known as the the “California Persimmon or California Fuyu”. In China and Japan the Persimmon is called Kaki. The Persimmon is a member of the Ebenaceae family and is related to the tropical fruit Sapote. Japan and China grew the Persimmon and the Japanese sold them in Europe. By the time they arrived in California, the names were mixed and new crosses caused confusion.

The Oriental Persimmon is native to China and has been grown and selected in China, Korea, and Japan for over 1,000 years. In that part of the world it is a favored food, producing ornamental and orchard crops. There are over 1,000 named cultivars. Only a handful you see are available for sale. The two most common ones are Fuyu (Jiro) and Hachiya Persimmons. There are many types of Fuyu Persimmons: (Hana, Imoto, Giant, and so forth) but Fuyu Jiro happens to be the most familiar one. Jiro is an old cultivar discovered many years ago, with age, the tree develops orange-red fruit and good taste. The tree is upright and vigorous with good fruit set, and produces only female blossoms. It ripens in late October, and is still a favorite cultivar in Japan. Most people call it Fuyu Persimmon and not to be confused with Fuji Apple. Other types of Persimmons are Chocolate, Coffeecake (Nimishura Wase), Maru, Sajo, and so many more and often times harder to find. Sajo means the best. The Oriental Persimmon fruit could be shaped rounded, conical, square, or lobed depending on the variety or type.

Some Persimmons have light-colored flesh, others may have a flesh that is dark-colored, still others may be firm or soft. A good way to help remember how to distinguish between Fuyu and Hachiya is that Fuyu is flat on the bottom and Hachiya is more rounded. Fuyu is often eaten like and apple and therefore it is firm however there people who may like to eat Fuyu when they are soft. Fuyus keep well for several weeks after picking. Haychia Persimmon is usually soft. Individual trees can live up to 100 years and produce up to 400 pounds of fruit per year.

Commodore Perry brought Oriental persimmons from Japan to the U.S. in 1856. The Perry Expedition was a diplomatic and military expedition by warships of the United States Navy. The goals of this expedition included exploration, surveying, and the establishment of diplomatic relations and negotiation of trade agreements with various nations of the region. Opening contact with the government of Japan was considered a top priority of the expedition, and was one of the key reasons for its inception. Afterward, large quantities of Persimmons were imported by the United States Department of Agriculture from 1870 through the 1920’s. Large numbers of trees were planted in California and the Southeast in the 1930’s, but these numbers have declined considerably. Unfortunately the early market Persimmons were the American or Hachiya which need to be eaten fully ripe or it was very astringent. The native American Persimmons are usually used soft and are grown in the Midwest or the colder regions of the East Coast. The Japanese(Oriental) varieties are all adapted to the milder climates of the United States. The Oriental types are what thrive in southern California.

Almost all of the Persimmon fruit currently sold in America is grown in California, where there are only about 700 acres in production with average yields of 5 tons per acre. The Hachiya Persimmon makes up about 90 percent of the orchards in California. While astringent until fully ripe, the fruit is large (200 g), oblong, conical, and deep orange-red. It is usually seedless but if pollinated, dark coloration appears around the seed. Pollinators are not needed for good production. It has a good spreading tree form, and good fruit set.

Oriental Persimmons can be divided into two classes—astringent and non astringent. Astringent varieties like that of Hachiya gain their astringency from soluble tannins that disappear as the fruit ripens and softens. They will pucker the mouth until completely soft. Non astringent Persimmons (Fuyu) can be eaten when still firm, without any astringency whatsoever. Persimmons have a wealth of health benefits packed inside them. Like most fruits, they are high in dietary fiber. They also reduce lipid uptake and assist in weight loss. They contain and acid which is a proven anti-tumor compound that plays a part in prevention and/or reduction of tumor development. Persimmons harbor lots of vitamins like A, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, cryptoxanthin which are anti-oxidants that can reduce premature aging conditions such as wrinkles, age spots, Alzheimer’s, fatigue, poor vision, and weak muscle tone. This mighty fruit contains potassium that could lower blood pressure. Persimmons also have copper that is essential in the formation of new red blood cells, increased circulation, cognitive function, metabolism, cellular growth, and wound repair. Please note: The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.

In the Orient the fruit is often left to freeze on the tree, which are then picked and eaten like popsicles all winter! Persimmons can be used fresh in salads, appetizers, or as a dessert or topping and chilled. They are excellent in ice cream, with yogurt, or in smoothies. Cooked or baked, they are delicious in cakes, breads, puddings, cookies, cobblers, pies, and pastries. Persimmons also make wonderful preserves and jams. Freezing is a popular method of preserving Persimmons. They can be peeled before freezing and frozen whole or pureed in plastic containers. In this manner, they will keep a year or more. Drying is the other principal method of storage, especially in the Orient. Persimmons may be dried when ripe and still firm. 

With all the good qualities and benefits of the Persimmon that could over shadow one negative figure. Many home gardeners and landscapers always wonder why Persimmons are more money as compared to other fruit trees. The reason being is because the propagation is expensive. Almost all Oriental Persimmons are propagated by grafting onto seedling rootstocks and the grafting (budding) doesn’t not take or is very slow and sometimes less than 60 % of the trees don’t survive. Reproduction by cuttings has been tried, but is not very successful. Rootstocks for Persimmons are grown from seed, and the seeds can be planted out after removal from the fruit. Typically the seed is stratified at 45 degrees for 60 or 90 days, and then germinated in the greenhouse, or planted out in the field. Germination is only 25 or 35%. In other words it is tough to grow Persimmons and failure is common.

With all that being said, once you have a Persimmon in your garden they are easy to grow, have clean looking foliage, big leaves, display wonderful fall color, and almost disease and insect free. They go dormant (loose all their leaves) in the winter. Most varieties seem to have little or no chilling requirement to produce uniform bud break. They bloom late enough, in April to miss spring frosts in most areas. The trees usually do not get very big, no more than 20 or 30 feet tall but sometimes taller with a rounded crown and large, lustrous, dark green leaves. If the ultimate height is too large for you, don’t fret, they can be pruned shorter if space is limited. The trees eventually develop a brown, rough bark with age. Persimmons can even be espaliered if you have a narrow space. In autumn, the leaves often turn a bright crimson giving you beautiful fall color.

Fuyu Persimmon exhibits an attractive spring foliage of light yellow- green coloration. All Persimmons have a clean, generally pest free appearance all summer long. Persimmons prefer to be planted in deep, fertile, well drained sandy loam but are adapted to a wide variety sites with subtropical and warm temperate climate conditions and can be grown in a wide variety of soil types. They prefer a long, warm growing season for fruit maturation. Astringency is reduced by increasing temperature and cool summers cause improper fruit maturation, including low sugar content and poor color.

When growing a Persimmon it is important to note that orchard fruit begin to produce in the third or fourth year, with full production reached in 10 years. They generally ripen from late August until early December, depending on climate and region. Persimmons are harvested by clipping, leaving the calyx and a short piece of the stem attached to the fruit. Do not pull the fruit off the tree. Fruit is picked when it has attained the proper color, but is still firm. If picked before fully colored, the fruit will often ripen poorly or

Persimmons will produce better than most other fruit trees on heavier clay soils,. High organic content is desirable, providing increased nutrients and moisture holding capacity to sandy soils and better soil structure. Heavy soil Irrigation is essential to the establishment of a successful tree and will be important to fruit set and development. During the growing season trees should be thoroughly irrigated at least once per week depending on conditions and when the plant needs it. It is best to probe the soil under the canopy first to check to see if the plant actually needs water. When watering older trees do so outside the drip line( canopy of the tree and not at the trunk. The key to watering is slow and deep (several feet ) with no shallow waterings. In dry summer climates, drip or mini sprinkler under the drip line of the tree will be important for full fruit maturation. Availability of moisture determines fruit quantity and size. Water newly planted dormant trees initially and do not water again until the leaves start to come out in the spring. Dormant Persimmons are always slow to leaf out as compared to other fruit trees thus giving them more water thinking they will leaf out sooner is not to the benefit of the tree.

 Persimmons do not need large amounts of fertilizer. Too much fertilization coupled with optimum soil moisture can produce excess growth, as can too much pruning, thus causing more fruit drop than in a slower growing tree. Young trees drop fruit more, especially under stress, than older trees. Cutting back on pruning and nitrogen can reduce this growth and thus fruit drop. Young planted trees should not be fertilized until April or May the first year, and thereafter, 1/2 of the required amount spread evenly under the trees drip line in January and the rest applied in June. Young trees should be headed back to 3 feet when planted and the trees should be trained to form a modified leader system with well spaced laterals. Stake the tree in areas of strong winds. To help combat immature fruit drop on a mature tree, first choice is often excess nitrogen/fertilizers.  Second is over watering. Most often the problem with Persimmons
planted in a lawn where both happen: too much nitrogen fertilizer and too much water.  A third option is not enough sun i.e. planted in too much shade. Persimmons love to be in all day sun.

I encourage you to stop by you favorite green thyme Nursery, we carry a good selection of Persimmons and other cool fruit trees for your garden and health conscious life style.

Do you like what you see? Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get content like this every week!