Agri Leader

Persimmons perfect to plant in Florida's fall

As we move through the dog days of summer, it is time to consider your fall gardening options. While summertime gardening is primarily geared toward vegetable crops, the fall months are the perfect time to plant fruit trees in central Florida. While many people have orange and grapefruit trees growing in their yards, it is fun to branch out to different types of fruit. Oriental persimmons grow well in our warm climate and are generally easy to care for, making them the perfect choice for the home gardener. Oriental persimmons have been grown successfully in central Florida for many years. First introduced to the United States in 1856, Oriental persimmons can be grown in northern Florida, but produce the highest quality fruit when grown here in central Florida. Before you plant, decide which type of persimmon you prefer to grow. Persimmons are placed into two different classifications, based primarily on the characteristics of the fruit they bear.
Non-astringent cultivars can be eaten while fruit is hard or soft. Astringent fruit must reach a soft stage before they are suitable for consumption. One of the most popular astringent cultivars adapted to our climate is "Saijo," which yields the sweetest fruit. These trees are hardy, produce large amounts of fruit and are perfect for home gardens. "Tanenashi" is another astringent persimmon producing heavy crops here in Florida. Homeowners can expect to harvest fruit from these trees from September through November. If you prefer a non-astringent cultivar, consider "Hana Fuyu" and "Ichikikei Jiro," both of which are hardy trees and easy for homeowners to grow. These non-astringent cultivars usually ripen during late September and continue through December in our growing area. Persimmon trees fare well in central Florida because they tolerate both drought conditions as well as flooding. New trees should be planted on well-drained soil. Transplants should be staked for added stability. Although container-grown trees can be planted in Florida at any time of the year, our moderate fall climate is perfect for establishment of new persimmon trees. The temperatures are still mild and the soil is not excessively dry during the fall months. Bare-root persimmon trees grow best when planted from December through February. Healthy trees will become established more quickly than old or spindly persimmon trees. When digging holes for planting, be sure holes are large enough for the root system to spread out without being crowded. Fertilizer is not needed at planting time, but persimmons will benefit from applications each month from April to August for the first year. Once your persimmon tree is in the ground, dig a soil ring around the tree that will act as a water reservoir, filling it completely so that water settles all around the roots of your new tree. As your tree grows, it is best to water it once a week, twice if rain is infrequent and conditions are dry. If your soil is sandy, your persimmon tree will need more water than trees planted in organic or clay soils. Damage from freezing weather is most likely to occur in central Florida in February, March or April. Choosing a planting area with excellent air drainage will help minimize damage from freezing temperatures. Avoid planting your Oriental persimmons in low-lying areas to reduce freeze damage, as well. Healthy, vigorous trees are far less-likely to suffer damage from freezing temperatures, so be sure to apply fertilizers monthly, water frequently and monitor trees for damaging pests frequently. Scale insects are the most common problem in persimmons, but some species are more dangerous to tree health than others. According to the University of Florida, IFAS Extension, scale insects that attack the bark of persimmons are more dangerous than those attacking the fruit. The white peach scale is the most common damaging scale insect in our growing area. If you have scale insects, you will see a white-snowy substance on the bark of the tree where the insects settle to feed. Small numbers of scale insects can be removed from the tree with a knife. If infestations are heavy, pesticides may be necessary. Limbs with heavy infestations of scale insects should be pruned out and discarded. Your Oriental persimmon will give you great pleasure every year once it begins to bear fruit. Nut trees such as pecan, black walnut and chestnuts also are good choices for fall planting in central Florida. These trees will not only bear delicious nuts, but will shade your yard when they mature. Choosing varieties recommended for your growing area is the key to success, so be sure to contact your local extension office for information on which trees are the best choice for your landscape setting.