How To Grow American Persimmon Tree (Diospyros virginiana)

Last Updated on January 13, 2022 by Grow with Bovees

Diospyros translates roughly as ‘fruit of the gods’.

These fruit trees have a good marketing team!

They are known to taste like an entire pudding.

It produces many a globular berry, and the ripe fruits are golden and deliciously sweet, with a slight spiced nutty flavor.

Did you know that persimmons have more vitamin C than oranges?

They could be in the running for the best types of fruit trees!

Just be careful not to eat unripe persimmon fruits, as they are super bitter and full of tannins!

What Is the American Persimmon Tree?

The American Persimmon is a variety of persimmon tree.

It is a deciduous tree in the ebony family, related to the Asian Persimmon and date plum. It is also known as sugar plum, Jove’s fruit and possum apples.

Wild trees have been native in the eastern regions of the United States for thousands of years, and naturally grow in the Midwest towards the Atlantic coast, and all the way down to Florida.

The Texas persimmon is specifically native to Texas, and produces little purple fruits instead. 

The trees have large oval-shaped pointed leaves, which are usually about 6 x 3 inches. They are a vibrant dark green color, and turn a yellow-orange to light brown in fall. 

A Short History of Diospyros virginiana

American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), were originally gathered in the wild. Native Americans cultivated them because they are a good source of food for the cold winter months. 

Cree and Delaware tribes referred to them as pasiminan, which means dried fruit in Algonquian, because this was a popular way of preserving them. 

They also mashed and boiled the pulp, before drying it in the sun to make loaves. Alternatively, they would grill the pulp.

The bark and leaves would be used in medicinal treatments, to treat ailments such as diarrhea and dysentery. It is unclear how well this actually worked.

Spanish and French explorers tried the persimmon when they came over, and described it as similar to a plum or peach. However, they were less of a fan of the unripe fruit! 

Persimmon fruits are also used to make alcoholic beverages. In the civil war, when supplies were hard to come by, apparently the seeds were used instead of coffee beans as a coffee substitute, and vinegar was made out of the pulp.

How To Plant American Persimmon

This native tree is extremely easy to grow, but the seeds are difficult to come by. It is also much harder to grow from seed, as they have a low germination rate.

If you are determined to, you can start growing them indoors in springtime, before the last frost comes. 

You will need to cold stratify them first, which involves wrapping them in damp kitchen paper and leaving them in the fridge for a while. Once you plant them in a container with potting soil, germination can take a few months. 

Soil Type

Wild trees can be invasive, so they survive well in most soil types. They generally grow well in sandy, well-drained soil but aren’t too fussy. If you want ideal growing conditions, check your soil pH. They can handle an alkaline soil, but slightly acidic around 6-6.5 is ideal. 

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If you have poor soil conditions, or if it is more clay-like, you can either add sand or just know that your tree will be more like a shrub. Dry soil may require more watering, but it shouldn’t be too moist.

American Persimmons can survive in areas of USDA hardiness 4-11. Check the different cultivars to see which zones they do best in. Generally, they can survive in low minus temperatures, up to -20 Fahrenheit in the winter. They can be grown in city gardens and can tolerate high winds.

Planting Step-by-Step 

  1. Purchase your transplants for easy planting.
  2. It is important not to transplant from the wild. The long tap root can be disturbed if you pull it up or damage it.
  3. Choose a spot, and another 20-50 feet apart for additional trees. 
  4. Dig a hole twice as deep and a bit wider than your container.
  5. Fill your hole half with soil so that you get looser earth underneath your plant for the roots to spread into.
  6. Fill around your transplant with additional soil and pat down. Keep the soil moist.

Your tree should be ideally getting full sun. It can take partial shade or only half a day of sun, but it will bear fewer fruit. 

How Much Should I Water My Tree?

New seedlings and young trees need regular watering, and you should make sure they constantly have moist soil. Your adult tree won’t need watering unless there is a drought.

You should be fine if you live in a climate where it rains a few inches a week. If you’re unsure, it is better to under-water. 

How Fast Do American Persimmon Trees Grow?

They can grow to be huge trees, reaching over 50 feet, or even 90 in the best conditions. However, they only grow roughly 2 feet a year. Younger trees also grow at a faster rate, and as they mature they will slow down. 

Your tree will grow faster in warmer conditions, as colder winters tend to slow the growth down a bit. Also, you may need to stake your young tree, to prevent slow growth. 

Generally, your tree won’t need fertilizer, unless the growth is slow. If you do want to speed it up a bit, you can use all-purpose fertilizer, and dig it into a shallow trench near the plant. Do this once in early spring and part way through the summer. 

In the first 2-3 years, I would recommend using fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 5-5-2, and as it gets older, using 10-10-10.

Does It Need Pruning? 

As we’ve said, these trees are pretty low maintenance. They could do with light pruning, during the dormant months of winter. As you would with most trees, it is a good idea to prune any dead or crossing branches. 

You should see suckers fairly regularly around the base of trees, and you can pull them up if you don’t want separate trees. Clear fruit or fallen excess leaves from around the base of the tree.

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With young trees, you can always prune the new shoots a few inches back, for better branching.

How Can You Tell if a Tree Is Male or Female?

The American Persimmon is dioecious. This means that the entire tree is either a female tree, or a male tree, and produces either all male or female flowers. Female trees produce edible fruit. Therefore, you ideally need multiple trees to fruit well. 

You can only find out the sex when flowers bloom, in spring and early summer. This is why starting from seed is more difficult, because you can’t tell what you have, until a few years in.

Greenish yellow flowers bloom on both trees, and are pollinated by bees. You can plant more flowering plants nearby, if you want to attract pollinators.

You can identify male flowers, because they are smaller and grow in clusters with stamens, the male sex organ. Female flowers are large and grow individually, with a pistil for pollen collection. 

Alternatively, you can find a self-pollinating cultivar at many nurseries. Self-pollinating cultivars are more common nowadays, but you could also graft a male branch onto a female tree.

Beware that Asian trees won’t cross pollinate with American varieties. 

How Can You Tell if a Persimmon Fruit Is Ripe?

Trees usually bear fruit after 6-15 years. At the beginning, you will get fewer fruits, because the best harvests are when the tree is between 20-50 years old.

Your fruit should ripen around early September to December, and you harvest in fall. The mature fruits measure 1-2 inches in diameter. 

You can tell apart the ripe fruit when it falls off the trees, and it is a bit softer. You can simply give the branches a shake and gather the fallen fruit. 

Asian Persimmon trees have a slight advantage over American trees, as they can have fewer tannins, and therefore, the unripe fruit is less bitter.

Also, the fruit from American varieties doesn’t travel particularly well, so it is less commercially appealing. 

Your plant also might be biennial bearing, so it produces more fruit one year over another. Don’t be concerned if this is the case, it is because it uses more energy the first year. 

Propagating Persimmon Trees 

You can propagate with starting seeds, or from suckers, grafts or cuttings.

For cuttings from fruit trees:

  • Firstly, check that your soil has enough nutrients for an infant plant, and if necessary, you can add sand to clay earth. 
  • Find a branch around the thickness of a pencil, and take a 10-inch cutting.
  • If there are leaves at the bottom, cut off these leaves.
  • Make sure to take a cutting from both male and female trees.
  • Slice the bottom of the branch at an angle, and dip it in some root hormone or clone gel.
  • Plant your cutting outdoors and keep the soil moist.
  • In around 4 weeks, it should grow roots and a few small leaves.
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For suckers:

Your plant will send up suckers attached to the deep tap root. You can take these in spring. Dig them up, and snip them away from the main root. Plant outside and keep the soil moist.

Pests and Diseases 

Disease is not usually an issue, as the common cultivars are generally disease resistant. Disease resistance is also better among American cultivars. There isn’t any common disease to persimmon trees, although leaf spot can occur, but this is not fatal.

Fungal diseases such as crown gall are rare, but it is where round growths form on branches. The spores penetrate through wounds on the tree, then the bark ruptures, and it can spread to other trees. To avoid this, make sure that your tree doesn’t get too much damage. Also, look out for too much moisture on your tree.

In terms of pests, the deciduous fruit trees are a food source for a few! 

The Hickory Horndevil moth’s larvae (Citheronia regalis) might feed on the leaves of your tree. Unfortunately, they are really important in the food chain and for pollination.

They are only really a threat to young trees, so you will simply have to remove any that you see and place them elsewhere!

It’s unfortunately not deer resistant, and deer love persimmons, especially the white-tailed deer. They will be a deer magnet, and this is good if you don’t have many in your area!

It can suffer damage from common pests, such as raccoons and birds, but this is generally not a huge issue. 

Types of Fruit Trees

The meade variety is particularly hardy, and the fruit is seedless. It matures early and is a self-pollinating cultivar.

The early golden also produces early fruit (the name gives it away). It can handle zone 5 hardiness.

Asian trees include the Japanese variety Eureka, as well as Fuyu and Hachiya. The fruit will be edible and sweet even when firm.

The Deer Magnet variety does what it says on the tin, and the fruit forms a bit later.

The Early Jewel grows a red fruit, and does so very consistently! It is a self-pollinating cultivar which produces seedless fruit.

Lehman’s Delight has been specially cultivated and is more profitable than other cultivars. As with many new varieties it is a self-pollinating cultivar that produces lots of pretty large fruit with a deep and sweeter flavour. More like the Asian varieties, it doesn’t have to be fully soft to be edible. 

The Morris Burton variety can be eaten before the fruits are fully ripe, even though it is an American cultivar! It doesn’t fruit as often, but it would be good if you are planning to sell your fruit.

You should come away from reading this short guide feeling confident that American Persimmon trees are an achievable fruit tree to try and grow in your garden.

By growing Persimmon trees, you may even discover your new favorite fruit, and there is nothing more satisfying than eating your own produce!