Photo: Steve Bender

Greetings, faithful readers, and welcome to this year's installment of your favorite series, "Don't You Wish You Had Done What Grumpy Told You." Last year, as you no doubt recall, Grumpy extolled the virtues of the Japanese persimmon, the easiest, prettiest, and most rewarding fruit tree for Southerners to grow. I urged you to plant one or two, but most of you did not. The photo above shows what you sacrificed.

Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is different from our native American persimmon (D. virginiana). It grows only about half as big (to maybe 30 feet tall) and its fruit don't need a frost to make them palatable. When ripe, they're sweet from the start and much bigger than the native's. Given their size and vivid orange color, I call them "tomatoes on a tree."

Some Japanese persimmons require two different named selections to get fruit, but mine doesn't. It's named 'Fuyu,' and it's self-pollinating. The presence of a different persimmon would cause the fruit to develop seeds, but since mine stands all by its lonesome, it's seedless. Just cut off the green crown on the stem end of the fruit and you can eat the whole thing. Delicious. The fruit starts off crisp as an apple (the way I prefer), but grows softer as it ages either on or off of the tree.

Japanese persimmon offers more than tasty fruit. It also flaunts absolutely gorgeous, red-orange fall foliage. Here in central Alabama, we're stuck in a drought that just won't quit. Yet my persimmon shines like beacon, the prettiest tree in the neighborhood.

You don't need advanced degree in pomology (look it up) to grow this tree. It requires just three things -- sun, well-drained soil, and winter temps that don't drop below zero. Spraying for insects and diseases isn't necessary. Birds pecking holes in ripe fruit are the biggest pests. Fortunately, leaves that turn the same color as the fruit hide most of the treasure. When the leaves drop, pick.

Can't find a local nursery that sells Japanese persimmons? No problemo. I highly recommend ordering online from Petals from the Past.