Persimmons are not only wonderful fruit trees but also an ornamental addition to the garden. They are shapely shade trees that can be espaliered, with leaves that turn vivid orange, red and yellow in fall. After the leaves drop, the pumpkin-colored fruit can stay on the tree for weeks.
Last year, I attended a holiday home tour in our area. In the entry courtyard of one home, I noticed a persimmon tree covered in bright red-orange fruit hanging from bare branches like holiday ornaments. Inside, the home owner had arranged more fruit-laden branches in urns and carried the autumnal color scheme throughout the holiday decorations. It was a show-stopper.
Persimmons are easy to grow and well adapted to Napa Valley. Unlike some other fruit trees, they do not require much winter chilling. And they bloom late so are not as susceptible to our spring frosts. They like our dry summers but will tolerate wet soil in winter. What’s more, persimmons are resistant to oak-root fungus and almost pest free. Gardeners with small yards will appreciate that persimmons do not usually require cross-pollination, so a single tree will set fruit.
Prune young persimmons to establish a pleasing shape, but after that, prune only to remove dead wood and any suckers that emerge below the graft line. Young trees may drop some fruit, but that bad habit passes with age. Fruit drop is generally caused by over fertilizing or inconsistent moisture. Feed once in early spring and water regularly to minimize the problem.
Persimmons are a good source of vitamins A and C and potassium, so they’re a nutritious addition to the menu in fall.
Several varieties of Japanese or Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) thrive in our area. The ‘Fuyu’ produces large, flat, orange-red fruit that is firm and crunchy when ripe, like an apple, and most often eaten raw. Slice it into salads or eat it out of hand as a snack. The trees remain relatively small and require only 14 to 16 feet of garden space. In our area, the fruit typically matures in November or early December. ‘Early Fuyu’ ripens several weeks earlier than standard ‘Fuyu.’
In contrast, ‘Hachiya’ persimmons are too astringent to eat until they are very ripe and soft. Only then do they become sweet enough to eat. ‘Hachiya’ persimmons also ripen in late November to early December. I have quite a few ‘Hachiya’ trees, so I freeze the pureed pulp in the small quantities needed for my persimmon cookie, cake and pudding recipes. These persimmons are deep orange-red in color and shaped like an acorn. ‘Hachiya’ trees are larger than ‘Fuyu’ and need a good 20 feet of garden real estate.
I also grow a ‘Chocolate’ persimmon. It has seeded flesh with chocolate- colored streaks, and some say it even tastes a little like chocolate. It is rare in our area. It has non-astringent, medium, acorn-shaped fruit that is generally sweeter from pollinated trees.
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Native American persimmons (Diospyrus virginiana) are also found in some California landscapes. These trees are usually much larger and more cold tolerant. The fruit is smaller, so the trees tend to be less popular in Napa Valley home gardens than the Japanese varieties.
A persimmon tree can be a worthy addition to your garden. How can you go wrong with a tree that is well suited to our climate, easy to grow, fruitful and beautiful, too?
On Saturday, Jan. 7, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Napa County Master Gardeners will present a workshop on “Fruit Tree Selection and Pruning” at the UC Cooperative Extension. The workshop costs $5. Learn how to select the best deciduous fruit trees for your garden, how to choose and prepare the planting site, and proper planting and pruning techniques.
On Saturday, Jan, 14, from 10 a.m. to noon, Napa County Master Gardeners will present a workshop on “Rose Pruning and Care” at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. The workshop costs $5.
Register online for the workshops at http://ucce.ucdavis.edu.
Napa County Master Gardeners (http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) answer gardening questionsMonday, Wednesday and Friday,
9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 253-4221, or toll-free at 877-279-3065.