Exotic “superfruit” products are the latest addition to the booming popularity of “superfoods,” a marketing category (as opposed to a scientific one) that includes antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, such as red wine, dark chocolate, tea and blueberries. “Superfruits” is an expression that is frequently used to refer to fruits that have extraordinary antioxidant and nutrient qualities and provide benefits over and above the basic nutrition. Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Exotic fruits like acai berries, goji berries, mangosteen, noni and pomegranate have earned this distinguished status. These fruits have exceptional amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals (various biologically active compounds found in plants) that play a significant role in preventing various diseases. There is no clear, well-established relationship between antioxidant values and any health outcome. Despite that, scientists all seem to agree that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you. Additionally, scientific studies consistently show the benefits of daily exercise. So, I want to encourage you to get outside and combine the two with a healthy gardening activity like growing goji berries.
Goji is also known by a number of other names,
including goji berry, wolfberry, boxthorn and matrimony
vine. In China, where most of the world’s commercial goji
berry production is found, most plants with high-quality
fruit are from plants of Lycium barbarum. Wondering how
goji berries taste compared to other fruits and how you
can use them? Good news. Most people find their taste
totally pleasant. They add a chewy texture to recipes,
and, in terms of their flavor, you can think of goji berries
like a cross between cranberries and cherries. They look
similar to raisins because they’re normally dried, but they
have a brighter pink color and a special sweet, tart “bite”
The goji plant is a slightly thorny deciduous woody
shrub that is typically 3 to 6 feet tall when cultivated and
pruned, though plants can reach 12 feet tall in their natural
state. Goji is a member of the solanaceous (tomato or
nightshade) plant family, so its cultural and nutritional
needs are similar.
Soil Type and Site Selection
Goji plants are adaptable and grow in a range of
soil types with a preferred pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Goji won’t
tolerate salinity well and prefers high-fertility soils. The
best growth is made in relatively light soils that are
well-drained, such as sandy loams or loams in areas with
plenty of sunshine.
Breeding efforts in North American have been undertaken
only within the last decade. Currently, only two
named varieties, Crimson Star and Phoenix Tears, are
widely available. Some nurseries sell Big Lifeberry and
Otherwise, plants may be grown from open-pollinated seed, but plant growth habit and productivity may
be variable. Growers who intend to buy plants may wish
to ask whether the plants were vegetatively propagated
from superior clones or were grown from seed.
Plants grown from seed are similar in appearance to tomato seedlings at first. Seedlings and young plants are likely to be variable in appearance. Dormant nursery stock should be planted in spring once danger of frost is past.
Mulching after planting with an organic mulch can
keep down weeds, moderate root temperatures and promote
establishment. Irrigation is highly recommended,
especially during the establishment year because the
root system is fine and can easily dry out, and the fruit
are prone to blossom-end rot under conditions of low
or uneven moisture. However, overwatering should be
avoided. Plants should be spaced 3 to 5 feet apart within
the row and at least 6 to 8 feet between rows, though
wider between-row spacing may be
needed to accommodate equipment.
Time to Maturity and Yield
Plants will begin fruiting two years after
seeding or the year after planting if 1-yearold
transplants are used. Full yields will be
reached four to five years from seeding.
Maximum yields in China are reported to
be about 7,000 pounds per acre.
A good starting point would be to
amend the field as you would for tomatoes.
Nitrogen at 3 ounces per 100 square
feet per year is recommended for a mature
planting and is split into three applications
applied at bud break, at flowering
and then as fruit begin to ripen. Plants are
sensitive to high salt levels; compost can
be used to provide nutrients as long as salt
levels are not excessive.
Fruit are borne on the current year’s wood, mainly
from the wood grown in the spring and fall. The goals of
pruning are to limit plant height, improve ease of harvest,
encourage light penetration into the plant, improve
foliage drying and encourage formation of lateral
branches to maximize fruit production. Canes that are
untipped will continue to grow and produce few lateral
branches, while canes that are headed back will produce
more laterals and higher yields.
Little research has been conducted to determine the
best pruning methods for our region. However, in other
production areas, plants are usually limited to one single
main stem. Pruning is done during the dormant season
to remove spindly canes, remove dead and damaged
wood, improve plant shape and shorten laterals. During
the summer, pruning is done to head back growth, encourage
lateral formation and remove new shoots. One
of the most important goals of pruning is to produce
an open-canopy structure that allows plenty of sunlight
Plants first bloom in late spring to early summer,
and fruit will begin to ripen in mid-summer. Harvesting is completed by hand, as the berries leak juice and
turn black if they are bruised or squashed. Berries are
currently sold mainly as a dried product, but they can
also be sold and eaten fresh or turned into juice. Labor
requirements are substantial.
Pests and Pest Control
In other areas pests have included leafhoppers, Japanese
beetles, thrips, aphids and spider mites. Diseases
included anthracnose, early blight and powdery mildew.
Blossom-end rot can be an issue as well if moisture levels
are uneven. Aphids and gall mites have been problematic
in other countries, and birds are reported to have an
affinity for the fruit.
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 comes 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.