Want to know exactly how to grow goji berry plants for the best results? Join the club! With the sudden rise in popularity, this superfood is joining the ranks of other berries in gardens across the US. Part of the nightshade family, goji berries caught on in the US in the early 2000s, mostly due to health claims about their nutritional content. What’s more, they’ve stuck around for far longer than most fads, because they are truly easy to grow, delicious and nutritious.
What’s a Goji Berry?
A goji berry is a slightly elongated, red fruit, about the size of a raisin. Goji plants are deciduous, which means they drop their leaves every year, usually after the first frost. The Lycium barbarum variety of goji berry plants are a perennial in zones 3 to 10. Which means they will survive the winter and come back to bear fruit the next year. They are actually quite remarkably heat and cold tolerant.
Before You Start: Check Your Soil
Soil pH is important when it comes to planting your goji berry. These plants are very adaptable, but for the very best results, test your soil, and then adjust the pH to between 6.8 – 8.1. You can add lime to raise the pH if necessary or aluminum sulfate to lower it.
How Many Should I Plant?
It will take approximately 15 plants to feed one person for one year. Nutrition experts recommend eating 10 to 30 grams of goji berries per day, which equates to about 1/3 to 1 ounce. One ounce is about the size of a single-serve box of raisins.
How to Grow Goji Berry Plants in Containers
Goji berry plants can easily be grown in containers on your deck or patio. The roots like to grow deep. But the plant itself will stop growing once the roots touch the bottom of the container. So they won’t grow as large as the plants that grow in the ground. One advantage to growing in containers is that you may very well see berries in the first or second season. Rather than the third, which is normally the case when they are grown in the ground.
Your bare root plants will survive for a while if you don’t plant them right away, but we recommend you plant them as soon as possible. We also suggest that you get them established inside in a sunny location. Then move them outdoors to a sunny location. Your goji plant will appreciate some afternoon shade if you live in a very hot climate (temps above 100°F).
Seven Steps to Planting Goji Berries in Containers
- Place the bare root plants in a jar or container with room-temperature water. Allow them to soak for about 15-minutes.
- Prepare your container. We recommend a pot at least as deep as a five-gallon bucket, but it does not have to be wide. Your container or pot should have drainage holes in the bottom (if it doesn’t make some). You may also want to provide a drain pan for the container to sit in.
- Mix about 1/3 sand to 2/3 soil to provide the best growing medium and drainage. But any good potting soil will work. Fill the container, leaving 2 to 3-inches at the top.
- Dig a hole in the middle of the container. Make it a couple of inches deeper than to the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the stem). Push loose soil back in. Let the roots lightly rest on the soil in the hole, until the crown is level with the top of the soil.
- Push the soil back in, filling around the roots and up to the crown, gently tamping as you go.
- Water well and push more soil around the plant if necessary, watering again to let the soil settle.
- You should continue to keep your goji plant moist, but not overly wet, until you see new growth sprouting. This usually happens in about 2-3 weeks.
- Apply an inch or two of mulch to help with moisture retention (and because it looks nice). If you mulch, you’ll need to rely on touch to check soil moisture. Or you can water into a large reservoir under the planter so it gets moisture from the bottom up.
You may see flowers, after which fruit will follow, depending on when you plant. It could be the first season but more than likely it will be the second season. Remember that containerized plants will feel the heat and cold more because their roots are in soil above the ground.
Be weather-aware, providing adequate moisture when it is extremely hot and dry, as containerized plants will usually dry out quicker. Also remember to provide protection for your plants if the temperatures become really cold.
How to Grow Goji Berry Plants in the Ground
You can grow goji berry plants in the ground in any relatively sunny location, as long as you have room for expansion. Adult plants can grow up to 8-feet high and wide, though some gardeners prune their plants to keep them within a desired size range. You can even grow Goji bushes as a hedge or you can train them to a trellis, in which case, they can get as tall as 10-feet.
We recommend you start your goji plant in a container, though you don’t need a 5-gallon size. In fact, you can buy a 4- to 6-inch peat pot and not even have to worry about taking it out of the pot to transplant it. This will greatly reduce the stress involved with transplanting, further ensuring your Goji plant will thrive. If you are starting it in a container, just follow steps 1 through 7 above, after which point you can transplant your Goji plant into the ground. Goji plants growing in the ground will sometimes start to produce fruit the second season but will not go into full production until the third year.
If you are putting it directly into the ground:
- Choose a sunny site if you live anywhere but in the desert southwest, where you will either want to have shade or be able to put up a shade cloth during the hottest part of the day.
- Follow step 1 above, and then prepare your soil, testing and amending it if needed.
- Mature goji berry bushes can reach up to 8 feet high and wide unless they’re regularly pruned, so space accordingly. We recommend not closer than 48 inches between plants and 8 feet between rows.
- Skip to step 4, and continue through step 8 above, applying mulch immediately, rather than waiting, and carefully monitoring soil moisture. It is critical that it not be allowed to dry out until you see new growth start to sprout, usually in about two weeks.
Once the average daytime temperature drops below 50 degrees, your goji plant will start going into dormancy. It will stay dormant until the springtime temps are up above 50 degrees. If you live in an area that does not get that cold, keeping your plant pruned back to new growth is the key to keeping the berries coming.
Pruning Your Goji Berry Plants
Pruning is normally done in the winter, but they can also be gently trimmed throughout the season to shape the canopy and to improve berry yield, though pruning incorrectly or over-pruning can reduce your yield dramatically. It is also important to have the right tool for the job. A dull or inadequate pruner can do more damage than good.
You will not want to prune them heavily the first year. You first need to identify the largest, healthy shoot, which will be the main trunk. Then, gradually remove the lower lateral shoots, with the goal of keeping the trunk clear for the first 15 inches, and then when your Goji plant reaches 24 inches, remove the growing tip to stimulate the growth of additional side branches.
To prune adult plants, just remove the branches above the maximum height you want. You should maintain clearance from the ground up of about 15 inches. You can also identify any ineffective branches. These usually grow very fast, straight and smooth and will not be very productive, so if they aren’t essential to the overall look, they can simply be removed. Goji Berry plants grow similarly to a weeping willow. If allowed to grow un-pruned, you can end up with a might wild look.
Fertilizer is not necessary as excess nitrogen will kill the plants.