The American or ‘common’ persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, native to the south-eastern United States, is one of the most satisfying fruit trees to own. It produces fragrant white flowers and long glossy leaves, an attractive oval crown, red fall foliage, and most importantly, consistent fruit year after year with very little maintenance.
Meanwhile, the Asian Persimmon Diospyros kaki (also known as Chinese, Oriental, Japanese or Kaki persimmon) is becoming an increasingly popular alternative. Originating from China, cultivars have been developed that have many of the same positive characteristics but produce larger fruits in greater numbers. You may be wondering how quickly you can expect these pleasant trees to grow, and whether they’re going to outgrow your space.
American persimmon trees grow at a rate of one to two feet per year. After 20-50 years, they reach a mature height of 35-60 feet, and spread 20-35 feet. Asian varieties may grow slightly faster, at one to three feet per year, but have a smaller mature height (15-60 feet) and spread (15-30 feet).
These trees are then considered moderate to fast-growing.
I always find it easier to size up trees by visualizing them against other things, so here goes: your average-sized persimmon tree will be as tall as a two-storey house after 10 to 20 years, and eventually be up to three times taller than that. The final spread of the branches will be about as wide as 3 to 5 car parking spaces, (2 to 4 spaces wide for the asian variety).
Japanese persimmon fruits are about two inches in diameter (around the size of a tomato) while American fruits are about half the size. If your persimmon fruits look smaller than those you might find in a grocery store, you’re probably growing American persimmon.
Why is my persimmon tree not growing?
Not all persimmon trees will grow quickly, or reach their maximum size – while they can tolerate a broad range of conditions, the local climate, position and soil type are the chief factors that can stunt growth.
The American persimmon tree can survive in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 or warmer (meaning it will grow where there is an average annual minimum winter temperature of -20 to -15 °F, or -28.9 to -26.1 °C) but in this region the cold temperatures will likely reduce its growth rate. As a rough guide, common persimmons can be found growing naturally as far north as New York. If you’re in a northerly region, consider the cultivar ‘Meader’; it’s probably the hardiest.
The Asian varieties are a bit less hardy, and grow in Zone 7 or warmer (where the average annual minimum winter temperature is 0 to 5 °F, or -17.8 to -15 °C).
All persimmon trees prefer to grow in full sun – they’ll generally tolerate a bit of shade though.
All persimmons like growing on moist but well-drained soil and will tolerate a range of pH levels. They have a deep taproot so do best when planted on deep soil; the same taproot can make it difficult to transplant the tree to another place, so choose planting spots carefully to maximize potential.
Fortunately, persimmons are pretty resistant to diseases and pests in general. There are a few that can affect it though – such as fall webworm, hickory horned devil, persimmon borer and the fungal infection persimmon wilt, caused by Cephalosporium diospyri. If your tree is visibly infested with insects or flies, it has become sparsely foliated or fruit production has reduced, consider consulting a trained arborist.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for a handy table comparing American and Asian persimmon trees.
How long do persimmon trees live?
As a general rule, American persimmon trees live for around 60 years in good growing conditions, but they’ve been known to live for over 100 years. Asian persimmon trees have a similar lifespan. A healthy tree can give 50 productive years of reliable fruit.
Why is my persimmon tree not producing fruit?
American persimmon trees do not usually produce fruit until they have been growing for 9 to 10 years from seed. They are normally dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees. Female trees generally need to have a male persimmon tree nearby (within half a mile or so) to produce fruit.
However, the asian persimmon has numerous cultivars that are self-pollinating, so can produce seedless fruit without the need for a second pollinating tree. They also bear fruit much earlier – after 3 to 5 years.
Asian and American persimmon trees will not cross-pollinate each other, so planting an Asian tree near and American female persimmon won’t help the American tree produce fruit.
How to make a persimmon tree grow faster
If your persimmon tree has already been planted for more than a season, it may already have developed a taproot that will make it difficult to move the tree.
So to make it grow more rapidly, focus on the things you can control – pruning, fertilizing and watering:
Pruning persimmon trees for faster growth
Persimmon trees don’t usually need a lot of pruning – some even think that it spoils the natural shape of the tree. But if there are branches that are dead, diseased or broken, they are best removed with sharp secateurs or a pruning saw.
Your tree will grow straight and tall more rapidly if you encourage a ‘central leader’. That means if there are two stems both competing to be the main ‘trunk’, prune off the one that is least straight upwards, while the tree is still young. The best time of year to prune is the late spring or early winter.
You can prune off up to a maximum of one-third of the total size of the tree to maintain its encourage it to put its energy into fast upward growth and fruit production. Here’s an in-depth video guide if you’re interested in tackling some pruning.
American persimmon trees (or Asian ones grafted onto an American Persimmon rootstock) are also particularly prone to producing suckers – new tree stems arising from around the base of the tree, growing directly from the roots. This propagation method allows the trees to reproduce without necessarily producing seed. However, if you want to focus on your main tree, these suckers should be removed as soon as they appear – ideally before they’re a foot high.
You can dig down gently into the soil to find where they’re attached to the root, then tear off (rather than cut off) the sucker. This means your tree won’t expend its growth energy on making mini-trees, but instead use it to grow more quickly and produce more fruit.
Fertilizing persimmon trees for faster growth
Persimmon trees do love fertile soil, and those that grow the quickest are those that have the right mix of nutrients available to their roots. A slow-release fertilizer is your friend here – it’s a lot more difficult to overdo it.
Fertilizer spikes are the best – I recommend Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes for Fruit and Citrus (Amazon paid link) for persimmon trees. 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate and 10 percent potash; Jobe’s is well-balanced at 9-12-12. The image below will also bring you to the product on Amazon (paid link).
These three nutrients are the most important growth factors for most plants. But you can certainly get into more detail – if you wish, you can test your soil for specific nutritional deficiencies using a commercial soil test kit… Not everybody is as geeky as I am though. If you’re interested, check out Rapitest’s soil testing kit, which will tell you your nutritional components and the pH as well. That’s the one I use (paid link below) – click on it to check the price.
Persimmon trees expend a lot of their nutrients producing the abundant fruit that they’re known for, so providing adequate fertilization will help ensure you get a better crop of fruits each year as well.
Watering persimmon trees for faster growth
To encourage quicker growth, it’s enough to make sure your persimmon tree doesn’t dry out. You can check this by pushing your finger an inch or two down into the soil. If the soil doesn’t stick to your finger or feels dry, it’s time to water your Persimmon. If not, a 10-15 minute slow soak with a hose (avoid blasting the base) will be enough to keep it happy- once or twice a week during summer dry spells.
American and Asian persimmon trees: a growth comparison table
|Place of persimmon origin
|Growth rate per year
|Produces fruit after
|Approximate fruit size
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Peterwchen, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Vinayaraj, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons