The goji berry plant (Lycium Barbarum) is a hardy, deciduous shrub. Best known as a super food loaded with antioxidants, these attractive shrubs originate in the Himalayas. Today they are commonly found growing wild in areas of China, Japan, Turkey and Russia. Also known as Chinese Wolfberry and Duke of Argyll’s tea-tree, these attractive specimens are suitable for both gardens and container gardens. Their bright red berries can be used fresh, in bakes, or in teas and shakes.
In addition to the colorful berries these shrubs produce attractive bright purple flowers on elegant, arching stems. The berries, which are orange as they form before maturing into a bright red fruit, are believed to have numerous health benefits. These include alleviating the symptoms of menopause, increasing blood cell production and helping to regulate blood pressure.
The distinctive bright red fruit of the Lycium Barbarum.
Easy to grow and incredibly versatile, this is your complete guide to adding goji berries to your garden.
Sourcing a Goji Berry Plant
Currently there is only one cultivar of goji berry plant available. But don’t let a lack of variety put you off. Chinese wolfberries can be purchased as either young shrubs or bare roots from a nursery. When purchasing anything for the garden, always use a reputable supplier. The goji berry plant is part of the nightshade family alongside tomatoes and potatoes. Illegally imported specimens may carry diseases. If allowed to spread, these diseases can devastate domestic crops.
While you can grow a goji berry plant from seed, I will explain how later in the article, it is a slow and often unreliable process. Growing from a young transplant or root stock allows you to get a head start, enabling you to start enjoying the specimen and its fruit a lot quicker.
Where to Grow a Goji Berry Plant
Select your growing position carefully. If planted in the ground a mature specimen can reach 10 ft in height and achieve a width of around 13 ft. Take this mature size into account when selecting the growing position. Don’t position too closely to other specimens that may be overwhelmed as the goji berry plant grows. Also take into account overhead obstructions such as wires and cables. Pruning can help to control the size of the specimen as can planting in a container.
The goji berry plant thrives in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Plant in well draining soil, amended with well rotted manure. The soil should, ideally, have a pH level of between 6.8 and 8.1. A soil test kit tells you which amendments, if any, you need to work into your soil before planting.
Select and prepare your planting area properly. This helps specimens to quickly establish themselves.
The goji berry plant thrives in a sunny, sheltered position where it is protected from high winds.
While Chinese wolfberries love lots of bright sunlight in warm areas, where temperatures regularly reach over 100 ℉ the specimens are best planted in partial shade. Alternatively use a shade, such as the Garden Expert Sunblock Shade to provide shelter during the early afternoon, when the heat from the sun is at its most intense.
If you are growing your goji berry plant indoors, select as light a position as possible. These specimens need at least 8 hours of light every day. Natural light can be boosted by using grow lights.
How to Plant
The goji berry plant is commonly sold as a bare root. These are best planted in early spring before the specimen wakes up from its winter dormancy. Planting and transplanting when the goji berry is dormant means that it is better able to tolerate disturbance.
Plant as soon as possible. While you prepare the planting site, soak the root in a bucket of fresh water.
Dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the root system when fully spread out. Gently tease the roots apart before placing them in the hole.
Backfill the hole, pushing soil into the gaps around the roots. Firm down the soil and water well. Mulch around the base to reduce weed growth. Mulching also helps the soil to conserve moisture.
Continue to keep the soil moderately moist for the first few months, until new growth emerges and the plant is fully established.
If you are planting more than one specimen try to space them at least 6 ft apart. This gives each individual goji berry plant the room it needs to develop.
Growing in Pots
You can also grow Chinese wolfberries in containers either outside or inside as part of a container plant collection. This enables gardeners in colder climates to grow the shrubs outside in pots during the summer months before moving them inside as temperatures fall. Placing pots on caddies enables you to easily move them around your home and garden.
Plant in a large pot. The bigger the better. When the roots reach the bottom of the pot the Chinese wolfberry stops growing. While width is not as vital the pot should have a diameter of at least 18 inches. There should also be at least one drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
Fill the pot roughly two thirds of the way with well draining potting soil and some grit or sand. A combination of two thirds potting soil to one third material is ideal. Work in some well rotted manure or compost. Plant as described above, before filling in the remaining space in the pot.
Caring for a Goji Berry Plant
Once established, the goji berry plant requires little regular maintenance in order to thrive. Wear work gloves when handling mature shrubs to protect yourself from the thorny stems.
Be careful when handling the thorny stems.
Try not to overwater your shrub. Wait until the top inch of soil is dry before watering. This ensures that the specimen isn’t overwatered. When flowering and producing fruit the goji berry plant needs to be watered more frequently than during the dormant winter period.
Plants growing in pots often require more frequent watering than those in the ground. Plant in a self-watering pot to keep maintenance at a minimum.
The goji berry plant is not a heavy feeder. If you have added manure or compost to the soil during planting there is no need to fertilize during the first year.
Every year simply refresh the soil by working in organic material every year. This is appropriate for specimens growing in the ground and in containers.
If you don’t want to amend the soil apply a slow release general purpose fertilizer every spring. Alternatively, a tomato-based fertilizer can be given once every two weeks from spring until late summer.
As the goji berry plant develops it may require some support. If you are growing your Chinese wolfberry in a pot or container it wont grow as tall as specimens growing in the ground but it will still require some support.
A tall bamboo cane provides a sturdy support. Loosely tie the stem to the stake as it grows and develops. This also helps to keep a neat growth habit and makes harvesting fruit a lot easier.
Prune your goji berry plant lightly in the spring, removing damaged and dead branches as well as any untidy growth. Be careful not to prune too heavily, flowers and fruit form on last year’s growth. Over pruning in the spring can significantly reduce the amount of flowers and fruit the branches produce. Try to remove only the oldest branches each year. This helps to rejuvenate the shrub while also keeping it neat and promoting branching out.
Well established goji berry shrubs that are too big for their space can be pruned back close to the ground. This helps to rejuvenate mature specimens. While pruning down to the ground may seem drastic, healthy specimens quickly grow back, however that year’s flower and fruit crop will be greatly reduced.
The goji berry is a reliable companion if planted alongside a number of different vegetables. These include:
Herbs also make good companions.
Part of the nightshade family, avoid planting your goji berry too close to other nightshade family members such as tomatoes and peppers. This is because specimens belonging to the same family can suffer from the same problems and infestations. Planting closely together makes it easier for an infestation or disease to quickly spread, wiping out a large section of this year’s crops. You should also avoid planting too closely to:
How to Harvest Goji Berries
Warning, if you take warfarin the berries may not be safe to consume because they contain Vitamin K.
Allow your shrubs to grow and develop for a couple of years before harvesting. Berries are ripe for harvesting when they are fully red. To harvest simply pick the berries from the plant.
When handled the berries can turn from red to black. To prevent this place a clean sheet under the plant. Carefully shake the berries off the branches onto the sheet. Lift the sheet and wash the berries before using.
Allow berries to ripen on the stem before harvesting.
Best used fresh, you can store the fruit for a longer period by freezing them in an airtight container.
After the first frost, leaves start to fall from the plant. These can also be harvested and used in teas.
Preventing and Curing Common Problems
If planted in a favorable position and correctly cared for this is a relatively problem free addition to the garden.
Aphids can sometimes be an issue. Wash the pests from the foliage with a blast from a garden hose.
Depending on where you are growing, birds, raccoons and even deer can target the berries. Bird Netting can be used to cover the shrub to protect the fruit.
Propagating New Specimens
You can propagate a new goji berry plant either by growing from seed or by taking cuttings.
To propagate from seed, use seed from freshly harvested berries. Clean away any pulp and dry before sowing in peat pots filled with fresh potting soil. Sow one seed per pot and cover lightly with a thin layer of potting soil. Moisten and place in a light location.
Keep the seeds warm, a temperature range of 65 to 68 ℉ is ideal. Following germination, allow the seedlings to continue developing undercover. A shelf in a greenhouse is ideal. Be careful, goji berry seeds are prone to damping off. Causing seedlings to collapse, damping off is usually a sign of poor air circulation or high humidity levels.
Harden the seedlings off once they are one year off before planting outside. After transplanting care for the seedlings as you would a larger specimen.
Propagating Goji Berry Cuttings
Growing new specimens from cuttings is a lot quicker and more reliable than growing from seed. You can take cuttings either from softwood or new growth in the early summer or from old growth, known as hardwood, in the winter. Softwood cuttings tend to be more reliable than hardwood cuttings.
Take softwood cuttings from new, healthy growth.
Take softwood cuttings from a healthy stem. The cutting should be 4 to 6 inches long and have at least 3 sets of fully formed leaves. The best time to take your cuttings is in the morning when the moisture content in the leaves is as high as possible.
Wrap the cuttings in a wet towel to prevent them from drying out as you prepare them. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting before dipping it in rooting hormone. Grow on in small pots filled with an even combination of perlite and peat moss.
Seal the cuttings in a plastic bag or propagator and place somewhere that is filled with bright, indirect light. Open the bag or propagator every day to allow some air circulation. Continue to keep the soil evenly moist as the roots develop.
After a few weeks, when roots have formed, remove the cover. Place the pots somewhere sheltered, in indirect light and continue to keep the soil moist. Grow the established cuttings on undercover over the first winter before transplanting outside the following year.
While the main attraction for many is the fruit, these specimens bring architectural interest and color to a garden.
Attractive and useful, the goji berry is an increasingly popular inclusion for keen gardeners looking to add a berry forming specimen to their space. Suitable for a range of climates and planting schemes, almost anyone can grow a goji berry plant. Why not try growing one of your own?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.