The botanical name for persimmons, Diospyros, means “fruit of the Gods.” If you haven’t had the privilege of tasting the American persimmon in particular, imagine that you can stand under a tree, and dessert will fall from its branches right into your hands. In this case, dessert is in the form of a bite-sized, succulent, honey-sweet burst of flavor that is healthy for you.
Does this sound too good to be true? We promise this is not gardening mythology. It’s fact. And you can grow this divine treat in your own backyard. Just be sure to wait until the fruit is ripe to sample it — unripe persimmons are incredibly bitter.
The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree has grown for thousands of years in the wild from as far north as Connecticut and south down into Florida. They grow naturally as far west as Nebraska. The tree is very adaptable and can be grown in the US Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 5 to 11. You will most likely find a cultivar appropriate for your region.
The appearance of the American persimmon tree is pleasing to the eye. It boasts bluish-green leaves in spring and summer, and fall leaf colors range from yellow to blazing red depending on variety and climate. Its branches and leaves droop giving an overall relaxed appearance to the tree. The ripe fruit provides a burst of golden color and adds to the languid look. It can grow to be a very tall, long living tree reaching up to fifty feet and higher. A young American persimmon tree will grow rapidly, but its growth will taper as the tree matures and begins to bear fruit.
How To Plant American Persimmon
American persimmon trees are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow and maintain. However, they are not as easy to come by as other fruit trees. You might have to search a few local nurseries to find a young, healthy seedling to transplant into your landscape. There are several online sources for the American persimmon tree if you are unable to find one locally.
Make sure you purchase a variety that will grow well in your region. A transplant from the wild is not recommended because the tree has a long tap root. If the tap root is disturbed, the tree will often not survive. The fruit from a cultivated variety is likely to be more appealing than that of a native tree, too.
Many varieties of American persimmon trees are not self pollinating, so planting a male and a female plant will be the only way to guarantee that your trees will fruit heavily. If you only have space for one tree, you can graft a male branch onto a female tree. Or, you can purchase a seedling that is self-pollinating.
American persimmon trees are not fussy about soil conditions. However, they do not like extremely wet or dry conditions. Maintain a slightly moist soil around your young tree. Fertilize your young tree once in early spring and once in midsummer with a regular lawn fertilizer. Prune your tree to maintain its shape as it matures. You should also prune branches that are crossing over other branches or branches that have broken or died.
Pests and Problems
American persimmon trees are resilient to most diseases. The most troublesome problem you will have with your persimmon tree will be your competition with the local wildlife over your fruit. The wildlife may be able to tolerate the tartness of the fruit before the fruit is ripe enough for you to enjoy, so be on guard.
Varieties to Try
- ‘Meade’ is the hardiest of all American persimmons, and it can withstand temperatures to -30° F. Its fruits are seedless. The fruit matures early making it a good choice for regions with short growing seasons. It is also self-pollinating.
- ‘Early Golden’ is a popular, easy-to-grow variety. It produces fruit early in the season and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.
- ‘Eureka’ is the type of persimmon you would most likely find in the grocery store. But this is a Japanese variety of persimmon, not an American one.
For more information on the American Persimmon, check out the following links:
Edible of the Month: Persimmon – National Gardening Association
Persimmons – Texas A&M Extension
CC flickr photo by Dendroica cerulea