In praise of the American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana some field photos

Leo in N E Illinois

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Thanksgiving was at my sister's house this year. Pomona, IL, her home is 14 miles from a numbered highway, south of Murphysboro, IL in the Shawnee National Forest. Way out in the woods as far as this Chicago born urbanite is concerned. I remembered the last night I was there to collect some 'simmons to eat on the way home and to save seed from. Time to start a batch for bonsai. And I took some pictures. Sorry about the twilight, but I forgot to shoot pictures earlier in the day.

About 8 years ago I planted an American persimmon seedling in her front yard, it came from fruit from the approximately 50 or more year old tree that is in a hedgerow down the road. The 8 year old started bearing fruit last year, this year it is still sparse but getting better.

This year the weather was perfect for picking American Persimmons, the fruit had been frosted several times, and the weather was dry enough it had not molded. Many trees still had lots of fruit hanging, some years it is all on the ground by Thanksgiving. Very tasty. Sweet, aromatic, redolent with a spice that is hard to describe, almost cinnamon, but not. Allspice? At any rate, it is a wonderful fruit. Most likely it will never become a commercial fruit. I did discover why. Harvest 20 off one tree, 19 with be as sweet as can be, and then that one, from the same tree, will be so astringent your mouth just dries out and you loose all interest in food for an hour or so. But the astringency does increase your thirst for beer, so a good time was had by all.

As potential bonsai, the wood is reported to be very hard, which means once wired, it will hold a shape. Diospyros is the genus that includes Ebony. It develops a really nice bark, the 8 year old seedling was beginning to get the checked alligator pattern. The bark is extremely hard, it won't flake off easy, making repotting easier. They seem to be forest edge and hedgerow trees. So part shade would be best. They are summer heat tolerant and winter hardy through zone 5.

Bark of 50 year old D. virginiana, American Persimmon


8 year old seedling bark


Branch structure is not that different than Kaki, open, with coarse twigs. I believe in bonsai training the twigs will become fairly fine. Of course the fruit will be one of the focal points, it is not that large. Most fruit are less than 2 inches in diameter. They start out green, ripen to orange, and only become edible after after they are soft ripe when they are wrinkled and begin turning brown. If the weather is dry, they keep on the tree in the soft ripe state and don't fall until after several frosts. Wikipaedia says the just need to get soft ripe to loose the astringency. I since I don't usually get to persimmon country until after first frost I would not know. Key is, if they are not ripe, they have a striking astringency that is impressive. Its not harmful, just makes your mouth pucker and dry out. Beer is the only cure!

Branch of 50+ year old persimmon



branch and fruit of 8 year old persimmon


The natural growth habit of persimmon is a single trunk when growing as a forest understory tree, or a clump style when growing in a hedgerow or more open location. The 8 year old tree has branched low to form 3 trunks, and the 50 year old hedgerow tree is also 3 trunks. It is a shape that looks good with these trees.

The 3 trunks of the 8 year old tree - with my bro-in-law's rough pruning off of lower branches. Likely getting hit by the weed whacker helped to induce the formation of a clump, I know who mows the lawn. ;)




The silhouette of the 50 plus year old tree, with the moon in the background. (and my sister's pole barn) Notice the three trunks, one slightly dominant over the other two. Again, either browsing bovines, or deer or the tractor with the brush hog likely encouraged the formation of multiple trunks. Most of the larger forest specimens are single trunked, a photo is below.



Here is an image of a single trunk persimmon, Just down the trail from the parking lot for the Natural Bridge of the Shawnee forest. This area was last logged in the 1930's, so this tree is likely approaching 100 years old. It is as tall as the surrounding canopy trees, so it is at least 75 feet or more tall. There is some fruit still hanging but it is hard to see at this distance. You can tell this tree grew in the forest, it has a beautiful vase shape. Most younger forest trees I have seen have a single trunk, rather than this vase shape, but this tree was exceptionally tall, which implies it is much older that most of the trees I've seen. The vase branches don't start until quite high up the trunk. An impressive tree when you realize most think of persimmons as being no bigger than an apple tree.



As I type I'm still munching on the last of the persimmons I brought home. Saving the seeds. Really nice flavor, very sweet, and nice light spicy note. Maybe like a spiced pear, with a soft texture. Some will complain they are mushy, but hey, I like bananas and I like apples.

If you are lucky enough to have a local source for yourself, the seed must not be dried out. One needs to remove the pulp, I prefer the "eat 'em up, yum" method, wrap the seeds in a damp paper towel, put it into a plastic bag and into the refrigerator until it is warm enough to plant them out. If they dry out the embryo will die. Or you can plant them in a pot, put the pot out with your cold hardy bonsai and just keep the pot damp for the winter. They must have at least 8 to 12 weeks below 40 F to sprout, a damp stratification. I have never noticed a male persimmon tree, but without fruit they are unlikely to grab my attention. Wikipedia says the trees are either male or female. So if you are raising seedlings, always raise several, a good number is at least 6. Then the probability will be fairly high you have one of each. The female flowers can set fruit without being pollinated, and these fruits will be seedless. But fruit set will be much heavier if you have a male tree near by.

I wish I had taken better care of the batch of seedlings I started 8 years ago, I don't have any left in pots. The survivors all got planted in one relative or another's back yards. So today I am setting up another batch of seed, hopefully a few will eventually become bonsai. So I write this to encourage others to give the american persimmon a try. The bark really is quite nice. I haven't seen any Princess persimmons with anything other than smooth bark, but I haven't seen any older Princess persimmons. The fact that the bark starts to form before the tree is 10 years old may make this a superior species to use. Also American Persimmon is fully hardy to zone 5, and perhaps with some protection into zone 4. Most growers in the lower 48 states could raise this tree without having to do much to protect it in winter beyond getting it out of the sun and wind. Put it under the back yard bench. Drop a tarp over 3 sides and you are good. It probably needs some winter rest, but for southern Florida, and southern Texas there is a different species of Diospyros that takes over.

So try your hand at Diospyros virginiana if you get the chance. I really feel this is an underutilized species that deserves more attention. And if I get away from the computer tonight, I will do my part to help make some more seedlings available.

Oh, there are commercial sources, actually quite a few. Here are some:

places to buy young seedlings (I have no connection to these places)
http://www.musserforests.com/browse.asp?m=1&p=x
http://www.oikostreecrops.com/store/home.asp
http://www.forestfarm.com/product.php?id=1625

place to buy grafted cultivars selected for fruit quality
http://www.nolinnursery.com/
I have purchased from Nolin River Nursery in the past, and was quite happy with them. They have many selected nut cultivars, Pecan, Walnut, Hickory, and Pawpaws too.
 

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Thanks for this informative, and beautiful post. Too bad your seedlings didn't make it...
:(
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Thanks, Leo, nice photos too. The bark on those American persimmons is incredible, and it seems like they should make reasonable bonsai candidates. I have been halfway looking for a persimmon...may have to ramp up the effort!
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Thanks Judy. I'm just using a cheap, 6 year old digital point and shoot. Its a Nikon Coolpix. Old technology now, but I've been happy with it.

Thanks, Leo, nice photos too. The bark on those American persimmons is incredible, and it seems like they should make reasonable bonsai candidates. I have been halfway looking for a persimmon...may have to ramp up the effort!
Thanks, that is why I wrote & posted this, to get myself and others excited about trying this not often used native.

In the ground they trunk up pretty quick. The 8 yr old tree is over 10 feet tall. I'm excited to get this batch of seed going.

About commercializing,that would be selling the chickens before the eggs hatch ;)

My focus for selling 'stuff' is orchids, bonsai is my hobby away from selling 'stuff', I am not planning on selling any, but down the road if I decide to dump excess, I'll check out the forum rules for selling trees, and then post them here, if allowed. Chances are excess will be gifted away before they have a chance to be sold.
 

rockm

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Skip the seed, collect a sapling or a smashed older tree if you can.

From seed, you're looking at 15-20 years before you get any significant "barking up" on this species or any workable size.

This species has extremely coars branching habits. It is suitable mostly only for large sized bonsai, like over 24" or greater. Has to have the large frame for the gawky twigging and angular branching.

This species is extremely common here in Va. Very old trees, like over 100 years, have unique character. I've seen some that have dense pads of foliage on twisted trunks in pastures here. I've been scouting some saplings for 10 years waiting for them to put on some heft and bark. There almost there and I'm hoping to dig them in the next few years.

Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) is tighter and neater in growth and makes better bonsai material. But it's not as common as the main species north of the Lone Star state.
 

Sekibonsai

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Texas persimmon is definitely great material. They should be repotted when you see significant bud movement.

They will play "possum" for several years when collected - you scratch teh bark and the cambium is still green so yo know its alive but does not sprout...

I believe common persimmon is the same way.

I do have seedlings of virginiana if anyone is interested.
 
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Bark on Kaki

Kaki will bark up in time. The bark is striated and blackish, with a hint of blue, and small fissures. Here a couple that are in a coiled root style base, taken right before flowers began to pop, both from my collection(although the first one moved out earlier this summer). You can see the bark beginning to form on the lower areas. While both of these show this bark on what were formerly roots, I've seen it on trunks from Kaki in Japan as well.
20121205-172823.jpg
20121205-172830.jpg
 

ABCarve

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I found this thread looking for info as I've discovered a wild Persimmon ( virginiana ) patch locally. Other pages have said transplants from the wild are often unsuccessful due to the large taproot. I think they are talking about "yard tree" transplants. Anyone have experience with this as bonsai. Also the need for male/female plants.???? Info seemed mixed as to whether there is a need for both.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Looks like I need to repost my photos.

For those who live in it's native range, D virginiana is great, it is winter hardy as far north as Chicago or Grand Rapids MI. Because seedlings sprout late into summer, first year seedlings need winter protection, but once older, they are hardy here, north of Chicago.

Thanks GastroGnome, the bark of D kaki does look like it will roughen up. The bark of D virginiana is much, much rougher, alligator plates start by 10 years and could hide half a dime in 20 years.

Best time to repot and most likely best time for collecting is late summer into middle of autumn. Spring repotting in my experience will result in 50% to 75% dead trees, where I have had 95% success with late summer repotting. So collecting in autumn seems to be a logical time to try.

When I can, I'll repost pictures
 

thumblessprimate1

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Looks like I need to repost my photos.

For those who live in it's native range, D virginiana is great, it is winter hardy as far north as Chicago or Grand Rapids MI. Because seedlings sprout late into summer, first year seedlings need winter protection, but once older, they are hardy here, north of Chicago.

Thanks GastroGnome, the bark of D kaki does look like it will roughen up. The bark of D virginiana is much, much rougher, alligator plates start by 10 years and could hide half a dime in 20 years.

Best time to repot and most likely best time for collecting is late summer into middle of autumn. Spring repotting in my experience will result in 50% to 75% dead trees, where I have had 95% success with late summer repotting. So collecting in autumn seems to be a logical time to try.

When I can, I'll repost pictures
Yes, please. I got a persimmon started this year. Finally sprouted during the summer from a trunk. Will post mine up when I get home. It's a rootstock from L.E. Cooke.
 

ABCarve

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Best time to repot and most likely best time for collecting is late summer into middle of autumn. Spring repotting in my experience will result in 50% to 75% dead trees, where I have had 95% success with late summer repotting. So collecting in autumn seems to be a logical time to try.

When I can, I'll repost pictures
You've made me a happy guy. I didn't want to wait for spring and now I won't. Can they be stumped and get adventitious buds or do I need to leave some buds there?
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@ABCarve - Now - Sept 20 is probably too late in the year for trunk chopping. You need time for new growth to mature. I have zero experience chopping to just a trunk segment, I would not do it to a tree repotted the same year. Before chopping the tree should be vigorous showing signs of good health and rampant growth. A weak tree will probably have a weak response, or die. If tree is healthy, good root system that hasn't been disturbed, my belief, without supporting observation, is that it will back bud nicely. BUT, I haven't done it yet. Don't try it on a one of a kind, hard to get tree. Timing, Do it either middle of summer, or after leaf fall in autumn. Summer is the time I would be most comfortable trying it. Autumn, I'd be nervous.

Late pruning, near or after leaves fall in autumn is the normal routine followed in Japan (Owen Reich and Peter Tea pers communication) . Branches tend to die back if pruned in spring. Don't do any branch pruning before the summer solstice. Warning, leave at least 3 nodes on every branch pruned. Reason, first node is often ''blind'' with no leaf bud, not always but happens often enough. Once a tree is old enough to flower, somewhere between 7 and 10 years, the flower buds will tend to be at leaf nodes 3 to 7 from the trunk. Prune branches too short and you will have no flowers in spring. You don't want more than one or two fruit per branch for D kaki and D virginiana, as the weight will break the branch. With D rhombifolia fruit is small enough that numbers don't matter as much.

My experience does support the middle of summer and late autumn timing for pruning and repotting. I have 4 D virginiana that are 6 years old from seed, another 5 that are 4 years old from seed, and about 40 that are finishing their second growing season in a nursery flat. Have not done much work on them, mostly just sizing them up. Hoping to get flowers on the oldest sometime in the next few years.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Just refreshing some photos that disappeared from the first photos in the thread.

bark-fruit-50+yr-2012-small.jpg

Fruit and bark of trunk of older D. virginiana. Photo taken Thanksgiving 2012, fruit dehydrated some hanging on the tree, When left to freeze and thaw, and hang in the tree, the fruit dries some, and flavor becomes very sweet, like a date, but spicy. They are very edible a month before this point, but I tend to visit Southern IL at Thanksgiving. The fissures in the bark are at least 1/4 inch deep. Really dramatic. This tree is a triple trunk clump along a roadside, and is about 50 to 75 years old..

D-kaki-from-root-cutting.jpg

My apology for not preserving author information. I believe this image is from Jonas Dupuich of Bonsai Tonight or it may belong to Bill Valavanis, either way I downloaded it in 2012. This is a D kaki on display, it was started from a root cutting. - this is photographic evidence that at least occasionally root cuttings will work, and that a trunk chop to just a bare trunk with no green can also work. So @ABCarve take note. I believe timing will be important, probably middle summer will be best.

Pomona IL-Thanksgiving2012-bark-8yr-small.jpg

I sprouted this D. virginiana persimmon 8 years earlier. Planted in the ground 6 years before the photo. You can see that this 8 year old trunk is already forming the beginnings of the rough bark. This coming Thanksgiving I'll take a picture of how 13 year old bark looks on a tree in the ground. Of course this does not translate directly into how quickly bark will develop in a bonsai pot, but it is a clue.
 

ABCarve

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@ABCarve - Now - Sept 20 is probably too late in the year for trunk chopping. You need time for new growth to mature. I have zero experience chopping to just a trunk segment, I would not do it to a tree repotted the same year. Before chopping the tree should be vigorous showing signs of good health and rampant growth. A weak tree will probably have a weak response, or die. If tree is healthy, good root system that hasn't been disturbed, my belief, without supporting observation, is that it will back bud nicely. BUT, I haven't done it yet. Don't try it on a one of a kind, hard to get tree. Timing, Do it either middle of summer, or after leaf fall in autumn. Summer is the time I would be most comfortable trying it. Autumn, I'd be nervous.

Late pruning, near or after leaves fall in autumn is the normal routine followed in Japan (Owen Reich and Peter Tea pers communication) . Branches tend to die back if pruned in spring. Don't do any branch pruning before the summer solstice. Warning, leave at least 3 nodes on every branch pruned. Reason, first node is often ''blind'' with no leaf bud, not always but happens often enough. Once a tree is old enough to flower, somewhere between 7 and 10 years, the flower buds will tend to be at leaf nodes 3 to 7 from the trunk. Prune branches too short and you will have no flowers in spring. You don't want more than one or two fruit per branch for D kaki and D virginiana, as the weight will break the branch. With D rhombifolia fruit is small enough that numbers don't matter as much.

My experience does support the middle of summer and late autumn timing for pruning and repotting. I have 4 D virginiana that are 6 years old from seed, another 5 that are 4 years old from seed, and about 40 that are finishing their second growing season in a nursery flat. Have not done much work on them, mostly just sizing them up. Hoping to get flowers on the oldest sometime in the next few years.
@Leo in N E Illinois Thanks for the great info. I wasn't planning on stumping now, just wondering for future reference. I may try ground layering or root pruning in place for year #1 on a nice tree and transplant following year. I've had good success with this if the nebari is good. Photo is of an American beech I did in 2015 and collected in 2016. What are you doing for the male/female thing?I have a princess and was wondering if they will cross.IMG_0653.JPG
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Pomona IL-Thanksgiving2012-DSCN0146.jpg

Sunset, the white dot in the photo is the moon, persimmon branches against the evening sky. Note the relatively coarse natural branching pattern.

Pomona IL-Thanksgiving2012-DSCN0149.jpg

Same triple trunk tree, 2012, showing the natural branching pattern when grown in the open. This 3 trunk clump is about 50 to 75 years old.

Pomona IL-Thanksgiving2012-DSCN0156.jpg

This is the 8 year year old persimmon, it proved to be female, and has already started to produce fruit. A precocious seedling, And flavor is good.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@ABCarve - sorry I wrote a long response about sex of Persimmons, and I thought I posted it, but is seems to have evaporated. Or maybe somebody reading in Elms or Pines will stumble across a weirdly incongruent post by me.

Brent Walston wrote a wonderful note a number of years back in the IBC covering Diospyros sex. I won't be as eloquent. Basically, 95 to 99% of all Diospyros species have the sexes on separate trees. Male and Female. In order to get fruit with seed, you must have one of each, and pollinator insects have to move the pollen from one to the pistil of the other. This is the general case. If you raise seedlings of any of the Diospyros species, including kaki, virginiana, lotus, rhombifolia, digyna, or any of the others, the seedlings usually will average 50:50 male and female and the only way to sort them is to grow them to flowering. Majority of Diospyros flowers are white, and sweetly fragrant, some ate fragrant but not so sweet, a Philippine species of Diospyros as flowers and fruit redolent with the unique fragrance of cat feces. MOST are sweet and pleasant. Flowers are usually small, less than one inch, but pretty enough that male trees are enjoyable to look at on the bench when in bloom. Autumn colors for the temperate species will be mostly yellow, with some reds and orange colors. So the male plants can be used as bonsai, they do lack the bonus of fruit.

Good news, most Diospyros will flower beginning somewhere after 5 years, most will have flowered before 10 years old. Of course seedlings have to grow and be healthy to bloom, if pruned heavily and confined in a bonsai pot, this treatment could significantly delay first blooming. Once seedling has matured to first blooming, if healthy it will bloom every year after, and cuttings and layers will also continue blooming. Key is good health. And second key, don't prune branches too short, bloom buds are further out on the branches, it varies with species, but usually the first couple nodes are leaves only.

Okay, now for the exceptions. The culinary persimmon (D kaki) has been cultivated for several thousand years, and exceptional and unusual clones have been propagated so many of the various exceptions to the rules exist. Some named cultivars of D. kaki and D. virginiana have been selected because they have both perfect female and perfect male flowers, thus being self fertile. These usually would be available from nurseries as grafted trees, but they can be propagated by air layers and by cuttings. Yield on cuttings is low, so nurseries usually use grafting. In some cultivars this trait is only partially expressed, with only a small percentage of the flowers having both sexes, here a tree might only have a scattering of fruit, instead of the large full potential yield the number of flowers would suggest. Seedlings from these trees may or may not carry on the traits, so always assume seedling will follow the generic general rules.

Another weird case, many of the current kaki clones, or cultivars will produce seedless fruit if they are not pollinated. This is not the normal case, but one selected for over the centuries. Seedless fruit often will be less sweet, more astringent than fruit from the same tree that was pollinated. I believe one or two of the named cultivars of American persimmon will also produce seedless fruit if they are not pollinated. Again, this is not the normal case, but if one raises enough seedlings eventually they will find a seedling with these exceptions.

If the distribution of sexes for the seedlings is equal, 50:50, if you raise a batch of 6 or more seedlings to flowering size, the odds are close to 97% that you will get at least one male and one female. So when raising D. virginiana, D kaki or D rhombifolia from seed, start with at least 6. Then you can be pretty confident you will get one of each. I actually have to start with 25 or more, because I'm always accidentally killing things off, pruning or repotting at the wrong time, forgetting to water something, or giving away the ''last one'' not realizing I did not have any more left.

Remember, all pruning and repotting well after the summer solstice. Mid to Late summer and Autumn work only. Leave them alone in Spring.

Additional factoid, Diospyros is the Ebony family, the famous black wood used for piano keys is ebony. It is the heartwood of several tropical Diospyros. The sapwood is usually light yellow, off white or somewhat orange tinted. The black heartwood does not usually begin to form until the tree is over 50 years old. It is laid down at 1 inch (2.5 cm) per century. If you see a piece of ebony wood that is over 3 inches in cross section, the tree that was cut was over 300 years old. Because of its slow development, Ebony is not considered a renewable resource, as regeneration time is longer than the governments of most countries will exist. Ebony is one old growth forest product that can not be replenished in any human scale time period. The American persimmon does develop the true ebony heartwood, though in the USA finding persimmon trees over 100 years old is very rare indeed.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Last but not least - this is not my tree, but it is an American persimmon, D. virginiana. It is NOT a D rhombifolia. This tree belongs to Rita L, a friend from Milwaukee. It is not very old, maybe 6 to 8 years, it has not flowered for her, so she doesn't know the sex yet. Its a bad picture. but look at how small the leaves are. The large leaves of D. virginiana do indeed reduce well. It is too young to have much in the way of bark, but one can see clearly this tree, in time will become quite nice. I actually neglected to ask her, but it looks like several seedlings together in the pot rather than a clump of shoots from the same root system.


Rita Ludke virginiana Sept 2016 DSCN4427.jpg
 

Shima

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I was in my forties before tasting my first 'simmon. I was in love! From then on I spotted every one in the valley (Sonoma). Most people said "help yourself". Waiting 'till the skin was ready to split...oh my. :D
 

ABCarve

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Last but not least - this is not my tree, but it is an American persimmon, D. virginiana. It is NOT a D rhombifolia. This tree belongs to Rita L, a friend from Milwaukee. It is not very old, maybe 6 to 8 years, it has not flowered for her, so she doesn't know the sex yet. Its a bad picture. but look at how small the leaves are. The large leaves of D. virginiana do indeed reduce well. It is too young to have much in the way of bark, but one can see clearly this tree, in time will become quite nice. I actually neglected to ask her, but it looks like several seedlings together in the pot rather than a clump of shoots from the same root system.


View attachment 161838
Wow....I'm amazed at how Rita's leaves reduced. Great info!!! Got my first look at the stand of D. virginiana. These trees were planted behind a very old barn which is no longer there. Fruit trees of days gone by. The owner said they must be close to 100 years. Most of the larger trees don't have much for looks as bonsai. There are quite a few 4' to 5' saplings so we tried a dig or two.... yikes! China syndrome trying to find lateral roots. My research did say they were hard to transplant because of the tap root. So much for digging. I think my best bet is layering the saplings. If that works maybe try for a crotch on one of the larger trees. @Leo in N E Illinois do you have any special insight in layering the species or just give it the normal college try??BTW @Shima I'm 63 and haven't had a persimmon:(
 

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