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Pumpkins, turning leaves; October is delightful month

October is a delightful month. Pumpkins of various sizes, shapes, and colors pop up in stores and farmer’s markets, leaves begin to change from green to golden hues of yellow, yellow wildflowers flourish along roadsides, and strange “orange balls” hang from leafless trees. While traveling down the highway, the sight of these leafless trees with “orange ornaments” deserves a second look. Upon closer examination, this strange-looking fruit is the persimmon.

Persimmon trees have been a part of the landscape for centuries. The fruit is high in Vitamin A and other nutrients, and the wood is loved by golf club makers and woodworkers. The American Persimmon is native to the United States and was much loved by the Native Americans. Its small fruit are astringent, very tart until fully ripe. Once they ripen to a soft mushy texture, they are very tasty. My grandfather used to tell a story about a time he and his brother ate unripe persimmons in the piney woods of East Texas. They ate so many that their mouths puckered. When they arrived home and tried to speak, they could only make nonsense sounds.

Japanese persimmons are very popular today. They are grafted onto the American persimmon rootstock, which allows them to grow in almost any soil type found in Texas. The Fuyu (non-astringent) and the Hachiya (astringent) are the most common. Many people like the Fuyu because they can be picked and used when they are firm. Be aware that once picked, the persimmon will continue to ripen, so use it before it rots or freeze the pulp for future use.

Persimmons are an underutilized fruit in Southeast Texas. I have driven past houses with a persimmon tree in their front yard and seen countless fruit rotting on the ground. Persimmons can be very versatile. In Indiana they make persimmon pudding, a dessert which is the consistency of pumpkin pie without the crust. On the internet you can also find recipes for everything from persimmon jam to persimmon muffins.

Persimmons are extremely easy to grow since it is not necessary to spray them, and fertilizer applications are kept at a minimum. To grow a persimmon, plant the tree the same depth as the pot and thoroughly water the ground. This will allow the soil to settle around the tree. Do not fertilize your tree yet. Once the roots are established, you can give it a small amount of fertilizer once in the spring. If the new shoots grow more than three feet long, reduce the amount fertilizer. Persimmons are pruned to a central leader, one main trunk, during the first few seasons. During the winter months, crossover and broken branches are removed. If rainfall is low in the spring or summer, water the tree. For more information, visit http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu, select “Fruit & Nut Resources,” and then select “Persimmons.”

Reach Jefferson County Master Gardener, Melissa Starr, at melynstarr@hotmail.com, or call the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Office at (409) 835-8461.