Grow Goji Berries

These little berries are expensive to buy, so growing goji will bring you valuable fruit throughout the season.

  • Goji berries are low in calories and high in antioxidants, protein, and vitamins A and C.
    Photo by Stocksy/Marti Sans
  • Goji shrubs produce green berries that will turn a deep red by August.
    Photo by iStock/sonsam
  • Goji plants bear small purple flowers starting in midsummer.
    Photo by Wikimedia/qwert1234
  • Goji berries bloom and fruit continuously throughout the growing season, until the first frost.
    Photo by iStock/VladimirFLoyd
  • Pruning is necessary to maximize goji berry production and keep the shrub in check.
    Photo by iStock/lzf
  • To discourage fungal disease, you should prune goji shrubs to encourage sunlight penetration.
    Photo by Flickr Commons/ScotNelson
  • Common names for goji berries include Chinese boxthorn, Chinese desert-thorn, and wolfberry.
    Photo by iStock/mapodile

If you haven’t heard of goji berries, you probably aren’t alone. These nutritional powerhouses, sometimes referred to as “wolfberries,” are native to East Asia, where they’ve been valued for their healthful attributes for generations. Gojis are low in calories, and even small amounts of berries pack significant levels of vitamins A and C, protein, and antioxidants. The taste of goji berries reminds me of a dried plum tomato. The goji berry is harvested from two species of boxthorn: Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum, both in the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family.

Why should you grow goji berries? This shrub is easy to grow and will reward you with loads of nutritious berries over a long harvest season. Goji berries are rarely grown commercially in the United States, and their shelf life is short, so fresh berries can seldom be found at local supermarkets or farmers markets. Therefore, home growing is the way to go for fresh gojis. Also, dried gojis aren’t cheap, and the overwhelming majority of commercial goji berries come from China, where information about how they’re grown isn’t usually available. If you like knowing where your food comes from and how it’s grown, you definitely should try tending these plants yourself.

Planting Gojis

The first step in growing goji berries is to locate the plants. You probably won’t find goji shrubs for sale at your local garden center. Try a mail-order nursery or a local one with a particularly large variety of fruiting plants. Although several named cultivars are sold by mail order, little information is available about their characteristics. Often, a nursery will state only that a particular cultivar is grown commercially in China. Some nurseries will sell goji seedlings, but because goji seed doesn’t grow true to type, you should expect some variability in these plants. My advice is to trial several cultivars to see which works best under your own growing conditions.

There’s little consensus on major aspects of the plant’s care. For example, you’ll find myriad suggestions for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones online. I’ve encountered all the following recommendations for goji shrubs: Zones 2 to 7, Zones 6 to 9, Zones 3 to 10, Zones 5 to 9, and Zones 4 to 9. The USDA states that L. barbarum grows in most U.S. states and southern Canadian provinces, while L. chinense has a more limited range and is largely confined to eastern portions of the continent. I don’t have to worry because I grow in Zone 6b, but if you live in an outlying Zone, be sure to discuss this with your supplier. If possible, purchase plants raised by a nursery close to your home.

The ideal soil pH for growing gojis ranges from 6.5 to 7.5. Plant the shrubs in fertile, well-drained soil. Full sun is best, but gojis will tolerate some shade. My plants grow in full sun and in soil with plenty of organic matter, and they’re very happy.

Gojis should be watered well during the first year of growth but are quite drought-tolerant after they’re established. Space them 4 to 5 feet apart within a row. I prefer a spacing of at least 5 feet to give the shrub plenty of room to develop and to make the berries easier to harvest. Your new shrubs will grow vigorously from the base of the plant.



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