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Growing Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba

Botanical Overview

A member of the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae), the genus Ziziphus has about 40 species composed of spiny shrubs and trees. Ziziphus jujuba is cultivated and naturalized in temperate and tropical zones world-wide, most extensively in Asia, and has over 800 cultivar names.

Description

Form: A tree which varies from tall and narrow to wide and rounded.
Lifespan: Jujube trees may be productive for more than 100 years.
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. The flowers bloom in the same year their buds form.
Self-fruitful: Most cultivars produce fruit by self-pollination, although the yield can be low without a second tree. Some cultivars require a second tree nearby, often another cultivar, especially to produce viable seeds. Ants and wind, rather than bees, seem to do most of the pollination. Hand pollination may be needed when pollinating insects are absent or lack interest.
In China, cultivars are classified by fruit set temperature requirements: high (daily average temperature 77°F or higher), intermediate (73.4°F), and low (70°F or higher). Low daily average temperatures at the time of flowering can reduce fruit set and productivity in some cultivars.
Years before fruiting: Most cultivars flower and fruit in their first year of planting. All will be flowering in their second year. They become most productive at three to five years.
Fruit: Thin skin, white flesh, edible, cherry sized (small) to plum sized (very large). If pollinated, the fruit has a single stone containing two seeds. The skin is green when the fruit is immature. When edible, the skin turns yellow-green, then acquires red or red-brown spots, then becomes entirely red or red-brown at which point the fruit are at the peak of their flavor. Wrinkles develop after the fruit become fully red-brown, and on some cultivars, just before the fully red-brown stage.
The flavor depends on cultivar, microclimate, and irrigation. For fresh eating cultivars, the taste is crisp and sweet-tart, like an apple, between the yellow-green and red stages. Large fruit should not be harvested until at least half red. When fully red or red-brown, the fruit can change in taste to a cross between an apple and a date.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-3. The fruit ripen on the tree a few at a time, over many months. The fruit of fresh eating cultivars are edible when the skin color changes from green to yellow green or light green. The best flavor for fresh eating and multipurpose cultivars is when they are half-red to full red-brown. Do not allow the fruit to dry on the tree past the full red-brown phase. They lose flavor and vitamin C quickly after that. The best time to harvest is early morning when the fruit have moisture and a better flavor. In the afternoon, they are dryer and lose crispness.
Late ripening cultivars need to grow in regions with long, hot summers and their fruit may not ripen in short-season climates.
Storage after harvest: The fruit do not ripen further if picked when the skin is green, but will continue to ripen if picked after a change in color to light green or red. Depending on maturity, fresh jujube can be refrigerated 2 weeks to 2 months. Drying jujubes should be oven dried when harvested fully red. They can then be refrigerated as long as one year.
Leaves: Long and narrowly lance-shaped to oval, finely serrated margins, three longitudinal veins, green, turning yellow in the fall. Some cultivars have naturally curly or cupped leaves and this should not be considered a problem.
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.
These trees usually become less thorny with age.
Roots: Jujube is often grafted onto rootstock which can produce suckers from its lateral roots over a wide area, even into the yards of neighbors. Trees should be planted 30' from the foundation of any structure and 50' from water pipes and sewer/septic systems. The roots of a jujube tree can extend 12-25' deep.
Cultivars of Note:
FRESH EATING cultivars
'Chico'
Medium sized apple-shaped fruit, good fresh eating flavor, medium yield, early season ripening. Tree height 11' after 3 years, width 60% of height.
'GA866'
Medium sized, elongated oval fruit, good fresh eating flavor, low yield, late season ripening, not appropriate for short growing season climates, fewer thorns. Tree height 11-12' after 3 years, width 50% of height.
'Honeyjar' check-mark
Small round fruit, taste test winner, medium yield, early mid-season ripening, leaves curl in on sides. Tree height 8-10' after 3 years, width 50% of height.
'Li'
Large round to oval fruit, below average fresh eating flavor, medium yield, mid-season ripening. Tree height 9.5' after 3 years, width 70-85% of height.
'Maya' check-mark
Small football-shaped fruit, taste test winner, medium yield, early to mid-season ripening, few thorns. Tree height 10-11' after 3 years, width 45-60% of height.
'Redland'
Large round to oval fruit, below average fresh eating flavor, high yield, mid-season ripening. Tree height 9-11' after 3 years, width 75-85% of height.
'Shanxi Li'
Large oval fruit, below average fresh eating flavor with spongy texture, high yield, mid-season ripening. Tree height 9.5' after 3 years, width 50-75% of height.
MULTIPURPOSE and DRYING cultivars
'Kongfucui' / 'KFC' check-mark
Medium sized oval fruit, good fresh eating flavor and texture, good dried flavor, highest yield in all USDA hardiness zones 6 and up, mid-season ripening. Tree height 10-11' after 3 years, width 50-70% of height.
'Lang'
Medium-large pear-shaped fruit, below average fresh flavor, mediocre loose textured dried flavor still better than its fresh flavor, medium-high yield, mid-season ripening, few thorns. Tree height 9-10' after 3 years, width 60-75% of height.
'Sherwood' check-mark
Large fruit, elongated oval shape sometimes with pointed end, good fresh eating flavor, good dried flavor, medium yield, late season ripening, not appropriate for short season climates, fewer thorns. Tree height 12' after 3 years, width 35-50% of height.
'Sihong' check-mark
Large oval-shaped fruit, good fresh eating flavor, very good dried flavor, fine wrinkles on dried fruit, low yield in first 3 years, high yield at 5 years, late mid-season ripening, few thorns. Tree height 10-11' after 3 years, width 65% of height.
'Sugarcane'
Small to medium sized oval fruit, good fresh eating flavor, below average dried flavor, medium yield, early to mid-season ripening. Tree height 10' after 3 years, width 75% of height.
Wildlife: The flowers attract insects such as ants and the occasional bee or wasp. The fruit attracts birds and small mammals. The bark is generally not eaten by rabbits. Small fruited cultivars may be stripped by birds unless covered by bird netting.
Toxic / Danger: Sharp thorns on many cultivars.
Origin: China.

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Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - flowers

Jujube: Ziziphus jujuba - fruit

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 6-11. Jujubes are more productive in zones 8a and up, but short to mid-season ripening cultivars such as 'Kongfucui' can grow and fruit well in colder climates.
Chill hours: 150-400 hours, depending on cultivar.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Planting: These trees do not do well in containers because they need to develop an extensive root system. No soil amendment is necessary when planting. Deep soils are best, although the tree seems to flourish in most situations. Space each tree 15-30' apart depending on expected mature width.
Soil: This tree is tolerant of soil types except that the soil must be well draining. They can tolerate pH 5.1-7.8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). Minor nutritional deficiencies occur between pH 7.8 to 8.5 (alkaline). It is moderately saline tolerant.
Fertilize: Fertilize once a year, before flowering, for best fruiting performance, but the tree can get by without this step.
Water after becoming established: During fruiting, deep water or basin irrigate once a week in sandy loam or every two weeks in clay, accounting for rain. Fruit may suffer small skin splits with inconsistent water or rain or if irrigated after a brief drought.
Insufficient water results in poor-tasting fruit and fruit drop. 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. Excessively moist soils can lead to root rot.
Water monthly when not fruiting.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line, 8" away from the trunk, to reduce moisture loss.
First Year Care: Do not fertilize the tree in the first year.
Prune: Flowers and fruit develop on new growth. If fruit is growing too abundantly, it may be necessary to thin the fruit so those remaining will grow to proper size.
Remove root suckers, growing below the graft or away from the trunk, immediately, because they are from the wrong tree and often produce poor-tasting fruit.
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. This technique can be used to control height.
During the first three years, prune to develop a strong branch scaffold.
Many jujube cultivars can be espaliered to improve fruit accessibility.
Litter: Fruit drop when not harvested, leaves in fall.
Propagation: Cuttings are often grafted onto seedling rootstock. Cuttings of new primary shoots taken late spring to root often develop sufficient roots in two months. Cuttings of woody stems taken late winter may have a higher rooting percentage but take about three months to produce sufficient roots. Root suckers may also be used.
Seed is not true to its parents and seed without cross-pollination is often not viable. Some cultivars of Z. jujuba are vigorous, with fewer thorns and suckers, and should provide rootstock with fewer problems.
Pests: The most common disease of jujubes in China is Witch's Broom caused by a certain bacteria. Fruit splitting, caused by heavy rain near harvest time, can be a problem. Birds and small mammals may raid fruit.
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 fruit from some cultivars 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 sun-dried.
Indian Jujube or Thai Jujube, formerly known as Ziziphus mauritiana, and presently treated as a subspecies of Z. jujuba, is grown for fresh eating. It does not develop a red color nor a date-like flavor at maturity or when dried.
Information on Ziziphus jujuba cultivars was derived in part from studies performed by Shengrui Yao and associates at New Mexico State University.

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Latest update: June, 2021