Goji berry, a very interesting fruit tree

Goji Berry - Lycium barbarum

The goji berry shrub is trending ever since its health benefits and antioxidant properties have been acknowledged.

General Goji berry facts

Name – Lycium barbarum
Family – Solanaceae
Type – fruit shrub

Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – sun
Soil – well drained, rather rich, alkaline pH (6.8 to 8.1)

Foliage – evergreen – Flowering – summer – Harvest – August to October

Tips on growing and caring for goji berries, especially to trigger fruit-bearing.

Planting Lycium for its goji berries

Planting Goji treeNative to the Far East and China, lycium is a shrub that can be planted in temperate climates and that resists our weather quite well.

Of course, since it needs a lot of sunlight, goji berry production won’t be the same if you’re farther North or farther South.

Lycium thus requires full sun exposure to produce its goji berries.

  • Dig a hole 2 to 3 times larger than the soil clump is.
  • Incorporate soil mix into your garden soil.
  • Fill the hole in, then water heartily.
  • Press it down again and water more.

During the first years after the plant, Lycium needs to be watered often but not excessively, because it dislikes moisture.

Preparing Lycium cuttings

This is the most common and easiest technique to propagate lycium for its goji berries.

Preparing cuttings means to:

  • Collect a sprig that is still tender green, 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long.
  • Pinch off lower leaves to keep only the highest pair of leaves.
  • Plant the cutting in a nursery pot filled preferably with special cutting soil mix.
  • Keep moisture levels very high in the surrounding air, and the substrate itself must stay a little moist.
  • More or less 2 weeks later, the 1st roots will have appeared.
  • Transfer the cutting to a slightly larger pot, a step that you’ll have to repeat 2 to 3 times before the final planting to the ground.

Take note that Lycium is very vulnerable when young. In temperate latitudes, only transplant to the ground after at least 2 or 3 years.

Potted goji

Growing lycium in a pot or container for its goji berries is perfectly possible. Goji bush is even very well suited to growing indoors in an apartment.

Choose a substrate that is adequate for growing the lycium tree, like Mediterranean plant or citrus plant soil mix.

The pot must have a hole at the bottom and a drainage layer bed of gravel or clay beads to let water drain away.

  • In summer, goji berry bushes can be left outdoors, starting in mid-May up to mid-September.
  • In winter, it can be brought inside, preferably to a spot that isn’t too warm.
  • Water regularly but in a limited manner, so as to never flood the roots.
  • We advise to repot every 2 to 3 years.

The root system is similar to that of taproot plants; better to have a pot that is deep instead of shallow.

Harvesting goji berries

Dried red goji berries in a white bowl with a dew spilled to the side.Don’t worry if your lycium isn’t yet bearing fruits, and that goji berries are long to appear.

Goji berries only form for harvest earliest 2 years after planting, and don’t really become abundant until after the 4th or even 5th year.

Goji flowering but not producing berries

The shrub starts blooming early on in life, but the flowers won’t set to fruit during the first two or three years. Sometimes, 5 to 7 years may be necessary.

In some climates and exposures, your goji berry tree might not be able to adjust. This happens whenever:

  • it is continuously subject to attack from pests and/or powdery mildew. If this is the case, whatever energy it has is spent recovering from the one or the other attack.
  • nutrients lack and/or can’t be absorbed properly because of the pH. Make sure you add lots of compost, fertilize with high potassium and phosphorus. Soil pH should range from 6.8 to 8.1, which makes it a lover of alkaline soil. Raise the pH by spreading wood ash or baking soda in the vicinity of the plant.
  • there aren’t enough pollinators. Plant melliferous flowers nearby to attract them, build an insect hotel, or even set up a beehive in your garden.
  • Lastly, it’s perhaps simply not a fruit-setting variety. Varieties that bear fruit well and are easily available include the ‘Crimson Star’ and the ‘Phoenix Tears’.

If after much efforts and maximum 6-7 years of patient waiting, not a single berry has formed, then there’s no hope. Try to ask around your area if a neighbor might have more success with his or her own variety. He or she will certainly be happy to share a cutting!

Pruning goji

The goji tree is a tree that is best off pruned, otherwise it would simply grow one long stem. Pruning will make the branches grow more dense.

If the goji grows as one long stem, it will bear less fruit, which will mean less goji berries to harvest.

Consequently, the more you prune your goji, the more fruits it will bear.

There are 2 pruning seasons for the goji tree, winter and summer.

  • Remove dead wood in winter as well as the weakest branches.
  • In summer, prune the structural branches to induce branching out.
  • You can also pinch new shoots just above an eye to trigger new branches.

Try to make sure no leaves hover lower than 1 foot (30 cm) from the ground. This will reduce the risk of powdery mildew. Indeed, powdery mildew tends to hop on a plant when rain splashes it from the ground upwards.

Lycium diseases and pests

Aphids are a common occurrence on lycium.

Recently, powdery mildew has been spreading across the world on infected seedlings. In 2017, it reached Australia.

  • Treat against powdery mildew – in Lycium, the particular strand is Arthrocladiella mougeotii, a type of fungal disease on leaves. An easy fix is to remove lower leaves to reduce appearance of the disease.

Lastly, among the possible leaf-eaters, you might find hawk moth caterpillars.

Health benefits and properties of goji berries

Goji berries steeped in water with an elegant spoon.Many health benefits are attributed to the goji berry, its color is orange and it tastes deliciously sweet.

In the Himalayan mountain range, common knowledge is that it helps cope with mountain sickness. Indeed, it has powerful exhaustion-alleviating and immune-defense stimulating activity.

Notably, health benefits against ageing and antioxidant properties also appear in litterature.

Goji berries seem to reinforce the immune system in an exceptional manner.

Taoists ingest it dried, and prepared goji berry juice to drink.

Goji, or goji berry, is more of a marketing name: common lycium or Chinese wolfberry are its real names.

Goji berries host many vitamins: C and E as well as vitamins B1, B2, B6, beta-carotene, proteins and flavonoids.

For instance, goji berries contain more beta-carotene than carrot and more protein than wheat.

Ingestion is typically in the form of capsules or dried berries, but if ever you can get a hold of fresh goji berries, 1 or 2 spoonfuls a day should go a long way in keeping you in top shape.

Smart tip about goji berries

Lycium barbarum, which produces the goji berries, is quite hardy because it can grow in climates with temperatures that drop down to -4°F (-20° C).

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-NC 2.0: Lotus Johnson, Alice