A few years ago my husband and I decided to plant a persimmon tree. We didn't know much about persimmons then, but we really enjoyed eating the ‘Fuyu' persimmons in the fall, particularly in salads. I have since come to appreciate persimmon trees even more after doing some research.
The Oriental or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) has been grown in China and Japan for centuries. It was introduced to California in the mid-1800s. Virtually all persimmon fruit sold in the United States is grown in California, with the majority from the central San Joaquin Valley.
The persimmon tree is a wonderful ornamental to grow in your home garden, both for its beauty and its freedom from most pests and diseases. It produces delicious fruit, which matures in October and November, long after most fruit trees have already yielded their crops.
Persimmon trees can grow in a wide range of soils, but they do best in well-drained loam. They tolerate clay soils better than most other fruit trees. Persimmon trees are sensitive to boron and salts in the soil. They are drought tolerant but will produce larger fruit and a greater yield with regular irrigation. They take minimal fertilizer and do not have the winter chill requirement that many deciduous fruit trees do.
Two varieties account for most of the persimmons grown in home orchards: the ‘Fuyu' and the ‘Hachiya'. Both produce larger fruit than many other varieties, such as the ‘Hayakuma', ‘Izu' and Diospyros virginiana. The ‘Hayakuma' has medium-sized orange fruit and chocolate- or cinnamon- colored flesh if pollinated. ‘Izu' produces round, medium-sized fruit. Diospyros virginiana, which is native to the U. S., yields small, flavorful fruit. It tolerates both drought and excess moisture, but it suckers badly.
Neither the ‘Hachiya' nor the ‘Fuyu' needs cross pollination, which means that the tree will produce fruit without another persimmon tree nearby. In fact, cross pollination can be a problem if the ‘Hachiya' and ‘Fuyu' are planted within one-half mile of each other. If a ‘Fuyu' is close to another variety producing male flowers, some of the ‘Fuyu' fruit will be seedy. If a ‘Hachiya' is pollinated from another variety, black areas will appear in the flesh and the fruit will have seeds.
The ‘Hachiya' tree gets large and requires an area of 20 feet when mature. ‘Fuyu' trees are smaller and require less space, between 14 to 16 feet. Blossoms and fruit are produced on the current season's shoots that originate from buds near the tips of one-year-old branches.
Persimmon fruit is classified as either astringent on non-astringent. Fruit from astringent varieties must be allowed to soften before eating, while non-astringent varieties are eaten when crisp. ‘Hachiya' is in the astringent category, while ‘Fuyu' is non-astringent.
When harvesting persimmons, allow the fruit to remain on the tree until it develops good color. Use pruning shears to cut the stem, leaving a short stem and the green calyx attached to the fruit. If the fruit is snapped off rather than clipped, the fruit may bruise.
Astringent types such as ‘Hachiya' can be left on the tree until they become soft-ripe, or you can harvest them when they have reached full color but are still firm. In that case, let them soften at room temperature before eating. Harvest non-astringent types such as ‘Fuyu' when they develop their full orange color. The ‘Hachiya' fruit is somewhat acorn-shaped while the ‘Fuyu' has a squat shape, like a flattened ball.
Persimmons can be refrigerated for a month or more. Pull them out of the refrigerator as you need them and allowed them to finish ripening at room temperature.
I often freeze ‘Hachiya' fruit for use at Christmas time in puddings and cakes. In the future, I plan to dry some ‘Fuyus.' The fruit is very sweet when dried.
If you share my enthusiasm for persimmons and would like to plant one, you can find them in local nurseries as bare-root plants in December and January. Their roots are fragile, so plant with care.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners present a workshop on “Edible Landscape Design” on Saturday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to noon. Location is American Canyon Library, 300 Crawford Way in American Canyon. Design your garden to be both beautiful and edible. Learn what to consider and how to integrate edible plants into your ornamental garden. Bring a detailed plan of your garden to work on with guidance from U.C. Master Gardeners. Learn about books to help you with your design from Napa County Library as part of the Eat, Move, Read program. Seating is limited. Register online at http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa or call 707-253-4147.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? We can be found on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.