Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are eye-popping small ornamental trees. They have wonderful yellow and orange fall color and produce copious quantities of large orange fruit that hang on the tree until winter. Though not common here, they have been cultivated in Texas for over a hundred years and in Asia for thousands of years. They can be eaten fresh, dried or made into breads, cakes and puddings. Luckily, they are very easy to grow, require little pruning and can be produced completely organically with almost no insect or disease problems. Though many astringent types will pucker your mouth before they are completely soft and ripe, the non-astringent types can be eaten when they are crisp and firm, like an apple. Those are my favorites.
Asian persimmons are available as both bare root and containerized plants. When planting bare root persimmons, it is absolutely a must that you plant them when they are dormant (leafless) during the winter. Containerized plants can be planted year-round, as long as moisture is available, with fall being the best time, winter second best, spring third best and summer the worst. They should be spaced 10 to 20 feet apart.
Asian persimmons require full sun of at least eight hours a day to produce well. They can be grown in most any soils, but prefer those that are well drained. Asian persimmons can grow in acid or moderately alkaline soils.
Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree’s root ball and as deep as the roots or pot it was in. Water the root ball in the hole and then back fill the hole with the native soil. Make sure not to plant the tree too deep or it will die. Create a circular berm around the tree that acts as a catch basin and water the tree thoroughly. Then water once a week during June, July and August the first summer. A 3-inch layer of organic mulch or pine straw around the tree will help conserve water and prevent weeds.
Although they will ripen off the tree, persimmons should be left on the tree until they are full sized, soft and fully colored, generally around the first frost. If they are not ripe, they will be very astringent and pucker your mouth. Fuyu can be harvested when it is firm and crisp, as it is a non-astringent variety. Persimmons generally stay edible and hang on the tree until midwinter.
They are self fruitful. However, fruit set and retention is often better when cross pollinated by another variety. Seedless fruit can only occur without cross pollination or by only having a single variety. Recommended varieties for Texas include Eureka, Fuyu (seedless, non-astringent), Hachiya (seedless), Tamopan and Tane-nashi (seedless). Fuyu is my favorite and can be eaten when it’s still firm. My Uncle Noel loves them all.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (tex asgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science- and research-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-hor ticulture.tamu.edu.