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Growing Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba

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Overview
A member of the Buckthorn family, the genus Ziziphus has about 40 species composed of spiny shrubs and small trees. Ziziphus jujuba is cultivated in temperate and tropical zones world-wide, most extensively in Asia, and has over 800 cultivars.

Description
Form: Tree. Cultivars vary from tall and narrow to wide and rounded.
Lifespan: Productivity exceeds 50 years. One specimen in China is over one thousand years old and still producing.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid.
Mature Size: 30-50' high and 15-30' wide, depending on cultivar.
Flowers: Very small, clustered, greenish-yellow, five petals, fragrant.
Bloom: Spring into summer.
Self-fruitful: Many cultivars produce fruit on their own without cross-pollination from a second tree, but often without seeds or with non-viable seeds. Some require a second cultivar nearby, especially to produce viable seeds, including a few that do not produce their own pollen. Pollination assistance may be needed when pollinating insects are absent or lack interest.
Years before fruiting: Can start after first year but most productive at three years.
Fruit: Thin skin on white flesh, edible, cherry (small) to plum sized (large) depending on cultivar, and if cross-pollinated, has a single stone containing two seeds. Skin is green when immature.
Months for fruit to ripen: Fruit does not ripen if picked green. Fruit ripen on the tree a few at a time, over many months. When edible, they turn yellow-green, then acquire mahogany spots, then become entirely red or red-brown. For cultivars bred for eating fresh, the taste is crisp and sweet like an apple between the yellow-green and red stages. When fully red or red-brown, they change in taste to a cross between a moist date and a sweet apple, extraordinarily delicious. The fruit is best picked before developing wrinkles because it dries quickly and loses taste. When dry, some cultivars are still edible, tasting like dates.
Storage after harvest: Depending on maturity, fresh jujube can be refrigerated 2 weeks to 2 months. Dried jujube can be refrigerated as long as one year.
Leaves: Oval, shiny bright green, turn yellow in fall. Trees leaf out about 4-6 weeks later than other fruit trees, avoiding late frosts.
Stems: Zigzag branches with two spines at the base of each leaf, straight or hooked. 'Thornless' is a thornless cultivar similar to 'Lang'. Jujube has four types of shoots – primary shoots which grow longer every year, secondary side branches that wither and die after 2-3 years, mother-bearing fruiting spurs only one millimeter long, and fruit-bearing branchlets 4-8" long growing from the spurs.
Roots: Usually grafted onto Z. spinosa (sour/Indian jujube) rootstock. Can sucker from roots. This plant is considered invasive because of its aggressive roots and suckering. Should be planted 30' from any structure and 50' from water pipes and sewer/septic systems.
Cultivars of Note: All of these are mid-season ripening, unless stated otherwise. The relative size, shape and sweetness of the ripe fruit of a cultivar vary by location and growing conditions.
Cultivars developed for fresh eating include
'Sugar Cane' small, extremely sweet.
'Shanxi Li' very large, round apple shape, sweet apple flavor.
'Li' large, round, early ripening.
'GA866' large, oval shape, very sweet, excellent taste.
Cultivars developed for drying and eating like dates include
'Sugar Cane', 'Shanxi Li', 'Li', 'GA866',
'Lang' large, oval to pear-shaped, few thorns, needs a hot summer to ripen.
Cultivars selected for ornamental appearance include
'Contorted' an interesting branching appearance in winter having medium-sized, round fruit with a sweet/tart taste.
Wildlife: Attracts insects, birds, small mammals. Native insects may not always be attracted to Jujubes because of their unfamiliar fragrance and appearance. The bark is generally not eaten by rabbits.
Toxic / Danger: Sharp thorns on many cultivars.
Origin: Southern Asia, possibly China. 11,000 years of cultivation makes locating origin difficult.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 6-11.
Sunset climate zones: 7-16, 18-24.
Chill hours: 150-400 hours, depending on cultivar.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: Monthly. Irrigate every two weeks or more for best fruit production. Fruit drop occurs with insufficient water.
Soil: Tolerant except needs well draining soil, pH 5.1-7.8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). Minor nutritional deficiencies occur between pH 7.8 to 8.5 (alkaline).
Fertilize: These trees have little need for fertilizer. Only use a balanced fertilizer once a year, before flowering, or not at all.
Mulch: Around roots to reduce moisture loss.
Planting: These trees do not do well in containers because they need to develop an extensive root system. Plant 15-30' apart depending on expected mature width.
First Year Care: Do not fertilize the tree for the first two years.
Prune: Remove root suckers as they appear. When dormant, remove dead and damaged branches, remove crossing and crowded branches from center of tree. Pruning every winter improves fruiting. The rule is "one cut stops, two cuts sprout". After cutting a one-year shoot, cut off a secondary shoot below the cut to force new growth and flowering. Without the second cut, new growth stops. Flowers and fruit develop on new growth. These trees can be espaliered.
Litter: Fruit drop when not harvested, leaves in fall.
Propagation: Cuttings whip-grafted onto Z. spinosa rootstock. Seed does not come true and seed without cross-pollination usually is not viable. Root suckers are from the wrong tree and can only be used for rootstock.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit eaten fresh, dried, candied, made into the equivalent of apple butter, made into syrup for sweetening teas and dishes, and pitted and preserved in liquor for use in cooking. When fully red and slightly to fully wrinkled, jujube can substitute for dates in recipes.

Comments
Another common name is Chinese Date. The fruits of a 'Lang' or 'Thornless' cultivar, bland tasting when yellow-green, but tasting like a combination of moist date and sweet apple when fully red, are shown in the third picture. The entirely red, one is fully ripe and the best tasting.
Jujubes are high in vitamin C, especially when picked fully red and not dried on the tree.



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Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - fruit

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba


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