Perspectives on Persimmons
By SCMG Bryce Sumner
Persimmons are beautifully suited to Sonoma County gardens. Unlike most fruit trees, they need little winter chill. They blossom later than most, avoiding frost danger. The fruit ripens in November when most other fruits have come and gone. And, for the smaller garden they have the added advantage of not needing cross-pollination. A single tree will produce fruit. Trees are highly ornamental. In addition to the vivid orange fruit, the leaves turn eye-catching colors of red, orange and/or yellow before the fall leaf drop.
The ‘Hachiya’ and the ‘Fuyu’ are two cultivars of the Japanese or Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) that do well in our county. The ‘Hachiya,’ shaped a bit like an acorn, is highly astringent (containing tannin) and must be ripened until soft before eaten. The birds love these ‘softies,’ so pick them when they are full of color but still firm and let them finish ripening in your kitchen at room temperature. The ‘Fuyu’ produces a flat roundish shaped fruit that is non-astringent and needs no softening. Let this cultivar come to full color (fully orange or orange-red) on the tree.
Persimmons are relatively disease and pest free. While they are more tolerant of clay than many fruit trees, I learned the hard way that soil preparation makes a big difference. Your tree will be happier and produce more fruit if, at planting time, you amend the clay with compost to create a rich loamy texture. Good drainage is a must. Choose a spot out of the wind, in full sun and with enough space. A ‘Fuyu’ needs 14 to 16 feet and the ‘Hachiya’ a bit more – 20 feet of garden room. The Diospyros kaki has a strong tap root and will appreciate a hole cultivated deeper than usual. At this time, also reduce a new bare root tree’s height to 3 feet. December and January are the perfect months to plant. Bare Root Fruit Trees provides more planting information.
Prune a young persimmon to encourage an open vase growth habit – a pattern of strong main branches. All the fruit it bears will need this support. As the tree grows, prune out dead or crossing branches and any suckers below the graft line. A persimmon will grow naturally as a single or multi-stemmed deciduous tree, but you can also hard prune and turn it into an attractive hedge or espalier--excellent design possibilities for a small garden.
Persimmons are considered drought- resistant but I have found regular water beginning in late spring and throughout the summer increases fruit production. They need 36 to 48 inches of water per year. So, irrigation amounts will depend on our local rainfall. Some say to start gradually in spring and taper off in fall.
Inconsistent watering causes fruit to drop. When using drip, take care to move emitters away from trunks as they grow.
Fertilizing can be kept to a minimum. In late winter or early spring, feed your persimmon by spreading a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer evenly under the canopy. Too much nitrogen will cause fruit to drop. Healthy mature leaves will be a deep, glossy green.
This winter I plan to add a dwarf variety in my Petaluma garden.