Tips for your Garden in December
as recommended by Mike Vadrine
By December the warm season crops are gone from the garden and cool season vegetables have become the mainstays. Our fruit and nut harvests are over as well except perhaps for persimmons.
We have native American persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana) growing wild on our property but the small fruits from these trees are mostly consumed by local wildlife before I can get any. A bit farther West of us another native species, the Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), becomes prevalent. For our consumption we grow the larger fruited Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki). The persimmon species name, Diospyros, is Greek for “divine fruit” or “fruit of the gods” … they are pretty yummy. Persimmons are related to tropical ebony and the very hard wood is useful for tool handles, golf club heads and loom shuttles … if you are into that.
Persimmon trees can be an attractive landscape addition. The trees have large dark green leaves that color up well in the fall and the colorful fruit can persist after the leaves are gone. The tree also has an interesting gnarly shape and rough bark texture. Native persimmons can grow to 30 or 40 feet, but our Asian varieties will usually be under 20 feet at maturity. The trees do not like soggy locations but other than that are not very demanding.
Persimmons will benefit from a bit of Spring fertilization and a good mulching. For good fruit set and retention, the trees will need some supplemental irrigation. In the Spring persimmons produce rather inconspicuous flowers on current year growth then set an abundance of fruit. Persimmons usually drop many their immature fruit (quite startling to new gardeners) but may still need additional fruit thinning. The only tree maintenance usually required is a bit of dormant pruning to remove damaged or crossing branches and to open the tree center up for good light penetration. Persimmons have very few insect or disease problems and I’ve yet to treat for either. As mentioned before, critters will help themselves to ripe fruit.
There are 2 basic cultivars of persimmons – those with astringent fruit and those with non-astringent fruit. Astringent fruit must be fully ripe and soft before it can be eaten while non-astringent types can be eaten while still firm. There are lots of named varieties of each type available on the market and we grow one of each: non-astringent Fuyu and astringent Eureka – both of which are seedless, self fertile and quite productive.
Persimmons are a climacteric fruit (will ripen off the tree) and can be harvested when fully sized and colored to ripen indoors. The best flavor and highest sugar will be in fully tree ripened fruit, but it is a trade off with weather and critters. Fully ripened fruit can have over 30% sugar. The fruit is attached to the tree with a stout stem and I find it best to snip the fruit off with pruners to avoid damaging the limb or fruit. Persimmons do not have to experience a freeze to ripen.
Our wild persimmons begin ripening by late September and the trees are usually stripped by mid October. I’ll begin picking a few Fuyu persimmons in late September and usually pick the last before the first freeze – about the end of November. I’ll harvest some Eureka persimmons in November to ripen indoors but many are left on the tree to get as close to fully ripe as possible with the last ones harvested before a hard freeze … 25 degrees or below.
We eat most of our persimmons fresh. My mother and our grandchildren are particularly fond of the crunchy Fuyu persimmons whereas my favorite is the soft and juicy Eureka. When crunchy, the Fuyu can be used much like an apple in salads and baked goods and makes a wonderful salsa. Both varieties make a great Southern persimmon pudding.
If you are looking for an attractive low maintenance fruit tree, a persimmon is a good choice.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor