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Propagating persimmons: Germinating seeds, grafting, and transplanting

Starting persimmon seeds in a potIf you haven't already, please read my previous post to learn about persimmon spacing, varieties, and other factors to consider when planning your persimmon orchard.  This post is a quick rundown on three methods of persimmon propagation.

Starting persimmons from seed.  The cheapest (and probably least problematic) method of growing persimmons is to gather seeds from wild trees and sprout them right where you want your own persimmon to grow.  I've had mixed success with sprouting persimmon seeds, but I now know that if you use a couple of tricks, your persimmons will germinate quite well.  First, gather whole persimmon fruits and remove the seeds, but don't let the seeds dry out.  Your seeds will need to stratify, so plant them in fall or winter, no more than an inch deep in the soil.  Persimmon seeds won't germinate until late spring, so if you want to be able to keep track of them, you might try planting your seeds in outdoor pots at this time of year, then transplanting them into their final location as soon as they germinate and before they send down their long tap root.  If you choose the pot method, plant your seeds in soil taken from the woods to promote germination.

Pulp around persimmon seedsAs I cleaned my first batch of persimmon seeds, I noticed that a layer of pulp continued to cling to the seed, so I'm experimenting with whether persimmon seeds also need a  fermentation stage.  I planted half of my seeds directly into pots of woodland soil, and am letting the other seeds soak in water for a week or two the way I do with tomato seeds.  I'll report back this spring about which method gave me better germination rates.

Grafting persimmons.  Starting persimmons from seed is relatively easy, but your final tree may or or may not be exactly the way you want it to be.  You can develop your own, locally adapted persimmon varieties by setting aside a patch of land to test out dozens of different seeds.  The persimmons in your test strip can be planted much closer together since you just need them to grow to about five feet tall, at which point they will begin to fruit.  Select your favorite varieties from this test bed (maybe an early, mid-season, and late tree?) and graft scion wood onto seedlings started at the same time in their permanent location.  I won't go into the basics of grafting here, but I've read that persimmons can be grafted using the same methods you would use to graft apples.

Root pruningTransplanting persimmons.  If at all possible, it's best to plan your persimmon orchard so that you don't need to transplant.  However, if for some reason it's essential to move a persimmon from one spot to another, orchardists have developed a method that is time-consuming but which seems to work.

The best time to transplant is at the beginning of the third growing season.  To prepare, prune the roots the previous summer by digging your spade into the soil a few inches from the trunk of the tree in alternating sections, as is shown in the image to the right.  Two months later, repeat the process, cutting into the areas that were left uncut last time.  This process will make your persimmon grow roots close to the trunk where you'll be able to dig them up (although you'll still lose the taproot.)

During the next dormant season, lay out black plastic in the area you plan to transplant into.  This will warm the soil up so that when you transplant the persimmon in early spring, it is ready to grow immediately.  Prune back the top of the tree extensively so that only half to a third of the branches remain, then transplant the persimmon into its new location.  Keep the persimmon very well waterered until mid summer --- a flush of growth right off the bat doesn't mean that your tree is established and can be ignored.  If your persimmon is still alive, stop watering in August to let it harden off for the winter.
American persimmon fruits
After reading all of that, you probably think, like I do, that it's best to just start seedlings!  I'm currently gathering seeds from persimmons that ripen at various times, with the goal of putting some directly into the forest pasture in the spring and others into a test strip for later grafting onto male seedlings in the pasture.  Like many parts of my forest pasture experiment, growing persimmons is a long term project, with seedlings slated to bloom in four to eight years and then the grafted persimmons not beginning to fruit until three years after that.  Maybe by 2020, persimmons will make up a significant portion of our chickens' diets.

Keep your chickens healthy with a homemade chicken waterer.



This post is part of our Persimmons lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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I have had almost 100% success germinating persimmon seeds. It may sound gross to some people, but my method is to collect the seeds from animal dung along roads and trails. It is already stratified by the animals stomach acid and it is the natural way that the seeds are spread. I can't be sure of the quality of the fruit that it came from, but I do know that the raccoon, fox, or coyote liked it. I also find pawpaw, palmetto, and other wildlife plant seeds this way. I start about 12 seeds in a large nursery pot and about 90% germinate the first spring and the rest germinate the following spring. I sometimes scratch the seeds with a knife to scarify them before planting but I am not sure that this is necessary.
Comment by M. Loy Fri Nov 5 09:40:25 2010
I love that idea! I do find lots of persimmon and pawpaw seeds in scats (mostly fox). Right now, I'm really selecting based on fruiting time, and I'd still get that data from the scats, even though I wouldn't know specifically which tree they came from. I'll have to keep my eyes open!
Comment by anna Fri Nov 5 13:49:29 2010
Grafting persimmons is much more hit and miss than with apples. I've tried budding (100% failure) and also normal, early spring, split rootstock grafts. The latter did work, but had a much, much lower success rate than apples. If you go the grafting route, be prepared to do many more grafts than you think you'll need and don't be too discouraged by failure (I've talked to old hands in the business and everyone agrees that persimmons are difficult). Also note that the scion can take up to 3 months to sprout (or show any signs of life at all), so be patient and just leave those plants in the nursery bed for as long as you like (even if none of your grafts take, you can still use the root-stock again next year).
Comment by John Thu Jun 23 18:06:19 2011
Thanks so much for sharing this hands on information! It's especially good to know about how long it can take for them to break dormancy since that will prevent impatient people (like me :-) ) from ripping them out in disgust.
Comment by anna Thu Jun 23 19:00:55 2011

So I never really say much useful here other than gush praise but ok, let me do that much... Again, I LOVE that you (and the other readers) talk about common sense things like putting human urine back into the ecology of your immediate surroundings, finding and using seeds in scat -- not because it's trendy but simply because it works. That's the ultimate conservation and efficiency, resilience, treading lightly. Maaaaaan...city life is like life on Mars!

Comment by J Fri Oct 21 12:44:27 2011
It's comments like the scat ones that keep me writing --- I know exactly what you mean. :-) Thanks for following the links and reading back!
Comment by anna Fri Oct 21 13:31:18 2011
I collected my persimmon seeds from a wild tree. I removed the pulp completely by squeezing them and rubbing them together in a towel under water. I planted them outside in a nursery pot, freshly perchased soil in mid Janurary. They look swallen but have not germinated. My question is, will they? I'm worried because this winter hasn't been cold at all, probably not cold enough to stratify them. But I also read a scientific journal article saying persimmon seeds don't show mechanism of dormancy. If they are going to germinate, when will be the time?
Comment by Cherry Sun Mar 11 13:53:36 2012
Cherry --- I found that my persimmons took a long time to germinate. I suspect they don't like cold weather and wait until high summer so they won't get nipped. So don't despair --- give them a few more months and you might see signs of life.
Comment by anna Sun Mar 11 13:58:58 2012
I started some Persimmon seeds this year and a couple came up and a few others damped off. I left everything alone and the ones that had damped off began growing new shoots, unfortunately I pulled them out as I thought they were weeds but that's how I found out they were growing from the bases of the damped off root stub. So if you have any problems with damping off just keep watering them because the root system may still be in tact enough to grow a new shoot.
Comment by Brian Wed May 23 14:19:21 2012

Brian --- That's odd --- I've never seen damped off plants resprout. Is it possible that they got frost-bitten not damped off?

(Thanks for the timely reminder that I need to get all of the seeds I've been saving this winter into pots.... :-) )

Comment by anna Wed May 23 18:57:12 2012

We didn't have frost that damaged them and I have a photo (sort of blurry) that I added some notes too showing some that made it and others that had damped off in the same pot. I found another that is sprouting from a damped off stem and I'll see if I can get a good photo of it and see how it grows.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/20378685@N00/7024640969/

We planted 9 pawpaw seedlings so far (of the 12 that germinated) and we just planted a named variety so we can take advantage of the shady parts of our yard for fruit production.

The persimmons will remain in pots and hopefully they will be big enough to use for grafting on a Japanese persimmon top.

Comment by Brian Thu May 24 14:56:26 2012
Brian --- You're right --- your photo does look an awful lot like damping off. I can't quite figure out how your persimmon could regrow after damping off since all it's energy at that stage is in the cotyledons, but I guess it did!
Comment by anna Thu May 24 17:13:10 2012

Here's the photos I promised it shows two little stumps that are trying to regrow (even after I pulled the tops off the first time because I thought they were weeds.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/20378685@N00/7328744192/in/photostream/

And here are some Close-ups: http://www.flickr.com/photos/20378685@N00/7156088165/in/photostream/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/20378685@N00/7341289054/in/photostream/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/20378685@N00/7156087235/in/photostream/

The first one I weeded and pulled the roots out of and figured out it was a persimmon seedling had a very healthy thick root system. I don't know if this seedling will be very healthy but it will be interesting to see if it even survives the first year.

Comment by Anonymous Tue Jun 5 09:12:43 2012
Brian (Anonymous) --- That is so cool! Thanks for documenting that. It's pretty amazing to see such a tiny seedling rebound from a serious beheading like that.
Comment by anna Tue Jun 5 16:41:53 2012
I have two persimmon trees in my back yard and have to cut down small trees all the time - no problem at all. I just figured they fell to the ground and the seeds planted themselvesl. They are really a pest. This year was the best I have seen with one tree - maybe the drought and hot weather had something to do with it. Only one of the trees bore fruit, and I just figured they need two because the other tree was health but no persimmons. Both trees are over six years and were here when I moved here. Just FYI
Comment by Ann F. Thu Oct 25 14:49:55 2012