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What Are Goji Berries?
The goji berry (Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense), also known as the wolfberry, grows on two closely related cultivars of fruiting berry bushes in the nightshade family, both native to Asia. The red-orange berries are a prominent superfood that is a common feature in a variety of Asian dishes. The goji berry’s reputation as a superfood stretches back to the third century CE, when it did double-duty as both a culinary ingredient and an integral part of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese medicine. Dried goji berries are commonly eaten as a snack, topping, or smoothie ingredient.
How to Plant Goji Berries
Goji berry plants can be grown from seed, but this method takes a minimum of three years from planting to produce fruit. Bare root goji berry plants, which you can purchase at your local nursery or garden center, reach full production by the second year. Bare root plants are the most commonly grown by home gardeners.
- Pick the site. Goji berry plants require full sun—though they will tolerate partial shade—and thrive best in USDA hardiness zones 5–9. If planting multiple bushes, give them about five feet apart; this will give the plants room to mature and give you more room to navigate the crop come harvest time.
- Prepare the site. Goji berry plants prefer well-draining soil with a pH between 6.5 and 8.0. Amend the soil with a few inches of organic matter like compost prior to planting.
- Trellis. You’ll need to set up a trellis to ensure that your goji berry plant grows with an upright posture, making for an easy harvest and good airflow. Gently tie the strongest looking new canes to short wooden stakes, or train along a bit of fencing, like raspberries.
- Plant. Plant your bare root goji berry tree or shrub in early spring, during the tail-end of the plant's dormant season. Dig a hole twice the size of the rootball, and place the plant inside, ensuring the top of the rootstock is level with the ground. Spread out the roots, backfill with soil, then gently tamp down to seal.
- Water. Deeply water the planting area to help establish the root system.
How to Care for Goji Berries
Goji berries require routine watering, pruning, and pest control to thrive.
- Water. Goji plants are among the more drought-tolerant of the fruiting trees, but only after establishing their roots. Water thoroughly and consistently during the first year in order to keep the delicate new roots moist. Avoid overwatering to prevent blossom end rot.
- Prune. Light pruning of goji berry shrubs keeps their size and spread in check and encourages new growth. Pruning can also discourage fungal diseases like powdery mildew by allowing for better air circulation. Clear away any new suckers from the main stem or roots, and remove any dead or broken branches.
- Mulch. Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to tamp down weeds and regulate soil moisture.
- Pest control. Aphids, thrips, and spider mites are common pests when it comes to goji berries. Remove the affected leaves or areas where you can, but you can introduce natural predators like ladybugs or practice companion planting to deter pests before turning to an insecticide. Plant pungent, aromatic herbs like basil, mint, chives, and catnip or flowering plants like marigold and nasturtium nearby—just be sure to place spreading plants like mint or nasturtium in a separate container. And, like all fruit trees, bird netting may be useful if you find birds and other critters snacking on your crop.
How to Harvest Goji Berries
Goji berries typically ripen from July through October. You can harvest fresh berries by plucking them away from the stems. You can even spread a cloth or fine netting below the plants, and gently shake the plants to release the berries.
Young goji berry leaves are also edible, with a bitter, grassy flavor that’s similar to the flavor of watercress—you can harvest the leaves for soups or sautés. Add fresh goji berries to smoothies or dry them for an antioxidant-packed addition to homemade trail mix.
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