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Growing Goji Berries: Lycium barbarum

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A member of the Nightshade or Potato family, and of the Lycium genus, which has 22 members collectively called Desert-thorn, Wolfberry or Boxthorn. Lycium plants are found around the world, including North and South America, Europe and Asia.

Form: Shrub with woody canes growing from its base.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid depending on location.
Mature Size: 8' high and 13' wide.
Flowers: Purple to pink, five petals, long white to pale yellow 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. Ripe when fully red. Harvest by shaking each branch so 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, edible. Edible leaves are unusual for nightshade plants which are normally poisonous.
Stems: Weakly arching, thorns after second year. Sends out lateral shoots after third year, which can become invasive.
Roots: Taproot and extensive side roots.
Species of Note:
Lycium barbarum: Matrimony Vine / Goji Berry, surviving in USDA hardiness zones 3-10, grows in Northern China. This is the most widely grown species.
Lycium chinense: Chinese Desert-thorn / Goji Berry grows in Tibet and is suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9. Often confused with Lycium barbarum.
Wildlife: Flowers attract bees, berries attract birds, leaves attract deer and other mammals.
Toxic / Danger: Thorns. While there is some indication that the bark may be harmless, to be on the safe side, consider all parts poisonous except ripe fruit and leaves of Goji Berry. Consumption of Goji Berries can interfere with some medications, such as Warfarin.
Origin: Northern China.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 3-10.
Chill hours: None. Fruits well in San Diego.
Heat tolerant: Up to 100°F. Will need afternoon shade in higher temperatures. Goji Berry produces little fruit in hot desert regions.
Sun: Full sun. Accepts part shade but fruit crop substantially reduced.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat, but lack of water may result in loss of 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 7-8.2 (slightly to somewhat alkaline). Grow on a mound or in a raised garden bed if soil drains poorly.
Fertilize: Use organic fertilizers that are low in nitrogen and higher in phosporous. Nitrogen results in all foliage and no flowers or fruit in most nightshade plants.
Mulch: To reduce heat stress on roots and retain soil moisture in summer.
Planting: Grows in containers of 5 gallons and up. Plant in spring after 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 soil moist by watering every 2-3 days for first two months and in the hottest part of summer without rainfall. 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 leaves and young stem shoots.
Problems: High nitrogen fertilizers, acidic soil, over-watering and poorly draining soil will prevent flowering.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, leaves for tea, barrier hedge, erosion control.

Another common name is Chinese Wolfberry. The common 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 first year water needs are met.

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Goji Berry: Lycium barbarum - fruit

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