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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 claimed to be centuries 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 relatively large sepals, five tiny petals, fragrant. Jujubes are divided into morning-opening or afternoon-opening, however this does not seem to affect fruit set in temperate climates such as the United States.
Bloom: Spring into summer.
Self-fruitful: Some cultivars are self-fruitful without cross-pollination from another cultivar, but often without seeds or with non-viable seeds. Most cultivars require a second plant nearby, especially to produce viable seeds, including a few that do not produce their own pollen. Ants and wind, rather than bees, seem to do most of the pollination. Pollination assistance may be needed when pollinating insects are absent or lack interest.
Years before fruiting: Jujube can start fruiting after the first year but becomes the most productive at three years.
Fruit: Thin skin on white flesh, edible, cherry sized (small) to plum sized (very large) depending on cultivar, and if cross-pollinated, has a single stone containing two seeds. The skin is green on immature fruit.
Months for fruit to ripen: The fruit do 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, turning yellow in the fall. The leaves of some cultivars naturally grow cup-shaped. This shape does not indicate a of lack of water.
Stems: Branches have a slight zigzag shape with two spines at the base of each leaf. The spines may be straight or hooked. 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 on the secondary branches; and fruit-bearing branchlets 4-8" long growing from the spurs. The primary shoot of young trees has smooth, reddish-brown bark.
Roots: Jujube is usually grafted onto Z. spinosa (sour jujube) rootstock which can sucker from its roots. This tree is considered invasive because of its aggressive roots and suckering. It 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
'GA866' large, oval shape, very sweet, excellent taste.
'Li' self-fruitful, large, round, early ripening, moderately heavy bearer when young.
'Redlands' self-fruitful, very large, round, very sweet, heavy bearer when young.
'Sugar Cane' small, extremely sweet.
'Shanxi Li' very large, round apple shape, sweet apple flavor, light bearer when young.
Cultivars developed for DRYING and eating like dates include
'GA866', 'Li', 'Shanxi Li', 'Sugar Cane',
'Lang' medium sized, oval to pear-shaped, few thorns, not ready to eat until fully red-brown, often seedless.
Cultivars selected for ORNAMENTAL appearance include
'Contorted' an interesting branching appearance in winter, very thorny, with medium-sized, round fruit having a sweet/tart taste.
Wildlife: Attracts insects, including wasps, birds, and small mammals. The bark is generally not eaten by rabbits.
Toxic / Danger: Sharp thorns on many cultivars.
Origin: Southern Asia, probably China. 11,000 years of cultivation has obscured its place of origin.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 6-11.
Chill hours: 150-400 hours, depending on cultivar.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: Monthly. Irrigate every one or two weeks for best fruit production. Fruit drop occurs with insufficient water. If the tree is not watered during an extended warm season drought, its leaves will turn brown and it will go dormant; once a rainy season begins, new leaves will sprout. A need for water is signaled by drooping leaves.
Soil: This tree is tolerant of soil types except that it 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. Use an organic 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, growing below the graft, immediately because they are from the wrong tree. When the tree is dormant in winter, remove dead and damaged branches, and remove crossing and crowded branches from the 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. Jujube trees can be espaliered.
Litter: Fruit drop when not harvested, leaves in fall.
Propagation: Cuttings whip-grafted onto Z. spinosa rootstock. Cuttings are difficult to root. Seed does not come true and seed without cross-pollination usually is not viable.
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. Jujubes are high in vitamin C, especially when picked as soon as they are fully red and not dried on the tree.
Another plant known as Indian Jujube, formerly known as Ziziphus mauritiana, and presently treated as a subspecies of Z. jujuba, is grown for fresh eating like apples. It does not develop a date-like flavor at maturity or when dried.

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Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - fruit
'Lang' cultivar fruits are bland when yellow-green, but taste like a combination of moist date and sweet apple on the first day they turn fully red.


Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba


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