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Plant a persimmon tree for bright color and delicious fruit

  • Julie McMillan
  • In the fall, bright orange ornaments decorate special tree branches throughout our county. What are these stunning treasures? Persimmons! You may want to consider planting a persimmon tree in your own garden. It will provide shade and produce abundant, beautiful fruit for many years to come. Plus, persimmons are easy to grow, require little maintenance and are relatively free of diseases and pests.

    Native to central China, persimmons were considered by some as the “fruit of the gods.” Now Japan’s national fruit, they first arrived in California in the mid 1800s, making them one of our first commercially grown fruits.  Today the San Joaquin Valley is the major production area, along with San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties. In 2012, California produced almost 17,000 tons of persimmon fruit with over $20 million in market value.

    Persimmons do well in areas like Marin with moderate winters and relatively mild summers. Their leaves turn dramatic colors in the autumn, and they are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves. 

    Two popular Japanese or Oriental persimmons (Diospyros kaki) to consider planting here are ‘Hachiya’ and ‘Fuyu’. ‘Hachiya’ fruit are large, shiny and shaped like an acorn or heart. They are astringent--they must be fully ripened until very soft and almost like jelly before eating. Birds love ‘Hachiya’,  so pick them when they are full of color, but still firm, and let them finish ripening in your kitchen at room temperature. ‘Fuyu’ are smaller, roundish and yellow-orange. They are non-astringent, so can be eaten right off the tree even when firm like an apple.  ‘Fuyu’ can also be picked when fully colored and allowed to soften slightly off the tree. 

    Persimmon trees begin to bear fruit after 3-5 years and live for about 60 years. Both varieties can grow to about 25 feet high, however a ‘Hachiya’ tree needs about 20 feet of width and a ‘Fuyu’ needs 14-16 feet. 

    December and January are the perfect months to plant bare root persimmon trees. Find a place in your garden with adequate space, full sun and some air movement. Persimmons are tolerant of many soil types but require good drainage. When planting, amend your clay soil with compost to create a rich loamy texture to produce more fruit. While considered drought tolerant, fruit will be larger and better quality with regular watering, especially in the early years. Extreme drought will cause the leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Fertilizing can be kept to a minimum. In late winter or early spring, feed your tree by spreading a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer evenly under its canopy. 

    Prune your persimmon tree when it’s young to create a strong framework of main branches. To improve its structure, remove some new growth and cut some branches back to a bud or side branch each spring. Persimmons can also be pruned as a hedge, screen, or to control size. They can even make a nice espalier, trained to grow flat against a wall or fence.

    Persimmons are generally disease and pest free. Their primary insect pests are mealybug and scale, which produce honeydew that attracts ants. Ants may also be attracted up into trees by floral nectar, or ripening or rotten sweet fruit. Ants can be controlled by banding tree trunks with sticky substances (such as Tanglefoot). Vertebrate pests include squirrels, deer, rats, birds and gophers.

    Persimmons add luscious complexity and moisture in cookies, breads and puddings. Or they can be dried for a delicious snack. They are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C and potassium, are high in fiber and antioxidants, have no fat and only about 120 calories each. Persimmon trees make a colorful and productive addition to any garden.