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Instructions for the Wolfberries (Goji Berries)

Care Upon Arrival

As soon as you receive the plants, check the soil around the roots to make sure it’s moist. If dry, water until the soil is thoroughly moist but not soggy.

Do not let the soil dry out at any time before or during planting. Providing the plants are kept moist, you can delay planting for one to two weeks; however, it is best to plant immediately. Keep the potted plant in a sheltered location (part shade and no wind) until it can be transplanted outdoors.

Cultural Information

Hardy in Zones 5-9, Wolfberries or Goji berries (Lycium barbarum) have long been treasured in China for their health properties. Rich in amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants, they grow on an attractive shrub, 5 to 6 feet high, with light-purple spring blooms and deep-green summer foliage. Harvest the red, mildly sweet licorice-scented berries in late summer or early fall.

Planting Location

Soil: Wolfberry prefers welldrained, loamy soil and should be located where there is good air circulation so leaves will dry quickly, since moisture helps spread disease.

Frost: Flower buds can be easily killed by late spring frosts, so avoid siting shrub in a frost pocket. Cold air flows downhill, making flowering fruit trees located at the bottom of a slope especially vulnerable to frost. Mid-slope is the best location, because winds are most severe at the top.

Slope direction: Which direction the slope should face is not always clear. Southern and southwestern slopes can be hot and dry, and can cause trees to break dormancy too early, which makes them susceptible to damage from late frosts. Yet a southern slope can work well if it is protected from the prevailing winds by a windbreak on any side except the down slope one (which would block air circulation). A northerly slope may not provide enough solar exposure to evaporate moisture and promote good fruiting. In humid regions, easterly slopes can speed drying of the morning dew.

Sun: Fruit trees need a lot of sun to grow healthy and be productive. If they are shaded by other trees or a building they will be less fruitful and more prone to insects and -disease.

Planting

1. Using a sharp, square-ended planting spade, dig a circle 2 feet in diameter and about 3 feet deep. Remove the sod and set it aside. Now separate the topsoil and the lighter-colored subsoil into two piles, and remove any rocks from the planting hole.

2. Chop up the sod and put the pieces in the hole, grass side down, so that it doesn’t come in contact with the tree roots. Cover the sod with a little topsoil.

3. Set the tree into the hole. For grafted trees grown on standard rootstocks, position the tree so that the graft union, the point at which the scion and the rootstock were joined together, is 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the ground. For dwarf and semidwarf rootstocks, the graft union should be 2 to 3 inches above the soil surface.

4. Fill in around the roots, using the topsoil first. Use your hands to firm the soil around the roots and eliminate any air pockets. Fill in about half the planting hole.

5. Pour water into the planting hole until the soil gets quite mucky. Then, using your foot, tamp down the soil.

6. Fill in the rest of the planting hole with the remaining topsoil and subsoil. Firm down the soil around the tree and make a “dish” or depression to encourage water to drain toward the tree.

7. Mulch around the tree with organic matter (leaves, compost, grass clippings, etc.). Don’t use fresh manure, though well-rotted manure is fine. Line the mulch in the same dish shape around the tree.

8. Water the tree until the soil cannot readily absorb any more.

9. Drive one or two stakes into the ground outside the root zone to mark the tree. Fruit trees grafted to dwarf rootstocks develop smaller root systems than standard-size trees and require some support. After planting dwarf trees, attach the tree to the stake using some -flexible tubing or other material.

10. Prune off any side branches and cut back trees by about one-third after planting. Balled or container trees do not need to be pruned.

11. Place wire-mesh “hardware cloth” or a plastic tree guard around the tree trunk to protect it from rodents and deer.

12. During the first growing season, water the shrub regularly, for the first month or so, then watering two or three times a week for another couple of months, or during dry weather. In the late fall, paint the tree bark with white latex paint diluted with water, so the bark will reflect winter sunlight and not be damages by sun scald or cracking.

Pruning

Allow the plant to grow wild and tall for 12 full months. Then give it one very thorough annual pruning. This will help it yield more fruits. However, many of the berries will be inside the thick foliage. Since Goji berry plants have thorns, you must be very careful during this process.

In Asia, pruning is done regularly in order to keep the plants small. To be able to do this, your tree must have only one trunk, but many fruiting branches. All branches need to be approximately 2 feet long, and all new shoots should be cut and trimmed. The main advantage of this pruning style is that you will not have any problem when picking the berries. Still, keep in mind that you might have to compete with birds, deer and other pests who also want the sweet fruits.

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