Persimmons are often thought of as a tree for southern climates, and indeed, some varieties grow only in warm regions. Fortunately, a few varieties are well-suited to Ohio. These trees produce abundant fruit within three to five years and also make fine shade trees. Growing 35 to 60 feet tall, these trees have a rounded canopy and hard wood. The secret to growing persimmons lies in choosing a variety adapted to cold winters.
American or common persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are native to the eastern United States, growing from Connecticut to Kansas. These rugged trees thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. Most of Ohio lies in zone 6a, according to the 2012 updated plant hardiness zone map. The common persimmon grows readily in Ohio's climate. Oriental persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are native to tropical climates. In the U.S., they grow only in USDA zones 7 through 10. They are not predictably hardy in Ohio.
Once established, persimmon trees require little maintenance, but they do need some extra care initially. They grow best in the deep, well-draining soil commonly found in Ohio. Add some compost or manure to the planting hole, though, if your soil is clay or sand. Persimmons should be planted in a location that gets full sun. After planting, they need regular watering during the first two or three summers as the roots become established. Mature trees are more drought tolerant. Like most fruit trees, persimmons benefit from an annual pruning to remove dead limbs and suckers and open the interior to light. Fruits commonly drop in the spring, reducing the need for thinning on your part.
American persimmon trees are not self-fruitful. You'll need both a female and a male tree to produce fruit. A few common varieties suited for pollination include "Florence" (Diospyros virginiana "Florence"), "Meader" (Diospyros virginiana "Meader"), "Garretson" (Diospyros virginiana "Garretson") and "Morris" (Diospyros virginiana "Morris").
Unlike the firm Oriental persimmons you see in the stores, American persimmons do not become edible until they are very soft. In fact, they taste best in late fall after they've been nipped by frost. In Ohio, they may not be fully ripe until most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. These soft fruits can be eaten out of hand or used in jellies, pies and ice creams. Their flavor has been compared to apricots or peaches with a hint of astringency.
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