By Robert Hoffman
hen the long, hot Texas summer begins to wane, a delicious fruit is just about to ripen. The Japanese persimmon is a fruit that is a delectable treat enjoyed by all people as the fall season begins. The Japanese persimmon, sometimes called a fruit of the Gods, is an easy to grow fruit tree that yields an abundance of high quality fruit annually. The persimmon originated in China, but the Japanese cultivate it by the name of kaki. By cross breeding and excellent selection, they have released many cultivars of excellent quality. Previously, only California grew persimmons commercially, but experience shows that they are well adapted to the Texas climate and produce excellent yields of high quality fruit.
Japanese persimmons are adapted to a wide range of soil types, but perform exceptionally well on deep, sandy loam. Like most fruit trees, they prefer a soil that is alkaline with a pH of 6.5. Individuals should plant Japanese persimmons in an area that receives full sun. Although they appear to tolerate damp soils, and there should be good drainage with no standing water. Growers need to provide adequate moisture or irrigation during the first two months of bloom to promote good fruit set.
Those who want to plant several Japanese persimmons should space each tree approximately twenty feet apart. In Japan, there has been intensive planting of these trees, but growers thin them out within five years. Japanese persimmons need proper spacing for good growth, adequate sunlight, and excellent fruit set. Grafted trees normally reach a height of fifteen to twenty feet.
The Japanese persimmon tree and fruit has a high immunity to most diseases, and many people grow them successfully with organic methods. Good orchard management is the key to preventing many diseases. Occasionally, some trees will develop a black leaf spot depending on the variety. Although some writers list anthracnose and bitter rot as a possible source of disease problem, it does not appear to be a significant difficulty among growers.
The best rootstock for Japanese persimmons in Texas is Diospyros virginiana. Growers should supply compost around the drip line of each tree, and prune them on a regular basis during the dormant season. Most Japanese persimmon varieties do not form a canopy, but have more of an upright growth.
One of the advantages of growing the Japanese persimmon is that it breaks dormancy late in the spring and usually misses frost and freezing weather. In the northeast Houston area, leaf emergence and shoot growth appear at the beginning of April. After two weeks, flowers appear and the process of pollination begins. Most Japanese persimmons are self-fertile and require no pollinator. Once the fruit forms, it develops during the entire summer and begins to ripen approximately
Growers should harvest Japanese persimmons when the fruit is well developed and the color has changed from green to an orange/red shade. Certain varieties need to ripen further because they are too astringent for consumption. Other varieties such as Fuyu are non-astringent and ready to eat immediately. The best method of harvesting the fruit is to clip the stem with small scissors, and leave the calyx attached to it. If the fruit completely ripens on the tree, it requires careful handling because it becomes soft and fragile. The non-astringent varieties have a shelf life from ten to thirty days, but the astringent cultivars have a seven to ten day shelf life.
Japanese persimmon growers have several options available to keep their fruit after harvest. They can dry their fruit and store it for winter consumption. In addition, it is possible to freeze many persimmon varieties, and they continue to retain good fruit quality after thawing. Furthermore, there are several recipes for making jam and jelly using persimmon fruit. All of these options make growing persimmons a year round treat.
Some of the top quality astringent Japanese persimmons for fresh eating are Saijo, Giombo, Hachiya and Hira-Tanenashi. The recommended non-astringent varieties include Fuyu, Hana-Gosho, and Jiro. Local nurseries sometimes sell these varieties. The nurseries listed below also offer several Japanese persimmon varieties.
Womack Nursery Co.