By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Growing persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) is a great way to enjoy something different in the garden. Early explorers to American valued this tree, as did Native Americans who used the fruit, which hung on the tree into winter, for food during the cold months. The tree is very attractive and valued for both its wood and its fruit.
Bark forms in thick square blocks that resemble alligator skin. The wood is strong and resistant, used to make golf club heads, flooring, veneers and billiard cues. The fruit is sweet when left to ripen, and is similar in taste to an apricot. Growing persimmons is a fun and rewarding project for the home gardener. Learn more about persimmon tree growing conditions so you can grow these amazing fruits yourself.
Where Does Permission Grow?
The American persimmon, also known as the common persimmon, is native from Florida to Connecticut, west to Iowa and south to Texas. Persimmon trees can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. The American persimmon can tolerate temperatures down to -25 F. (32 C.) while the Asian persimmon can tolerate winter temperatures down to zero (17.7 C.). The Asian persimmon is grown commercially in the United States and can be found in nurseries that specialize in less common nuts and fruits.
How to Grow Persimmon Trees
You can grow persimmons from seeds, cuttings, suckers or grafts. Young seedlings that are one to two years in age can be transplanted to an orchard. The best quality, however, comes from grafted or budded trees.
An important factor for those wanting to know how to grow persimmon trees includes the type and number of trees to plant. The American persimmon tree requires both male and female for fruit while the Asian variety is self-fruiting. If you have a smaller garden space, consider the Asian persimmon.
The right persimmon growing conditions are not hard to find. These trees are not particularly picky about soil but do best with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
If you are interested in growing persimmons, choose a sunny spot that drains well.
Because persimmons have very deep taproots, be sure to dig a deep hole. Mix 8 inches (20 cm.) of soil and loam in the bottom of the planting hole, then fill the hole with loam and native soil.
Persimmon Tree Care
There isn’t much to persimmon tree care other than watering. Water young trees well until established. Thereafter, keep them watered whenever there is no significant rainfall, such as periods of drought.
Don’t fertilize the tree unless it doesn’t appear to be thriving.
Although you can prune the tree to a central leader when young, very little pruning is required with older growing persimmons as long as they are bearing fruit.
Now that you know how to grow persimmon trees in the home garden, why not give these interesting fruits a try?
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Read more about Persimmon Trees
The Growth Rate of Persimmon
Persimmon trees (Diospyros spp.) grow at a moderate rate, but you have to wait up to 10 years before they fully produce. Their springtime flowers aren’t showy, but their leaves add color to your autumn landscape. Persimmon trees are typically free from pests and diseases, and their ripe fruit lures wildlife to your yard. As for frost tolerance, mature, fully-dormant trees can tolerate 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Planting Persimmon Trees
Successfully establishing a young fruit tree in your yard starts with your planting site and method. Once a fruit tree is established, it needs little assistance to grow and bear fruit but you’ll want to make sure you give your trees the right foundation.
NOTE: This is part 3 in a series of 9 articles. For a complete background on how to grow persimmon trees , we recommend starting from the beginning.
Fruit trees require fertile soil for good growth, so before you plant, check your soil pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. If the soil pH where you plant your tree is 6.0-7.0, you’re in good shape. Persimmons prefer well-drained and slightly acidic soil.
Location and Spacing
Ideal location should receive full sun, although partial shade may be tolerated. Spacing varies, depending on the variety.
American: 30-50 feet apart
Asian: 15-20 feet apart
Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro: 8-10 feet apart
Persimmons have a strong taproot. Don’t be alarmed at the color of the roots. They naturally appear black and should not be considered diseased or dead.
- Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the root system.
- Bare root should be planted same depth as in the nursery row (or no more than 1-inch below).
- For potted trees, dig the hole 4 times the width of the roots and ½ times the depth.
- Potted should be planted at same depth as grown in pot.
- Position tree in planting hole and fill with original soil.
- Water the tree deeply allowing the water to soak down to the roots.
- DO NOT fertilize at planting time.
- Mulch the entire planting area, pulling the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to keep moisture from accumulating next to the bark.
- No pruning is necessary at planting time.
Potting Your Persimmon Tree
Persimmon trees may also be grown in containers and stored in an unheated basement or garage for the winter if they are not cold-hardy to your zone. If grown in pots, these trees should be repotted every second or third year with fresh soil.
- Potted trees should be planted at the same depth they are in the shipping pot.
- Choose a potting mix/medium rather than top soil to avoid any contaminants and avoid compacting around the roots within the container in the future.
- When planting in a container, the pot you choose needs to be large enough to accommodate the tree’s current root system with room to grow. Be sure the container you use has adequate drainage holes.
- In cool climates, keep protected until outdoor temperatures warm and the chance of frost is gone. Move the plant into a protected, sunny location, preferably with a southern exposure.
- Water as needed, when the potting mix in the container is dry to the touch an inch or so below the surface. Avoid overwatering and watering too frequently, as this creates an environment for root rot and other root-related issues.
- As your tree grows, you will be able to increase the pot size to allow for more room to grow. Restricting the roots in a smaller container may limit growth and fruit production.
- Pot-up your tree to a container that is still manageable for you, especially if you need to move the tree indoors for winter protection. You can expect to grow persimmon trees in 7-gallon, 10-gallon, 20-gallon containers and larger as needed.
Where To Plant
Climatic Limitations – Persimmons have proved to be highly adaptable to a wide range of climate conditions, ranging from subtropical coastal regions to warm inland temperate areas, but it may not fruit in tropical lowlands due to lack of winter chill. The plant is considered suitable for all zones favourable to Citrus, but those zones with the coldest winters induce the highest yields. It is suited to semi-arid and high humidity atmosphere and can be grown at altitude 0- 2500 m. The plants are not very tolerant of the wind.
Soil – Persimmons have a reputation for being very easy to grow, tolerating many conditions. They do well in a wide range of soil types, but favour deep, well-drained loam soils with a good supply of organic matter. Heavy clay loam soils that are prone to water-logging should be avoided. Optimum tree growth is in the range of pH 6.0–7.5.
Location – The main thing to consider when choosing a spot for your tree is that it should receive a good amount of light, ideally 6-8 hours per day during the summer. Care should be taken to protect from strong winds. You should also consider the fact that you will need space to climb the tree to harvest the fruits. Different cultivars grow to different heights, so consider the height and spread of the Persimmon you want to grow, and make sure there is enough room for the tree to reach maturity.
Pollination/Fertilisation – Most Persimmon cultivars are female trees that can produce seedless fruits in the absence of male plants but as mentioned above it’s best to grow a few cultivars to encourage better yields. It is worth noting that sometimes inconsistencies occur and occasionally male flowers may arise on female trees, or perfect flowers may transpire containing male and female parts that self-pollinate. Generally speaking, two weeks after the leaves emerge from buds, flowers should appear. Bees are the main pollinators for Persimmon trees, and some native bees will successfully transport pollen between trees a hundred meters away.As a side note and testament to the resilience of these plants, following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, where all else was destroyed a D.kaki tree miraculously survived, albeit scorched and weak. Fifty years after the bombing, Mr. Masayuki Ebinuma, an arborist who lived in the area, treated the damaged tree, and it started to bear fruit. Mr. Ebinuma saved seeds from the fruits and carefully grew them and has started to hand them out as a symbol of peace. You can find more info on this wonderful project here. I’ve just applied for some seeds :)
Astringent Cultivars - Early Season
Giombo is similar to Siajo in fruit quality, although the fruit are much larger. The fruit are light translucent orange and thin peeled with a sweet, juicy, jelly type flesh. Giombo fruit are a connoisseur’s choice. The tree is early to start growing in the spring and is sometimes injured by freezing temperatures.
Siajo is considered one of the sweetest persimmons although traces of astringency sometimes remain when the fruit is soft. Fruit are relatively small with a long conic shape and a translucent jelly type flesh. The tree is large and upright and can produce heavy crops. It is a good homeowner cultivar.
As is the case with most types of fruit trees, you have a variety of options for propagating persimmons, from starting seeds to digging up and transplanting suckers.
Whichever method you choose, it’s generally a smart idea to test your soil before planting, to make sure it doesn’t have any serious deficiencies of nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorus (NPK).
Work in some well-rotted compost if your soil is particularly compacted or nutrient-poor. You can also add some sand to loosen up clay earth.
Remember that you must plant a male and a female tree of different varieties together for pollination, unless you select a self-pollinating cultivar. American persimmons won’t cross-pollinate with Asian ones.
If you have a type that requires another tree for pollination, it helps to plant flowers that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies around your tree.
You won’t know whether you have a male or female until they produce flowers.
As with most deciduous fruit trees, common persimmons won’t grow true to type from seed. Seeds also have a low germination rate, and it won’t be possible to tell the males from the females for quite some time. However, if you have quite a bit of time on your hands and you’re looking for an affordable project to try at home, this may be the way to go.
Keep in mind that when you start from seed, your plants may not produce a good-sized harvest for up to a decade – and in some cases, not at all.
However, persimmons that are sown directly wherever you intend to grow them are better able to adapt to the site, even if that site happens to have poor drainage or if it is overly rocky.
You can also start seeds indoors in containers if you prefer. Plan on getting your seeds into their containers about ten weeks before the last frost in your area in the spring.
While they aren’t common, you can purchase seeds from specialty retailers.
You must cold stratify seeds before planting them. That means wrapping them in a moist paper towel and putting that in a zip-top bag. Place the seeds in the refrigerator for three months, frequently checking to make sure the towel is moist.
After three months have passed, plant the seeds an inch deep in a seed-starting medium in a four-inch container, or put them in the soil where you intend to grow them.
Make sure to put the seed in the soil with the “eye” facing up. That’s the rounded end that has a slight opening.
You should consider using biodegradable peat pots that can be planted directly in the ground to reduce the amount of trauma to the roots that’s caused during transplanting.
Keep the soil moist but not wet as they grow. Think of a well-wrung-out sponge and you have a good idea of the level of moisture you’re aiming for.
As mentioned, the seeds have a low germination rate and they can take up to two months to germinate. Consider planting far more than you need, to ensure that you have a few healthy seedlings and at least one female and one male plant.
Place potted seedlings in an area where they receive bright, indirect light for eight hours a day.
Once they’ve grown a few leaves and are at least six inches tall, you can plant them in the garden in the spring, after all risk of frost has passed. Plant container-grown seedlings as you would transplants (covered below) after a period of hardening off.
Hardening off is a process of gradually introducing the plant to outdoor conditions. Typically, this means taking the seedling outside for an hour and putting it in indirect sunlight.
The next day, add an hour, and another hour the next day, until the plant can stay outside in indirect sunlight for eight hours. Then, it’s ready to go in the ground.
You can purchase a package of four seeds from Amazon.
I love taking cuttings from fruit trees because it’s such an easy way to duplicate a plant you love.
In the spring, after the plant has emerged from dormancy and leafed out, select a branch that’s about as thick as a pencil and take a cutting that’s about 10 inches long. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.
Be sure to take cuttings from both a male and female tree if you don’t have access to a self-pollinating cultivar.
Slice the cut end at an angle of about 45 to 60 degrees and dip it in powdered rooting hormone or a cloning gel.
I prefer to use Olivia’s Cloning Gel, and you can pick some up at Arbico Organics.
Prepare the soil outdoors by working in some well-rotted compost, or fill a six-inch pot with potting soil. Stick a pencil or chopstick into the soil to create a hole, and insert the cutting about halfway. Gently press the soil around the cutting to firm it in place.
Water well, and keep the soil moist but not soggy as the cutting begins to take root, which will happen in about four weeks. At that point, you should see some new leaves forming.
Give the twig a gentle tug to see if it resists. If it does, that means roots have formed. Treat rooted cuttings like other transplants at this point, and put the plants in the ground about a month before the first frost arrives in your area if you’ve grown them in containers.
Asian persimmon trees don’t send up suckers, but American ones do. Suckers are the little upshoots that come out of the soil a few feet away from the plant. They’re attached to the roots underground, and you can use them to propagate new trees.
They have the same genetic makeup as the parent tree, which means you’ll need to collect suckers from a male and female tree if you don’t have a self-pollinating cultivar.
The best time of year to harvest them is in the spring when plants are sending up new growth, but before it gets too hot.
Locate a sucker with at least three leaves and gently dig around it. You don’t want to get too close to the roots to avoid damaging them, so leave a four-inch margin around the sucker as you dig. Gently remove soil until you encounter the main root, then snip away the sucker from the main root with pruners.
Trim away the horizontal root, leaving the vertical, fibrous roots in place.
If the sucker has more than three leaves, trim away the excess leaves to encourage new roots to grow rather than foliage.
Plant the sucker in prepared soil outdoors or in a container with potting soil. Keep the soil moist for the first few months.
If you planted in a container, transplant in the fall, following the instructions for transplanting.
From Bare Roots
Bare root plants should go in the ground in the early spring. You don’t want to plant them too late, after the bare root emerges from dormancy and starts developing new growth as they will become stressed and may not survive transplanting.
Before you put them in the ground, clip away any dead roots or branches.
It can be hard to tell if the roots are alive or dead, since they’re often black or dark brown, so give them a little bend. If they feel soft and bounce back, they’re alive. If they snap, snip the root off.
You should also prune back the length of the stems by about half to encourage bushier growth and to ensure that the roots are not overly burdened by too much top growth while they’re first getting established.
Plant as you would a transplant.
From Seedlings and Transplanting
I believe American persimmon transplants are getting easier to find, and there are more varieties than ever thanks to the breeders who are working to create improved cultivars. If you want to get your hands on some homegrown fruit quickly, purchasing a sapling is the way to go.
The best time to plant nursery grown seedlings and saplings is either in the spring, after the risk of frost has passed, or in the fall, a few weeks before the projected first frost in your area.
If you have a cultivar that isn’t self-pollinating, purchasing transplants is an easy way to ensure you’re getting both a male and a female tree. Make sure to put them no further than 50 feet apart to facilitate pollination, and no less than 20 feet apart from each other and from any nearby structures to allow for adequate airflow and room to grow.
Remember that because these trees have long, deep taproots, you won’t be able to transplant them later if they get too big or start to encroach on a fence, building, or other plants.
Once you’ve acquired your plant, prepare the soil and dig a hole slightly wider and at least twice as deep as the container it’s growing in. Gently remove the transplant from its container. I find it’s easiest to carefully press the sides of the plastic container or roll it gently along the ground to loosen the soil ball.
Fill in the hole with soil so that the plant will sit at the same level it was while growing in the container. The reason we dig deeper than we need is so that those deep roots will be encouraged to grow down into the soil, and so the earth is loose and easy to expand down into.
Place the plant in the hole and gently fill in around the rootball with additional soil. Water well.
Persimmons develop deep taproots, which makes them difficult to transplant as they mature. Make sure to get your transplants in the ground as quickly as possible after purchase, and choose a location where they can grow permanently, for the duration of their lives.
I say this as someone who has been guilty of buying a plant or two and then leaving them in their containers for months before I get around to planting. You can get away with that kind of bad behavior with a hosta, as I’ve discovered, but you might be sorry when your persimmon fails to thrive.
It’s a good idea to use a stake kit at planting to prevent your sapling from leaning or being buffeted by high winds.
Nature Hills Nursery carries the Dewitt Tree Support Stake Kit, which includes everything you need.