I’ve seen goji berries in seed catalogs, but haven’t (yet) tried my hand at growing them. This might be the year!
Also known as wolfberries, these bright reddish-orange berries are a type of boxthorn native to Asia. They have been part of Asian cuisine and medicine for over 2,000 years. Goji berries grow on somewhat thorny deciduous shrubs that produce numerous canes. In early summer, you’ll see small purple flowers. A month or so later, your crop will start to come in!
Pros and cons of goji berries
There are many claims about the health benefits of these members of the nightshade family. Said to help fight aging, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, eye and skin problems, and more, these fruits contain high levels of Vitamin C, antioxidants, iron, and fiber. While research has backed some of those claims, it has shown negative interactions, as well. If you are taking warfarin, blood pressure drugs, or diabetes drugs, you may want to think twice about eating goji berries.
Another problem with goji berry products is that they have been found to contain high levels of pesticides and fungicides. If you really want goji berries, it’s probably a good idea to grow your own.
Goji berries have a very short shelf life, so growing your own is really the best way to go. As a bonus, the fruits don’t ripen all at once, so you can nibble a few berries as you putter in the garden. You know, the same way you might enjoy those delicious yellow cherry tomatoes that never seem to make it into the house.
Goji berry species
Before you start, you need to know that there are two different species of goji berry available. The fruits are very similar to each other, but Lycium barbarum and L. chinense taste slightly different from each other and they tolerate different temperature ranges. If you live in Hardiness Zones 3-10, you can grow your own Lycium barbarum goji berry bush. The L. chinense variety is said to have a more limited range, Zones 2-7, so be sure to get yours from a reputable seller.
Planting goji berries
You’ll need to give your goji berry plants some room. These shrubs can grow 10-13’ tall and 4’ wide, though they are often pruned to 3-6’ tall, for easier harvesting and management. They grow best in full sun, though they can tolerate partial shade. Goji berries prefer loose, somewhat alkaline soil, with a pH of 6.5-7.5.
Goji berry shrubs are most commonly grown from bare root stock. You can also start one from seed, but it will take a few years to get a crop and they don’t always grow true to the parent. Goji berries can be grown in large containers (at least 5 gallons), but they will be much happier in the ground because they have a taproot. Goji berry plants can be left as shrubs or trained up a trellis.
Goji berry care
The first year you have a goji berry plant, leave it alone except to water. Mulching around (but not touching) the stem can stabilize soil temperatures, retain moisture, and reduce weed competition. In the second year, allow a central cane to grow upright and prune all the others to a height of 15”. You may need to provide support to keep it growing straight up, much like when growing currants. As the plant gets taller, pinch back stems to promote lateral growth for better flowering and fruit production. The fruit is produced on new growth, so remove canes the winter after they produce fruit. This will make room for new growth and provide good airflow.
You can help your goji berry shrub live longer and be more productive by removing all the flower buds for the first couple of years. This will push the plant to develop a healthier root system. Your goji berry shrub will take 4-5 years to reach full production.
Goji berry problems
Like tomatoes, goji berries are susceptible to blossom end rot. Regular irrigation can help prevent that from happening. Common pests include aphids, birds, gall mites, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, spider mites, and thrips. Diseases include anthracnose, early blight, and powdery mildew.
If you’ve ever grown goji berries, I’d love to hear about your experience in the Comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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