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Growing Goji Berries: Lycium barbarum

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Goji Berries are members of the Nightshade (Potato and Tomato) family, 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.


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, 5/8" to 1-1/4" long, edible.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3. The fruit are ripe when fully red. Harvest the fruit by shaking each branch so the ripe berries fall onto a tarp on the ground. Avoid touching the berries to avoid oxidizing the fruit 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. Sun drying outdoors is recommended when there is no possibility of rain.
Leaves: Shiny green, oval. The leaves are edible, which is unusual for nightshade plants because they are normally poisonous. The young leaved shoots have a cress or peppermint flavor.
Stems: Weakly arching, with thorns appearing after the second year. They send out lateral shoots after the third year, which can become invasive.
Roots: A taproot and extensive side roots.
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. Consumption of Goji Berries can interfere with some medications, such as Warfarin.
Origin: Northern China.

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: The plant will survive up to 100°F, but the flowers will not set fruit over 80°F. Goji berry plants will need afternoon to all day shade in high temperatures.
Sun: Full sun below 80°F. This plant will accept part shade but the fruit crop is substantially reduced.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat, but a lack of water may result in the loss of the fruit crop.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every two weeks to weekly when fruiting. High temperatures may require watering more often.
Soil: Well drained, low in organic content, tolerant, recommended pH range 7-8.2 (slightly to somewhat alkaline). Grow on a mound or in a raised garden bed if the soil drains poorly.
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.
Mulch: Is needed to reduce heat stress on the roots and retain soil moisture in summer.
Planting: This plant grows in containers of 5 gallons and up. Plant in spring after the last frost. When in the ground, grow on a fence, trellis or stake to make the plant more manageable. Space 3-4' between plants and 6-8' between rows if growing more than one. If planting bare root, follow nursery directions closely.
First Year Care: Keep the soil moist by watering every 2-3 days for the first two months and in the hottest part of summer when there is no rain. Deep watering encourages root growth and reduces watering frequency. Do not fertilize until the second year.
Prune: Do not prune the first year. After the first year, lateral branches can be trimmed by half to encourage new growth.
Litter: Berries if not harvested, leaves in fall or early winter.
Propagation: Seed or cuttings.
Pests: Netting is needed to prevent bird predation of 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 80°F will prevent fruit set.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, leaves for tea, barrier hedge, erosion control.


Another common name is Chinese Wolfberry. The name Wolfberry is a misnomer, however, because Lycium refers to a province of Turkey 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 will not set fruit in high temperatures.

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Latest update: December, 2018