The persimmon tree is in the genus Diospyros, which means ‘divine fruit’ in Greek: a perfect description for this heavenly produce! Native to China, India, the Philippines, Mexico, and the United States, persimmon trees produce fruits that are usually a yellow or orange-red color, but some types can produce black or bluish fruits. They’re an easy to grow tree, reaching heights between 15 and 60 feet when mature. Most persimmons suffer from few pest or disease problems, which might be the result of their limited commercial cultivation. Have you ever bitten into a persimmon and immediately found your mouth puckering? This is due to the astringency in the fruit that arises from varying tannin levels before and after ripening. Astringent, or puckered, types of persimmons are heart-shaped and must be fully ripe and jelly soft before eating. Non-astringent, or non-puckered, types are tomato-shaped and lose their tannins earlier, which allows them to be eaten while still firm. Make sure you know which type you’re growing to avoid a tingling surprise!
Hachiya is the most popular of the astringent persimmons. Once completely ripe and soft, when the inner flesh becomes jelly-like, the taste is supremely sweet. Fruits are elongated in shape with a thin skin. They’ll ripen after picking or on the tree. Hachiya is sometimes grafted onto other rootstocks. It’s considered the best type for cooking and a good choice for milder climates since it requires only 100–200 chill hours.
Seed: In order to grow persimmons from scratch, seeds must be stratified and soaked (if they haven’t already started sprouting!) in water at room temperature for a day before planting. Note that it may take an average of 4–8 years for a tree grown from seed to produce fruit, and you aren’t guaranteed to get the same type of fruit as the parent tree.
Seed Depth: 1/2–1″
Space Between Plants: 10–16′
Space Between Rows: 15–20′
Germination Soil Temperature: 40–55°F
Days for Germination: 10–40
Sow Indoors: Seedlings can be started in pots at anytime from late spring to fall for planting out the following spring.
Sow Outdoors: After average last frost date in early spring. You can also start seeds in fall, particularly in climates with mild winters.
Vegetative: Trees are commonly grafted onto a different rootstock. Persimmons propagated in this manner should begin to produce fruit within 2–3 years of planting. Can also be propagated by taking stem cuttings.
Grows best in moderate climates, between subtropical and temperate conditions. Some varieties are better adapted to warmer or cooler conditions. This Asian type prefers Zones 7–11. They will go dormant in the winter, dropping their leaves. In this dormant phase, trees will tolerate temperatures as low as 5°F. Once trees have begun to produce new growth in the spring, they can be damaged by frost, but blooming usually occurs late enough to keep this from being a problem. Fruits grown under warmer summer conditions will generally have better coloration, taste sweeter, and be less astringent.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows best under HID lamps due to their need for a lot of light. Provide 8–12 hours of light per day.
Soil: Wild trees are not picky about soil type. Grafted and transplanted trees will do best in well-drained soil. Prefers a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 to keep trees healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Grow in a mix of coco coir, vermiculite, and perlite.
Hydroponics: Not much is known about growing persimmons hydroponically. If you want to give it a try, be sure to let us know how it goes!
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root well in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires low to moderate levels of water. Fruit yield and quality will be best with consistent watering, but trees are quite drought tolerant. Water deeply at least once per week for best results.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. Will benefit from occasional feedings, but trees will tolerate poor soils, albeit with a possible reduction in fruit yield. An excessive amount of nitrogen can cause fruit to drop.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar applications of zinc, borax, and iron.
Pruning: Because trees can easily grow to heights of 25–60′, pruning can allow easier harvests. Remove dead limbs, maintain a compact shape, and allow for adequate light and air penetration within the tree. Fruit is borne on new shoots from last year’s growth, which yearly pruning will promote.
Mulching: Use mulch to keep soil moist and suppress weeds. Keep mulch a few inches away from the tree’s trunk.
Pest(s): Rarely bothered by pests, but watch for:
Disease(s): This type is resistant to oak root fungus. Not often susceptible to diseases, but watch for:
Deficiency(s): A magnesium deficiency will cause leaves to turn yellow between the veins and eventually drop.
Rotation: Since trees can live up to 150 years, you won’t need to worry about crop rotation.
Companions: Grows well with borage, chives, marigold, comfrey, and strawberries. Can be inter-cropped with the tea plant.
Harvest: Fruits will be produced between 2 and 8 years after planting, depending on the type of tree and if it was started from seed or by cloning/grafting. Astringent type fruits are harvested when they are fully ripe and soft, but not rotting. Cut fruit from the tree to avoid damaging them. Fruits should be mature in the late fall or early winter, although the exact time will vary depending on the climate. Sometimes, fruit are harvested after the first frost, when they should begin to naturally drop from the tree.
Storage: Fruit should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Ripening can take some time for astringent persimmons, so the shelf life for these fruits when not yet ripe is longer than for non-astringent persimmons. You can keep unripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to one month before taking it out to ripen. Ripening can be sped up by keeping fruit in an airtight container, or in a bag with apples, which will produce ethylene gas and speed the ripening process. Ripe fruit will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Frozen fruit will store for 3 months or more.
Fun Fact: The Asian persimmon (D. kaki) was the most popular fruit in China and Japan before the apple was brought in.
Preserve: Can be made into a preserve, jelly, or jam and canned for later use. Ripe persimmons also freeze well. They are commonly dehydrated either whole or in slices, using either the sun, a dehydrator, or an oven set to low. This process will remove the astringency, so you can dry unripe fruit.
Prepare: To ripen unripe fruit, you can immerse them in a mixture of water and lime, store in an airtight container, or otherwise keep fruit away from oxygen to allow a fermentation process to begin which will neutralize the tannins. Freezing fruit also works for this purpose, and they will be ready to eat or cook once thawed. If picked when fully ripe with a gelatinous texture, persimmons can be eaten raw as a delicious snack. You can easily suck the inner pulp out of the skin if you prefer to avoid eating skins, but they are thin and fine to eat. Suitable for many dessert recipes including pies, cookies, cakes, and cobblers. Combine with lime juice to offset the super sweet taste. Persimmons are also made into a pudding and used as a thickening agent. Most Hachiya persimmons are seedless, but if you do encounter a seed, just discard it into the compost or try a fun growing experiment by planting it!
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A and C. Also contains high levels of manganese, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
Medicinal: Due to their high levels of antioxidants, persimmons may have anti-cancer, anti-hemorrhagic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also helpful for the eyes, digestive system, and metabolic system.
Warnings: Allergic reactions are very rare, but possible. If you eat the unripe fruit, an unpleasant puckering or “fuzzy” taste experience may arise. This is not dangerous, however, just uncomfortable.
If you eat too many fruits on an empty stomach, the tannins in the flesh can cause a bezoar to form in your stomach, so slow your roll if you’re a persimmon fiend!
Make these adorable and tasty Raw Persimmon and Carob Tarts for your next healthy dessert indulgence.