In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Persimmons bring delicious fruit and ornamental attractiveness to the fall landscape.

A Fruitful Fall Season

A friend shared a box of persimmons with me the other day. Looking down into the box at a layer of the ripe fruit brought back memories. A number of years ago I lived in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. Wild persimmons were plentiful. During the fall season there were usually a dozen riding around with me in the pickup, which I had found along the roadsides. These were the native American persimmon and were quite astringent until fully ripe. In fact they needed to be so soft they resembled a bag of jelly about to burst. But the fruit was worth the wait. Sweet and aromatic, it was a treat to eat fresh, and I'm especially fond of it in specialty breads and other baked items.

My friend's persimmons were the much larger Chinese type. These are also a favorite of mine, although most are less hardy than their native counterparts. There are many cultivars to choose from, offering a range of fruit size, shape, and color. Some are astringent and others are non-astringent. The latter can be eaten when almost crisp without that unforgettable bite of astringency! While the benefits of non-astringent cultivars are obvious, my personal preference are the astringent types which I find tastier.

Persimmons make a small yard tree. The fruit hangs on well after the foliage has fallen and is quite ornamental in the landscape. Persimmons are self-fertile and are worthy of a spot in most landscapes. They can even tolerate a little shade, unlike most other types of fruit. Add to that the fact that they can be grown without spraying, and you have one nice, multifunction edible/ornamental!

Fall is also citrus season. While most citrus is too cold tender for our Lower South zone, there are some types that are tough enough to try with a little protection. Satsuma oranges and kumquats are two examples of hardy citrus. Satsumas are mandarin-type oranges with baggy skin that is very easy to peel. They tolerate temperatures down into the mid to low 20's.

Satsuma oranges form a medium sized tree that is really quite bush-like in growth habit. This makes them not very difficult to cover on a cold night. I have grown them in the ground and used a large section of plastic sheeting with some light bulbs underneath to get the plants through significant cold snaps. An alternate way to grow them is in a very large container, about the size of a half whiskey barrel. The plants are even smaller when grown in a container. The planting container can be put on rollers or moved with a dolly into a protected garage when really cold weather threatens.

Kumquats are even hardier than satsumas, surviving temperatures into the mid-teens. They form small to medium sized shrubs and can also be grown in the ground or a large container. Their fruit grows to only an inch to an inch-and-a-half in size. The unique thing about kumquats is that the fruits' skin is sweeter than the inside. While I enjoy eating them fresh, they are also great in marmalades.

Other less hardy citrus worth growing in the Lower South includes key and Mexican limes and the Meyer lemon, which is actually not a true lemon. These are best grown in containers in our zone so they can be moved into a protected garage when freezes are forecast.

A second benefit of growing citrus is the fragrant blooms. This makes them especially useful in a patio or other outside sitting area where the wafting fragrance can be enjoyed.

If I'm going to talk about the fall fruit I should also mention the nuts! Pecans are a familiar tree in the South. Their nuts reach maturity in the fall, dropping to the ground where we can gather them for holiday baking or fresh eating. I also love the flavored pecans. You can coat them with a number of different things from smoky, barbecue flavors to sugar and cinnamon, and then roast them lightly in an oven.

Black walnuts are also native in the Lower South. They produce a wonderfully aromatic nutmeat. The wild trees bear nuts with hard shells and a limited amount of kernel, which is well concealed within the "Swiss cheese" type passages inside the shell. I call these wild black walnuts "diet food" because even if they had a thousand calories, it takes two thousand calories of effort to get out the kernels!

There are improved varieties that bear nuts that are much easier to shell and yield more kernel pieces per nut, but these are not widely available in the nursery trade. While I'm on black walnuts, I should add that they combine wonderfully with persimmons in specialty breads.

If you don't have one of these fall bearing fruits or nuts, consider getting one. If you know a friend who does, prepare a dessert and pay them a visit to discuss making a trade!

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