The persimmon belongs to the same family of plants as the ebony tree of southern Asia. The American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, grows as a native from Connecticut to Kansas and southward, but it won't take the extreme cold of the northern plains or northern New England. It has small, edible fruit up to 2'A inches in diameter.
The large persimmon found in the market is the Oriental persimmon, Diospyros kaki, and its many varieties. It could be far more popular than it is if more gardeners realized the great value of both tree and fruit. The tree grows well in any well-drained soil and makes a line medium-sized shade tree with large leaves that turn a rich gold to orange-red in the fall. A heavy crop of orange fruit decorates the bare branches until winter. It can be grown in the southern states and on the West Coast.
Persimmon foliage is large and glossy, with leaves reaching 4 to 6 inches in length. The new spring leaves are bronze or reddish, and in fall they turn to shades of yellow, pink, and red. The fruit hangs on into the first frosts and is orange with a red blush.
Store persimmons in the refrigerator and use only after they soften. Placing them in a bag with an apple will hasten the ripening process. Eat them when they soften, or use the flesh as you would applesauce or bananas. If you want to store it, mash the soft pulp out of the skin for freezing, and discard the tough skin. 'Fuyu' is the one persimmon that is not astringent when firm. You do not need to ripen and soften it before eating.
Use a persimmon tree as an attractive background plant in a shrub border, or in front of evergreens (where it shows off its leaves and fruit best). Since the persimmon grows slowly, it takes well to espalier training. Train it informally against a flat surface, or use a trellis to form a persimmon hedge. It will also grow well as a single lawn tree, but you'll have a problem in late fall when the soft fruit drops and squashes.
American persimmons are normally dioecious, meaning that some trees are male, producing pollen but no fruit, while others are female. You will need a female tree for fruit and a male close by for pollen. Plant both unless you have wild trees near your garden. Some improved varieties bear fruit without requiring a separate pollinator, but these are not yet generally-available.
Oriental persimmons set fruit without pollination. The large fruit, 3 to 4 inches in diameter, are usually picked in October before the first frost. Oriental persimmons stand winter temperatures to about 0° F, but they need only a short chill period (100-200 hours below 45° F) to fruit well in southern locations.
In the West the persimmon has no serious pests. In the East a flat-headed borer may attack the trunk, but it can be removed by hand.
Good varieties include 'Early Golden', 'Garretson', 'Hicks', 'John Rick', 'Juhl', and 'Meader', which sets seedless fruit and needs no pollinator. Oriental Persimmons Good varieties include 'Chocolate', 'Fuyu', 'Hachiya', and 'Tane-nashi'. 'Hachiya' is the popular large fruit sold commercially. 'Chocolate' has dark flesh around its seeds and is a type of persimmon rather than a variety.
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