Our 2015 Master Gardener Training class was getting a short lesson on different backyard fruits a couple of weeks ago. One of those fruits was the persimmon. While we have what is called the common or American persimmon as a native tree here in Charlotte County, cultivated types brought from Asia in the mid 1800’s have far superior eating qualities. Actually introduced by Commodore Perry in 1856, a good deal of work has been done since to evaluate cultivars. A very uncommon fruit locally, persimmons are worth a second look.
Originally from China, the persimmon is an under-used fruit tree that can grow here in Charlotte County in our 9b hardiness zone. A deciduous tree growing no more than twenty-five feet in height, the persimmon produces orange conical to oblong fruit which are either considered astringent or non-astringent. Astringent fruit, by their very nature, make your mouth feel dry and puckered to the taste until the fruit is fully ripe and soft. Until that point, the fruit is not suitable for eating. Non-astringent types of persimmons produce fruit that can be eaten while still hard like an apple. Additionally, some persimmons are seedless, while some have seeds, depending on the pollination situation, which can further affect the astringency and/or flavor.
Plant persimmon trees in well-drained soils in full sun sites. After establishment, fertilize as you would a citrus tree with light fertilizations the first year. After the first year, applications of fertilizer three times a year as per label instructions are sufficient. Apply a mulch, (not right up against the tree), to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
What are best types for our area? A persimmon named ‘Fuyu’ is perhaps the most popular non-astringent type in Florida. It is so productive that thinning the fruit is often necessary. The fruit is oblate in shape having a flattened, rounded form reminding you of a tomato at a glance. The fruit of ‘Fuyu’ is generally ready to harvest from November to early December. The cultivar called ‘Tanenashi’, is a popular astringent cultivar recommended here in Florida for homeowners. It can produce large crops of three and one-half inch yellow to orange fruit without any pollination. The fruit is round and conical in shape. Harvest the fruit from September to November.
Cultivated persimmon trees are rarely available locally other than through specialty nurseries or family garden centers. There are a few Internet nursery sources in Florida which you check out in any search engine. We have one well-established persimmon that produced heavily last year. The conical fruit (we are not sure of the cultivar) was sweet and very delicious. With this success and other similar reports in Lee County, perhaps try a persimmon as an excellent dooryard tree this year. For more information on all types of fruits trees suitable to grow in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. (1996) Persimmon.
E. P. Miller & T. E. Crocker (1994) Oriental Persimmons in Florida. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Diospyros virginiana: Common Persimmon. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.