Persimmons (not growing) on a branch


Take a Moment for Forethought

Luscious photos now splash pages of mail-order catalogs, the web, and plant tags at local nurseries. It’s hard to remain rational about planting this time of year, and more so the colder the last winter’s climate.

What I’m suggesting is to give plantings some forethought and, rather than looking for either ornamental or edible trees and shrubs, considering plants that fulfill both functions. That is, trees and shrubs that earn their keep year-‘round with leaves that remain lush and verdant all summer, then light up with fall color, and, of course, bear fruit, and perhaps unfold with eye-catching blossoms in spring.

Persimmons ripening

Persimmons ripening

Lots of trees and shrubs fill this bill, but here I’d like to restrict consideration to fruits that I would pop into my mouth right out in the garden; doctoring up as jam or in a pie is not obligatory. 

A Vine & a Tree, Among My Favorites

Consider, for example, kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.), introduced into this country over 100 years ago as ornamentals, making them common denizens of many old gardens.

Actinidia kolomikta leaf variegation

Actinidia kolomikta leaf variegation

I wonder how many visitors to these historic estates have walked under arbors draped with this attractive woody vine, unaware of ambrosial fruits hidden beneath the canopy of leaves. It’s only in the past few decades that this vine has come into its own as a fruit plant. There are species, all bearing tasty fruit, adaptable to tropical, to subtropical climates, and to cold temperate climates.Hardy kiwi and fuzzy kiwi

Male and female kiwi flowers are on separate plants, but one male can sire up to nine females. These plants do require a sturdy trellis on which to grow and — unless you grow them mostly as ornamentals — annual pruning.Kiwi havest

         Juneberry (Amelanchier spp.), which parades also under the names service tree, shadblow, or saskatoon, is commonly grown as an ornamental small tree or as a large shrub. This native plant is attractive year-’round. The smooth, grey bark adds interest to the stark winter landscape. Here in zone 5, white blossoms unfold on stems in mid-April.Wild juneberry in bloom

The small, blue fruits resemble blueberries in appearance but not in flavor, best described as having the sweetness and richness of a sweet cherry, with a hint of almond. Juneberry fruits

Juneberries are actually in the Rose Family and share some problems of that family. In marginal sites for fruit growing — such as, unfortunately, here on my farmden — they suffer pest problems.

Another native plant, American persimmon (Diospyros americana), is among the easiest of fruits to grow, rarely beset by any pests, or needing pruning. The fruit is smaller, softer and drier than the more familiar Asian persimmon, with a richer flavor, something like a wet, dried apricot that has been drizzled with honey and given a dash of spice.

Persimmons ripening in late summer

Persimmons ripening in late summer

Delicious! Ripe, edible fruits dangle like Christmas ornaments from the branches well into fall.

Even after leaf drop, still delicious

Even after leaf drop, still delicious

Persimmon fruits are puckery until ripe, so it’s important to grow a selection that ripens within the growing season. Here in zone 5, I grow the variety Szukis, which has never failed to produce a good crop except for two seasons over the past thirty plus years. Another plus for Szukis is that it’s self-pollinating. (The trees are hardier in colder climates but the fruits may lack time to ripen.)

Persimmon grows to become a tall tree, with graceful, arching limbs and an interesting checkered bark. Pruning can keep the tree smaller.Persimmon bark

Two Shrubs Worthy of Attention

Do you have some room or need a bush to plant? How about one of my favorites, Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosum). I grow a row of them along my driveway, and in mid-April, as the branches overflow with pinkish white blossoms, they literally stop (bicycle) traffic. Nanking cherry in bloom

  Bright, red cherries follow the blossoms, ripening in early summer. The cherries are small, with flavor somewhere between that of sweet and tart cherries. Picking Nanking cherriesIts native home in northwest Asia, with low rainfall and temperatures that plummet way below zero degrees Fahrenheit in winter and soar near 100 in summer, gives testimonial to the cold and drought tolerance of this plant.

Another ornamental, edible shrub, clove currant (Ribes odoratum), was common over a century ago but too rarely planted today. Back then, it was grown near windows of homes so that the clove and vanilla scent of its flowers could waft indoors. The flowers themselves are red-tinged yellow trumpets, two or three inches long and dangling in profusion from the branches like charms on a bracelet. Clove currant flowers

As if beauty and aroma were not enough, clove currant is also very drought and cold tolerant, as would be expected from a plant native to the Great Plains. 

The bush is best used informally, as it is somewhat unkempt due to extensive suckering and arching of the long branches to the ground under the weight of the fruit. The black berries ripen over a long period in summer; although not sweet, they are juicy and pleasantly aromatic.Clove currant fruit

And Down on the Ground . . .

How about an edible groundcover rather than the usual ivy, vinca, or pachysandra? Two of my favorites are the related lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium). Both are very cold-hardy and native to North America. Lingonberry is also native in other northern regions, most notably in Scandinavia where mere mention of the name brings moist eyes to expat Scandinavians.Lingonberry with fruit

Lingonberry is often compared to another edible, native groundcover, Thanksgiving cranberry. I think that does a disservice to lingonberry. Lingonberry holds its shiny, green leaves year ‘round; Lingonberry in winterso does cranberry but its leaves turn muddy purple in winter. Lingonberry fruits are tart but pleasantly so, enough to pop into your mouth as is; few people would do that with a cranberry.

The sweet, grey-blue fruits of lowbush blueberry make up the blueberry industry of Maine. The plants are deciduous, their green leaves turning fiery crimson in the fall.

The low-growing lingonberry and lowbush blueberry plants spread by under ground runners. Planted six to twelve inches apart, they will spread to completely fill an area.

Lowbush blueberry in flower

Lowbush blueberry in flower

I grow lingonberry and lowbush blueberry together in a raised bed behind a rock wall in front of my home. They are congenial in the garden (both require very acidic soil), with blueberries’ crimson leaves mingling with lingonberries’ glossy, green leave and red fruits in autumn.

Lowbush blueberry & lingonberry

Lowbush blueberry & lingonberry

In spring, stems are decorated by small, urn-shaped, white blossoms. Both plants retain their healthy look all summer long.

Easier, Peasier, and More Info

As a group, the above-mentioned, dual-purpose plants are far less finicky to grow than more common fruiting plants like apples and peaches, and remain attractive over a longer period. The above plants all do fine with only occasional, corrective pruning.

(This post is NOT excerpted from my book Landscaping with Fruit. Needless to say, more information about each of these fruits as well as other ornamental/edible trees in shrubs is offered in that book, available from the usual sources or, signed, from

Persimmons (not growing) on a branch

Persimmons (not growing) on a branch

7 replies
  1. Joseph A. Catania Jr.
    Joseph A. Catania Jr. says:

    Thank you for this. Food for thought (pun intended). Order the book and will plan for additions to the garden/yard

  2. ace
    ace says:

    Great information!! There are 2 wild persimmon trees in a local park not far from where I live. Nobody does anything with them!! I knock down the fruits in mid-late October- they are so sweet – even though the pit takes up most of the fruit,
    I grow figs on my balcony. Someone in my neighborhood has had a Pomegranate tree for at least 40 years. I love to watch it develop from flowers to fruit.

  3. Chanda Butler
    Chanda Butler says:

    Thank you for this article on these wondrous trees, vines, shrubs and plants. I am curious if these will grow in New Hampshire. We are in the Lakes Region and it’s known as a special microclimate. We had to cut some Ash and Beech trees recently around our house tucked along a stream in a ravine. It is sunny in some places but shady in others. Plenty of water and good soil. I observed a bush that my mother planted, that no matter the season was glorious to look at. It sparked my interest in the 3 season trees and I wondered which of these or any you are aware of that would do well in this environment. It’s quite a special spot, a less dramatic Falling Water like site. We hope to foster a Native & Asian inspired garden with stone work around the property. Some flowering, berry or leaf changing trees would be great to add to the garden plan. We might need to be careful about fruit, as we have a lot of bears about up on our mountain top. We resist bird feeders and compost for this reason. Always appreciated your growing advice. Looking forward to your suggestions!
    All the best,

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      Pretty much all the plants I mentioned, except for the persimmon, which probably would not ripen there, would do well in your climate. I’m sure you have a beautiful site. I’ve spent lots of time, summer and winter, in the Lakes Region, and it’s one of my favorite places.


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