Persimmons are a fruit with a taste and texture all of their own. They have an exotic look and flavour - yet they can be grown in most parts of the country. Persimmons are a good source of vitamin A and antioxidants, they are eaten fresh, skin and all but the hard seeds are taken out. Persimmons also preserve well and are good in jams, pickles, chutneys and puddings. Persimmons grow to form a medium sized tree that can be highly productive, they can grow in most parts of the country and will do best where they get a cold spell in winter that helps to stimulate production of flower buds. There are two varieties, one suited to cold climates with fruit that have to be soft before eating and one suited to warmer climates with fruit that can be eaten like an apple when crisp. This means you should be able to find a persimmon that is right for your area.
Companions Borage, chives, comfrey, strawberries, marigold, calendula
Quantity 1 tree per household
There are good varieties for cold and warm parts of the country . Cold tolerant varieties produce astringent fruit that are eaten when crisp. Warm tolerant varieties produce non-astringent fruit that are eaten when soft.
Hiratanenashi produces non-astringent, very sweet, juicy fruit. A popular variety, good in colder areas.
Fuyu produces large astringent, deep orange firm fruit in early winter. Flesh is light orange, has a mild, sweet flavour. Stores well. Can benefit from cross pollination with Jiro.
Jiro produces rich orange astringent fruit in April and May with sweet flavour.
Trees are generally planted when dormant in winter.
Trees like a sunny open position with good air circulation but shelter from strong prevailing winds. Put them where you’ll be able to enjoy easily walking around them and ensure access is good. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Persimmons like most fertile, well-drained soils as long as they are not too sandy.
Space trees about six strides from trunk to trunk. Soak in water before planting.
Before planting dig a hole about 20% larger than the size of the container the plant comes in. Half-fill with well-rotted compost, rotted manure and some coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Mix together with garden soil at the bottom of the hole. Soak the container-grown tree before gently lifting it from its pot. Check the roots on the root ball and loosen any that appear to have grown around the inside of the pot – this should help them to get away and grow into the garden soil. Stand the root ball in the hole and adjust soil beneath it so that soil level is the same as ground level around it. Back fill with the soil/compost mix and firm with downward hand-pressure as you go. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the root ball. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground. Water well.
NB. Persimmons benefit from being cut back at the time of planting. By removing the growing tip you can stimulate production of strong root system. If your plant is a single stem then cut it back to about knee height. If it has several stems cut each one back by half.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil or trees are planted in lawns or grassy orchards. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when necessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot. This should be done for the first three years after planting, Thereafter roots should have spread wide enough to draw sufficient moisture and nutrients without help. You can plant borage, comfrey, chives and strawberries beneath your trees to draw nutrients from deep in the soil and to attract beneficial pollinating and predatory insects.
Feed: Trees can be fed with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around the outer edge of their drip line in spring, however if you keep the ground beneath your trees weed-free and well-mulched when its dry this should help to reduce the amount of feeding that is required.
Container grown plants may need more regular feeding with a constant layer of mulch maintained at all times and a sprinkling of blood and bone meal every spring and autumn.
Pollination: Trees are generally self fertile and are pollinated by bees and other insects.
Thinning: To ensure a sustainable crop, trees are thinned when fruit are young. The thin fruiting stems can be bowed down under the weight of fruit so take off enough for these stems to still have one or two fruit that can ripen to full size. Fruit are usually removed from the base of the stems first.
Depending on variety and weather harvest is usually from autumn into winter. Trees look very attractive as they lose their leaves and retain fruit. Fruit are ready as they change colour form yellow to orange. Hand pick fruit with secateurs, cutting the stem close to each fruit so that they come away with their calyx (leaf-like crown attached to top of fruit). Cold climate astringent varieties are picked when they start to soften and then ripened off the tree to full flavour and softer texture. Warmer climate non-astringent varieties are picked like apples when they have fully coloured. Their flavour improves with a few days’ of being stored at room temperature. Handle fruit carefully when harvesting to prevent bruising. Line your bucket or basket with soft material such as cloth or newspaper.
Storage: Both will continue ripening once picked and sweetness and texture can improve after a day or so at room temperature. Keep them in the fridge and they should be good for a few weeks. Persimmons can be added to ice cream, sorbets, fruit salads, puddings and they can be dried as slices.
When first planted cut back hard – (see under Planting above).
This sets up a good framework for the tree to then grow into a balanced open shape. The tree should have a strong central stem with layers of radiating side branches growing out from it at intervals of about a forearm’s length.
To achieve this, as the tree develops, keep pinching out the tip of the central stem every time it gets to about a forearm’s length above the nearest set of side branches. This stimulates side shoots at the point where the tip was pinched. Slowly the tree develops a tiered shape.
Once established trees are routinely pruned to keep the centre open by removing any vigorous stems that are growing inwards and crowing the tree or that shoot upwards out of the general framework. In summer some of the longger fruit bearing branches are trimmed back to reduce their length and the load they will bear. Regular maintenance involves cutting out dead, diseased and crossing stems.
Persimmons can be pruned to grow as fans of carefully spaced stems against a wall or fence. Stems are pruned to maintain a strong framework and to stimulate new shoots that will produce flowers and then fruit.
Birds are a common arrival just as fruit start to ripen. Where practical trees are covered with mesh to protect the fruit. Other pests include aphids and leaf roller caterpillars as well as lemon tree borer. Trees are susceptible to fungal disease like botrytis if growing in too cold an area. The best method is prevention and planting to attract beneficial predators as controlling an outbreak on a tree can be hard without resorting to sprays.
To reduce the likelihood of your trees falling victim to and suffering from pests and diseases look after them and maintain a diverse planting in your growing area.
Sweep and compost fallen leaves.
Mulch and feed, ensure constant moisture during dry weather.
Spray fresh spring foliage with Neem oil spray to kill aphids, scale insects and mites.
For best advice on how to deal with fruit tree related problems in your area seek out local organic growers and talk to them. A half hour chat can save on years of trial and error.