Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, discusses growing persimmons. This is one of a series of articles she has written about growing fruit trees (see right hand sidebar). She has also written a number of articles about growing various vegetables, growing various herbs and general growing techniques.
A persimmon tree is a winter wonder and well worth planting. At this time of year, its glossy green leaves will have turned orange and be falling, leaving beautiful orange baubles hanging on smooth, deep brown branches. It is often referred to as a winter Christmas tree.
Persimmon fruit is often underrated, for two main reasons: first, a lack of knowledge about how to use them; and, second, eating the raw fruit of the astringent varieties before it is sufficiently ripe (which leaves an unpleasant, chalky after taste).
Persimmons are either astringent or non-astringent. Check the label before buying as they are quite different in their use. Astringent varieties are perhaps more suited to a Melbourne climate than non-astringent varieties, but both types should grow well.
Astringent persimmons are ready to eat when their skin deepens to a rich watermelon colour, the skin is almost translucent, and the flesh wobbles inside the skin like a gel. They make wonderful desserts, either scooped out with cream or ice cream, or in pies or puddings. They also make great jams, cakes, breads and biscuits.
Non-astringent persimmons are harvested when they are a rich orange colour. They are eaten firm and crisp and have a crunchy texture. They are used in salads or eaten like an apple. Chutney and smoothies can be made from them, and they can be dried (though the procedure is complex).
Persimmons grow in a wide variety of soils. They are deciduous, hardy, can live for centuries, need only a light prune as they fruit on current season growth and, while they will grow to 5 metres, can be kept at 3 metres for easy netting (birds love the fruit). They are generally impervious to insect attack.
Ideal conditions include deep, rich, well drained soil, full sun and protection from wind (as their branches, when heavy with fruit, can snap). Persimmons also thrive in our clay soils, producing 60-80 fruit per season.
When planting, work the soil well, make sure it is moist, and plant the tree with a 10cm clearance above the graft. Keep the tree well watered until established.
Apply fertiliser each winter.