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Growing Goji Berries: Lycium barbarum

Botanical Overview

Goji Berries are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) which includes potato and tomato, and of the Lycium genus, which has 22 members collectively called Desert-thorn, Boxthorn, or Wolfberry. Lycium plants are found around the world, including North and South America, Europe and Asia.

Description

Form: A shrub with woody canes growing from its root crown.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid depending on location.
Mature Size: 8' high and 13' wide.
Flowers: Small, composed of 5-6 purple to pink petals, with long whitish stamens.
Bloom: Spring or summer.
Self-fruitful: Yes. If bees do not come around, hand pollination will be needed.
Years before fruiting: 2.
Fruit: Oval, red or black, 5/8" to 1-1/4" long, edible.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3. The fruit are ripe when fully colored. Harvest the fruit by shaking each branch so the ripe berries fall onto a tarp on the ground. Avoid touching the red berries to avoid oxidizing the skin which then turns black.
Storage after harvest: Unwashed berries can be refrigerated one week or more. Once washed, they can be eaten fresh, or frozen. They can be dried at 100°F for three days, unwashed to avoid stickiness, and later cooked. Drying at higher temperatures destroys nutrients.
Leaves: Shiny green, oval. The leaves are edible, which is unusual for nightshade plants because most nightshade species are poisonous. The edible young leaved shoots have a cress or peppermint flavor.
Stems: Weakly arching, with thorns appearing after the second year.
Roots: A taproot and extensive side roots. This plant will sucker from its roots and is considered invasive.
Species of Note:
Lycium barbarum: Goji Berry survives in USDA hardiness zones 3-10. This is the most widely grown Lycium species.
Lycium chinense: Chinese Desert-thorn / Goji Berry originated in Tibet and is suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9. It is often confused with Lycium barbarum.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees, the berries attract birds, and the leaves attract deer and other browsing mammals.
Toxic / Danger: Thorns. While there is some indication that the bark may be harmless, to be on the safe side, consider all parts of the Goji Berry poisonous except the ripe fruit and leaves.
Origin: Northern China.

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Goji Berry: Lycium barbarum - fruit

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 3-10.
Chill hours: None. This plant fruits well in the moderate climate of San Diego.
Heat tolerant: Yes, but the flowers do not set fruit over 85°F. Goji berry plants will need mid afternoon shade in high temperatures.
Drought tolerant: Yes, but with loss of the fruit crop.
Sun: Full sun. This plant will accept part shade but the fruit crop is reduced.
Planting: Locate this plant where it will be in full sun with mid afternoon shade and out of the wind.
Plant in late winter after the last frost, or plant in early fall so the plant can grow more roots for spring flowering and produce more fruit.
In the ground, space 3-4' between plants if growing more than one.
This plant will grow in containers of 5 gallons, and more, that drain well.
Soil: Well drained, low to moderate organic content, recommended pH range 6.6-8.2 (neutral to somewhat alkaline). This plant is tolerant of soil types otherwise
Fertilize: Use organic fertilizers that are low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous. High nitrogen results in all foliage and no flowers and no fruit in most nightshade plants.
Water after becoming established: Water daily if growing in a container. Deep water once or twice a month if growing in the ground.
Mulch: Apply mulch over the root area to reduce heat stress and retain soil moisture.
First Year Care: In a container, keep the soil moist by watering daily. In the ground, keep the soil moist by watering every 1-2 days for the first two months and in the hottest part of the year when there is no rain.
Prune: Do not prune the first winter so the plant has more energy to extend its roots in the spring. After the first year, lateral branches can be trimmed by half to encourage new growth.
Litter: Leaves in fall or early winter.
Propagation: Softwood cuttings are the preferred method of propagation. Seed does not grow true to the parent.
Pests: Netting is needed to prevent bird predation of the berries. Fencing is required to keep rabbits, deer and javelina away from the leaves and young stem shoots.
Problems: High nitrogen fertilizers, acidic soil, poorly draining soil, and over-watering will prevent flowering. Temperatures over 85°F will prevent fruit set.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, leaves for tea.

Comments

Another name is Chinese Wolfberry. The name Wolfberry is a misnomer, however, because Lycium refers to an ancient Greek (now Turkey) province named Lycia, not to the Greek word for wolf.
This plant is considered easy to grow when its first year water needs are met. The problem is that it often fruits poorly once temperatures exceed 85°F.


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Latest update: August, 2021