The orange fruits from the persimmon tree (Diospyros) make delicious eating. The trees grow in areas where temperatures never fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Relatively maintenance-free requirements and compact spreading habits make persimmons ideal for gardens with small spaces.
While American persimmon grows as a native tree in the United States, another type, the Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki L) originated in China, where the trees have been cultivated for centuries. Two thousand cultivars of the Oriental persimmon exist, with the first trees introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s.
Persimmon trees grow up to 25 feet in height and width. The tree features drooping leaves and branches similar to tropical plants. Foliage consists of pale yellowish-green leaves growing up to 7 inches in length and up to 4 inches in width. The leaves become glossy and turn dark green as they get older. The tree produces one to five small flowers per twig, although the flowers seem barely noticeable. Persimmon trees produce one of two types of fruit: astringent or non-astringent fruits. Astringent fruit tastes good only after it reaches a soft, jelly-like stage. Non-astringent fruits taste best when the fruits get crisp, much like an apple. Non-astringent persimmons require hot summers to reach maturity.
Native American persimmon grows from New York to Florida and all the way west to Texas. Related species include black aapote (Diospyros digyna), velvet apple (D. discolor), date plum (D. lotus) and Texas persimmon (D. texana). Gardeners can also grow oriental persimmons including varieties such as fuyu, jiro and hanagosho.
Persimmon trees grow in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 10, where moderate winters and mild summers provide excellent growing conditions. The trees thrive in well-drained, loamy soil in full sun. In hot climates, the trees tolerate partial shade, but trees grown in cooler climates require full sun. Although somewhat drought-resistant, the trees require regular water to encourage high quality fruit to form. Consider applying a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 if shoots grow less than a foot per year.
Since persimmon trees produce fruit on the branch tips, the branches remain susceptible to breakage. To prevent this from occurring, young trees requires pruning to help develop a strong framework of main branches. Removing some new growth also helps improve structure. The trees accept heavy pruning to keep them growing as small hedges or screens.
Pests and Disease
While persimmon trees remain free from most insects and disease, a few pests cause problems in some areas. The persimmon trunk borer tunnels into the trunks of young trees, causing extensive damage to the tree if not caught early enough. Another insect, the persimmon phylloxerea, chews on persimmon leaves, making the leaves look rather ugly but not requiring control measures.