Persimmons are late fall delight for gardener

By Brenda Heinold - Victoria County Master Gardener InternEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Nov. 23, 2017 at 10:30 p.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Small, easy-to-grow and adapted to most of Texas, persimmon trees grow in the wild, and various cultivars can also be planted. Some can remain shrublike at less than 10 feet tall; other mature trees can reach up to 40 feet high, like shown here. Trees grown in Texas should be grafted onto American persimmon rootstock in order to minimize the possibility of root rot. In the fall, when few fruit crops are ripe, the persimmon can produce fruit that is both attractive and delicious depending on astringency and ripeness.

Small, easy-to-grow and adapted to most of Texas, persimmon trees grow in the wild, and various cultivars can also be planted. Some can remain shrublike at less than 10 feet tall; other mature trees can reach up to 40 feet high, like shown here. Trees grown in Texas should be grafted onto American persimmon rootstock in order to minimize the possibility of root rot. In the fall, when few fruit crops are ripe, the persimmon can produce fruit that is both attractive and delicious depending on astringency and ripeness.   Photo contributed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for The Victoria Advocate

The Victoria homeowner who appreciates a beautiful landscape tree that can also provide delicious fruit should consider planting an Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki).

Prized for fruit, fall color

Oriental persimmons are closely related to Texas persimmons (Diospyros texana) that dot the pastures in Victoria and surrounding counties and to American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) that grow wild in the South and in Texas east of the Colorado River. But unlike their Texas and American cousins, Oriental persimmons are prized for their delicious fruit that is high in nutrients and fiber.

Oriental persimmons can be grown as small trees or shrubs and provide a striking focal point in the fall landscape.

In the fall, their leaves change from green to yellow and red while the fruit turns a deep orange. The vibrant orange globes can cling to the bare branches long after winter winds have defoliated the trees.

Persimmons in the landscape

Planting

They can be planted as bare-root trees in winter and as container-grown trees later in the season. Trees grown in Texas should be grafted onto American persimmon rootstock in order to minimize the possibility of root rot.

Plant the tree in a well-drained site, no deeper than it was growing in the container or in the ground and spaced 15 to 20 feet apart. Dig a hole two or three times as wide as the root system and provide supplemental watering at planting and throughout the growing season. The tree will benefit from mulch to ensure the moisture remains constant. Drought can cause fruit drop.

Pruning

Persimmon trees should be pruned in the winter by removing branches to open the center of the tree, aiming for a pyramid shape of three to five branches per foot. The branches should meet the center leader at wide angles to prevent dead areas in the wood.

Secondary branches should be pruned fairly close to the main branch to prevent excessive drooping of the producing branches as the fruit matures. Fruit is produced from the current year's growth.

Feeding

Persimmons can grow in almost any soil type and require little fertilizer. Although nitrogen can be applied in early spring, cut back on fertilizer if growth exceeds 3 feet per year.

To prevent premature fruit drop, provide consistent moisture through the use of mulch and supplemental watering.

Oriental persimmons are easy to grow and bothered by few pests and diseases.

Varieties

Persimmons are divided into two types: astringent and nonastringent.

Astringent

The astringent varieties cause puckering of the mouth if they are eaten before they are ripe, but once ripe, they become very soft and sweet. Indeed, it is often said that if you don't think you like persimmons, you probably have never eaten a ripe one. A ripe persimmon will resemble a water balloon and will yield to pressure when squeezed.

To remove the astringency, ripen the fruit on the counter at room temperature, freeze them or dehydrate them. To hasten ripening, place the fruit in a paper bag along with an apple or banana. Of course, the fruit could be left on the tree to ripen, but this is a risky practice. Birds and animals like possums and raccoons like the fruit so much that they can make off with your entire crop.

Nonastringent

Nonastringent persimmons can be eaten before they are soft. In fact, they can be eaten right off the tree when they develop a deep orange color. Like their astringent cousins, nonastringent types can be left on the tree and often are.

Cultivars

There are more than 2,000 cultivars of Oriental persimmons. Because they are so adaptable to Texas, specific cultivars are not recommended by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. If you can locate the tree in Texas, it will probably grow well here.

See the list of astringent and nonastringent cultivars for the local area in the information published with this article.

Enjoy your harvest

Ripe persimmons can be eaten raw by cutting off the top and scooping out the soft pulp with a spoon. Nonastringent types can be cut into wedges, peeled if preferred, and eaten like apple wedges. Persimmon pulp can be frozen and eaten as a sorbet. The pulp is often used to make cookies, cakes, breads and other desserts, even cheesecake.

For a real treat, cut the persimmon into rings (peeled or unpeeled) and dehydrate the slices. The result is a delicious candy-like snack that is high in fiber, vitamins A and C and other nutrients.

Try some of these suggestions for persimmon fruit this holiday season.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com.


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