This is part of my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in a mid-Atlantic climate or similar. We are entering the dormant period for most fruits, meaning fewer to harvest, none to plant, but still plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for next year. I give links to some useful publications. We have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month.
Persimmons are the focus fruit for November
Reasons to grow persimmons
Young persimmon trees produce fruit only a few years after planting, maybe the very year after you plant them. The trees are easy-care, with few pests (maybe aphids) or diseases, and can be grown as espaliers or cordons or in a large container. Persimmons tolerate a wide range of soil types, as long as the drainage is OK. Asian persimmons have leaves that turn yellow or bright orange in fall. The leaves of American persimmons are yellow in the fall. The ripe fruits on the bare branches of either type make an attractive fall display.
Late fall and early winter is the harvest season, and you can lay tarps or old carpets under you trees to catch the falling fruit. Or you can clip ripe fruits with pruners, including a short piece of stem. Exercise patience, although you can after-ripen the fruit off the tree if needed. Expect 1-2 bushels (15-40 lbs/7-18kg) from a mature 10-year-old Asian persimmon tree and 2-3 (30-60 lbs/14-27kg) from a mature American persimmon.
Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are generally sweeter and less astringent than the native American varieties, and the fruits are larger, up to small peach size. They are ripe when they are fully colored, slightly firm, slightly soft.
American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are the ones that grow wild in the Eastern half of the US. They are notorious for making your mouth pucker up. This is, if you eat them before they’re very soft and ripe. This can be anywhere between September and February. They may have wrinkled, they may have had a frost. Despite rural myth, they do not need a frost to ripen, although a frost can help. If you wait for the fruit to fall, it will be ripe. Or wait for the fruit to become soft and the skin translucent before you pick them. Some astringent varieties have fruit that will hang on the tree into the winter.
Under-ripe fruit can be ripened after harvest in paper bags, perhaps with a banana peel or some other ripe fruit.
Ripe fruit can be eaten out-of-hand, or dried or frozen. The fruits store a couple of months in the fridge if necessary. They can be mashed to include in puddings, ice cream, pies, smoothies and baked goods such as cookies, cakes or bread.
Propagation of persimmons
While eating persimmons, you can save the seeds. Stratify them (a chilling method that encourages seed germination) by storing them in the fridge for two months. After planting, it will take up to six years before your seedling trees will bear fruit. There are two hybrid persimmons, Russian Beauty and Nikita’s Gift. Don’t grow from seeds of these as they will not grow true to type.
The other method of propagation is to take cuttings. You can graft Asian persimmons on to native persimmon root stock at bud emergence.
Choosing persimmon varieties
Choose varieties suited to your location. Asian persimmons need mild winters. Fuyu grows in zones 7-11, tolerating temperatures down to 0°F (-18°C). Other Asian varieties can tolerate 10°F (-12°C) and will grow in zones 8-10. The hybrid Asian/American Russiyanka and most American persimmons, on the other hand, can tolerate temperatures as low as -25°F (-32°C) and will grow in zones 5-9.
Let the winter-hardiness zone decide what type to grow. In Zones 9-10 grow non-astringent Asian persimmons; in Zones 7-8, astringent Asian persimmons may be better suited for colder winter temperatures and milder summer temperatures. In zone 6 and colder, grow American persimmons or the hardy hybrids.
Most American persimmons require both male and female trees to get a good fruit set. Most Asian persimmons are self-fertile, but yield more and bigger fruit when several compatible trees are grown together.
Consult your Extension Service and local plant nurseries for which kinds do best in your area. Prices can vary widely, and quality may vary too. The Harvest to Table site has variety descriptions of 3 American persimmons and 8 Asian types.
Asian persimmons do best in full sun, while American persimmons can grow in partial shade, on forest edges. Choose a site with enough sunlight for the final height of the trees. Asian persimmons grow to be 25-30 ft (7.6-9m) tall and almost as wide. American persimmon trees grow taller – 30-40 ft (9-12m).
Plant the trees about 20ft (6m) apart in all directions, in late winter or early spring. Dig holes deep enough for the long taproots. Stake the tree for the first couple of years, then de-stake.
Care of persimmon trees
Do not over-fertilize with nitrogen, or the fruit may drop early. In backyards, plant them in the lawn (if you have one) and the grass growth and mowing will provide enough nutrients.
Prune in winter when the tree is dormant, being aware that persimmons fruit on last year’s wood. (Don’t cut everything back the same year.) train young trees to an open center (goblet style) or to a central leader. Tape or burlap the trunks of young trees to prevent sunscald injury.
Other small fruits still available in November
Quinces look like large fuzzy yellow apples, growing on large shrubs. They are ripe when the fruit have a good smell and develop a split from top to bottom. They are usually cooked, rarely eaten raw. The easiest way I know to cook them is to bake them whole, until the flesh is soft. This does take a while. They make delicious jelly.
Wintergreen is another native, frequently overlooked. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)
Jujube (Chinese dates, red dates) ripen mid to late fall.
Other fruit care in November in the mid-Atlantic
Weed and fertilize rhubarb, blueberries, summer-fruiting raspberries, spread cardboard and sawdust mulch. Weed grapes, take any cuttings wanted. Cover unions of grafted grapes until the spring to protect from cold damage. Plant new blueberries if needed. Weed strawberries and top up the sawdust paths. In colder areas, you may cover strawberries with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.