Two types of fruiting persimmons are grown in the South. The native American species is a bigger, more cold-tolerant tree than its Asian counterpart, but the Asian type bears larger fruit. Neither species is fussy about soil, as long as it is well drained. For the ornamental Texas persimmon, see Diospyros texana.
American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is native from Connecticut to Kansas and southward to Texas and Florida. Grows well in Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Can grow to 3560 ft. tall, 2035 ft. wide. As a landscape tree, it is not as ornamental as the Asian species and is probably best used in woodland gardens. Attractive gray-brown bark is fissured in a checkered pattern. Glossy, green, broadly oval leaves to 6 in. long turn yellow, pink, or reddish purple in fall. Round, 1- to 2-in.-wide fruit is yellow to orange (often blushed red); very astringent until soft-ripe, then very sweet. On wild species, fruit ripens in early fall after frost; some selections do not require much winter chill. Both male and female trees are usually needed to get fruit. 'Meader' is self-fruitful; its fruit is seedless if not pollinated. 'Early Golden' has more flavorful fruit; it needs cross-pollination for best crop. Trees usually need pruning only to remove broken or dead branches. Does best with regular moisture but will also perform well with moderate water.
Japanese or Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) grows and fruits best in Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. It reaches 30 ft. tall (or more) and at least as wide. Has a handsome branch pattern and is one of the best fruit trees for ornamental use; makes a good small shade tree and is suitable for espalier. Leaves are leathery ovals 67 in. longlight green when new, maturing to dark green. They turn vivid yellow, orange, or red in fall (even in mild climates). After leaves drop, brilliant orange-scarlet, 2- to 312-in. fruit brightens the tree for weeks and persists until winter unless harvested. Without pollination, sets seedless fruit; pollinated trees often produce more abundant crops.
Prune trees when they are young to establish a good framework; thereafter, prune only to remove dead wood, shape the tree, or open up a too-dense interior. Remove any suckers that shoot up from below the graft line. Rootstock sprouts that emerge from the soil some distance from the trunk must also be removed.
Fruit drop is a common problem in young trees. To avoid it, water regularly and feed once in late winter or early spring; too little or inconsistent moisture causes fruit drop, as does overfertilizing (too much fertilizer also causes excessive growth). Excessive fruit drop can also be reduced by providing a pollenizer (such as 'Gailey'), but fruit will be seedy.
Some Japanese persimmon selections are astringent until soft-ripeat which stage they become very sweet. To save the crop from birds, pick fruit when fully colored but still hard, then let it ripen off the tree. Astringent types must be eaten when the flesh is mushy and puddinglike. Nonastringent types are hard (like apples) when ripe, with a mildly sweet flavor; they can be eaten hard, but their flavor improves when they are allowed to soften slightly off the tree.
'Chocolate'. Astringent. Medium-size, acorn-shaped fruit. When pollinated, has seeded flesh with dark streaks; when unpollinated, has seedless yellow-orange flesh. Fruit from pollinated trees has best flavor. Must be soft to eat.
'Fuyu'. Nonastringent. Firm fleshed; about the size of a baseball but flattened like a tomato. Similar but larger is 'Gosho', widely offered as 'Giant Fuyu'.
'Fuyu Imoto'. Nonastringent. Square-shaped fruit. Excellent quality. Ripens lightly later than 'Fuyu'.
'Gailey'. Astringent. Roundish to conical fruit. Bears many male flowers and is often used as a pollenizer.
'Hachiya'. Astringent. Big, slightly pointed fruit. Very shapely tree for ornamental use.
'Izu'. Nonastringent. Medium-size, round fruit borne on a tree about half the standard size. Ripens early.
'Matsumoto Wase Fuyu'. Nonastringent. An early-ripening form of 'Fuyu'. Thin fruit to prevent limb breakage.
'Tamopan'. Astringent. Large, acorn-shaped fruit.