Plant of the Week- Diospyros kaki Asian Persimmon
The Asian persimmon is native to China, and has been in cultivation for more than 2000 years. There are many varieties in commercial cultivation, but most of them are unsuitable for the Pacific Northwest due to their need for summer heat.
Most Asian Persimmons require long, fairly hot summers to ripen. In our mild, cool summer climate, the most common cultivars of persimmons do not ripen. Even the earliest ripening cultivars need relatively warm sites to ripen, and those varieties are usually harvested in late October or early November.
The variety most often recommended for Western Washington is Izu. A naturally dwarf variety, Izu is self fertile with no need for a pollinator. Izu is considered a non-astringent variety, which means the fruit can be eaten while still firm. Some varieties need to be fully soft before they lose their astringency. In a warm site, Izu can be harvested in late October. Another variety reputed to be early enough for our climate is the Coffee Cake Persimmon- Nishimura Wase. This variety is astringent until soft if not grown with a pollinator.
Persimmons in general prefer well drained soil, slightly acidic. Izu is a compact variety that can reach 12′ in time, but other cultivars can grow 15′-20′. They are generally pest and disease free. One of the interesting things about them is how late they are to leaf out- sometimes young trees can wait to leaf out until July.
Because Asian Persimmons are so late to ripen in our climate, we’ve begun to experiment with growing them in our cherry tunnel. We are hoping the added heat will ripen the crop early, making it ready for market in early to mid October rather than early November.
Persimmons don’t begin bearing until 3-5 years after planting, so it will be a couple of years before we know if this will work! The hope is also that the fruit on trees grown under poly will have higher sugar content.
We continue to see interest in growing persimmons among home gardeners- so much so that it is difficult to keep trees in stock in the nursery. If you’re interested in planting a persimmon for yourself, February is the best month as they are usually available then.