How to Grow Goji Berries in Pots and Containers
The bright red goji berries look so attractive and are so nutritious that any gardening enthusiast will wonder if they can plant their own goji berries.
Fortunately, the answer to this question is ‘yes’! Plus, if one has only a limited space, the good news is that they can plant them in a pot too. This will not only avail them of the healthful berries anytime they want, but also their balconies, terraces, or windowsills will look more beautiful with these gorgeous plants and their lovely flowers and fruits.
Moreover, goji berries are rarely found in stores but are easy to grow and maintain. Hence growing one’s own goji berries in a pot is an excellent way to enjoy them to one’s heart’s content.
Published: January 20, 2022.
What are Goji Berries?
Goji berries are also known as Wolfberries. They belong to the tomato and nightshade family i.e., Solanaceae family. Goji berry flowers are funnel-shaped and of bright purple color. They are followed by slightly oblong, bright red fruits that are full of nutrients.
They contain beta carotene, carotenoids, vitamins B, C, and E, 19 amino acids, and over 30 trace elements and antioxidants. Ancient Chinese scholars had recognized the health benefits of goji berries and therefore, had given them an important place in traditional Chinese medicine.
Goji berries are native to Asia and are also used in Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese medicine.
Goji berries are 1-2 cm long and have a bit of sour flavor. Depending on the cultivar and berry size, each berry contains 10 to 60 tiny yellowish seeds compressed with a curved embryo. One can eat the berries fresh or turn them into juice or wine. Dried goji berries are also commonly eaten as a smoothie ingredient, snack, or topping.
Because of the high amount of nutrients in goji berries, they have numerous health benefits to human health. They are believed to boost the immune system, stimulate brain activity, and prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.
Even bark of the goji berry plant has medicinal properties and is used in teas and infusions.
Goji berries come into two varieties – ‘Lycium chinense’ with small-sized fruits and ‘Lycium barbarum’ with the better and sweeter taste.
Goji berry plant is deciduous, which means that it sheds leaves every year, normally after the first frost. It’s also highly branched and slightly thorny and is remarkably tolerant to heat and cold. It grows up to 3 meters in height and width when it grows in nature. However, one can restrict its height to 1-2 meters and thus it’s perfect as a hedging plant.
Goji berries are hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9.
From Seeds and from Young Bare-Root Plants
Goji berry plants can be either grown from a bare root plant or seeds. However, growing from seeds is a very slow process. On the other hand, growing from a young plant enables the grower to get the crop much quicker.
How to Grow Goji Berries in Pots from Young, Bare-Root Plants
As mentioned earlier, goji berries can be easily grown in pots. Their roots generally grow deep. However, while growing in containers, once the roots touch the bottom of the container, the plant stops growing. In other words, container goji berries won’t grow as big as the ones grown in the ground.
A remarkable benefit of growing goji berries in pots is that the grower may see berries in just the first or second season, whereas those grown in the ground bear fruit normally in the third season.
Once the grower gets the young bare-root plants, they should immediately plant them, although they survive for a while without planting. These bare-root plants should be placed in a jar or container in water at room temperature. They should be allowed to soak for around 15 minutes.
When to Plant?
Goji berry should be planted ideally in early spring i.e. before the plant wakes up from winter dormancy. Planting when the plant is still dormant makes it more able to withstand disturbance.
Goji berry plants need full sun and well-draining soil to grow well.
Sourcing Goji Berry Plant
Always buy a goji berry plant from a reputable seller. Illegally imported or grown plants may carry diseases and if allowed to spread, these diseases can destroy other plants too.
Choosing the Container
The pot should ideally be as deep as a 5-gallon bucket, but need not be very wide. It should have drainage holes at the bottom (if there are none, the grower should make some). One can even seat the container in a drain pan.
The grower should mix around 2/3 soil and 1/3 sand or compost. This will be the best growing medium with good drainage. But as such, any good potting soil should work fine. The grower should fill the container with the prepared mix but should leave 2-3 inches at the top.
The grower should let the plant establish inside in a sunny spot. Then they should move it out to a sunny spot. A goji berry plant needs at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. However, if the grower lives in a very hot climate (above 100-degree F), their plants will prefer some afternoon shade.
The grower should dig a hole at the center of the potting mix. The hole should be a few inches deeper than the crown (the part where the stem meets roots) of the plant. Now they should push the loose soil back in. They should allow the roots to lightly rest on the soil in the hole till the crown is level with the soil’s top.
Now they should push the soil back to fill around the roots and up to the crown and gently tamp.
The grower should now water the plant well and if necessary, fill around the plant, and water again to allow the soil to settle.
The soil should be continuously kept moist but not excessively wet. This should be done till the grower sees new growth. This will take around 2-3 weeks.
For moisture retention, the grower should apply an inch or two of mulch. However, if the grower applies mulch, they will have to touch the soil to check if it’s moist or not. Alternatively, they can place the pot into a large reservoir so the soil will get moisture from the bottom.
Fertilizing is not required because excess nitrogen will kill the plant.
How to Grow Goji Berries in a Pot from Seeds
Goji berries can be grown from seeds, too, but this is a somewhat slower process than using bare-root plants.
If one wants to grow goji berry plants in a pot from seeds, they can buy the seeds from nurseries or can pick their own seeds from dried goji berries.
For buying seeds, one should find a reputable nursery because not all seeds are good.
A simple test to differentiate between good seeds and bad ones is to float the seeds in water. Bad seeds float and good ones sink down.
Instead of buying, a grower can get seeds from their own or friends’ berries. For this, they will have to hydrate the berries first.
They will have to dip the berries in water and then roll them between their thumb and forefinger. Seeds will show out.
They will then need to dip the seeds in water and remove the pulp completely. Floating seeds should be removed and those that sink should be taken because they are the good ones.
Then they should place the good seeds first on a paper towel to dry them off and then on a coated paper plate overnight to dry out. The reason behind using a coated paper plate is to prevent seeds from sticking to it.
Preparing Seed Starting Mix
A quality seeding mix should be sterile, no matter which ingredients it contains. Most of them will have perlite, peat moss, vermiculite, and coco noir in them.
Unless the potting soil is particularly labeled as being sterilized, the grower will have to sterilize it themselves, especially if they are using compost.
Why Sterilize the Seeding Mix: Sterilizing means raising its temperature beyond the temperatures at which pests and bacteria can survive. Thus, sterilization is to be done to make the mix pest-free.
If one has to sterilize their seeding mix themselves, they should saturate it in boiling water and then place it under foil to keep it warmer for longer. The steam under the foil does the sanitization.
The seeding mix has a very low amount of plant nutrients in order to stimulate root growth. Also, the grower should not fertilize it.
The grower should sow up to 3 seeds in each seed starting pot they are using after filling them with the seed starting mix.
They should not plant the seeds very deep - a depth of a quarter-inch is enough. Although the goji berry belongs to the tomato family, it doesn’t need deep roots as it grows much faster.
Conditions Required for Germination
The sown seeds need bright light and high humidity to start germination.
Grow lights and grow domes will help speed up the process. But if one doesn’t have them, they should place the pots in the hottest part of the house with indirect bright sunlight and should keep the soil consistently moist.
One can expect quality seeds to sprout within 10-14 days of sowing. Once they sprout, the grower should reduce watering.
When each seedling will have three leaves, the grower can transplant them. Rest everything should be done just as planting the bare root young plant.
These new plants should be placed indoors for at least a year. If one wants to transplant them in the ground, they can do so in the second year.
Planting outdoors is recommended to be done when the plant is at least one foot tall. Till then, it should be kept inside.
How to Take Care of Goji Berries
Goji berries are very easy to care for.
Goji berry plants are one of the most drought-tolerant fruiting plants, but only after their roots are established.
During the first year, the grower should water thoroughly and consistently so as to keep the delicate baby roots moist. However, they should avoid overwatering which can cause blossom end rot.
The size of the growing planter also determines the watering frequency - goji berries in larger containers can be watered less frequently.
Pruning of goji berry plants is usually done in winter. However, the grower can even lightly trim them all through the season to improve the berry yield and shape up the canopy. But they should remember that wrong or overly pruning can decrease the yield significantly. It’s also essential to get the right tool for the job. An improper or dull pruner can cause more damage than good.
During the first year, the grower should not prune heavily. First, they have to identify the largest and healthiest shoot which will be the main trunk. Then they should slowly remove the lateral lower shoots with the aim of keeping the trunk clear for the first 15 inches. Then when the plant attains 24 inches of height, they should cut the growing tip to trigger the growth of additional side branches.
While pruning adult plants, one should just cut off the branches above the maximum height they want. They should maintain clearance of around 15 inches from the ground up. They should also find out ineffective branches. These generally grow very quickly, smooth and straight, and will not be very productive. Therefore, if they are not useful for the overall look, they can just be removed.
Also, dead or broken branches should be removed. The growth pattern of the goji berry plant is similar to that of a weeping willow. Thus, if it’s not pruned, one can end up with a rowdy, wild look.
Pruning also keeps fungal diseases like powdery mildew at bay by improving air circulation.
Refreshing the Soil
It’s good to refresh the soil each year by working in organic matter. If this is not possible, the grower can apply a slow-release general purpose fertilizer every spring. Another option is to give a tomato-based fertilizer once every two weeks from spring till late summer.
Goji berry plant grown in a pot doesn’t grow as big as the one grown in the ground, but still, it needs support. The grower can set up a tall bamboo near the plant to provide sturdy support. They can then tie the stem loosely to the stake as it grows. Such support will also cause neat growth and makes harvesting much easier.
Pest and Disease Control
Pests that commonly attack goji berries are spider mites, thrips, and aphids. Aphids can be washed away from leaves with a blast from a garden hose.
The grower should remove affected leaves or areas wherever possible; however, a safer way before trying an insecticide is to introduce natural predators such as ladybugs or implement companion planting to prevent the entry of pests.
Another solution is to plant aromatic, pungent herbs such as catnip, chives, mint, and basil, or flowering plants like nasturtium or marigold nearby. But the grower should make sure to place spreading plants such as nasturtium or mint in a separate pot.
Also, similar to all other fruit trees, bird netting may be of use if birds and other critters are found snacking on the crop.
Flowers and Fruits
The grower may see flowers which will be followed by fruits, depending on when they plant.
This could happen in the first season, but most probably it will be in the second season. Growers should note that potted plants will sense the heat and cold more than the ground-grown plants because their roots are in the soil that is above the ground.
Growers should keep an eye on the weather and whenever it is very hot and dry, they should provide adequate moisture to the plant, as potted plants generally dry out quickly. Also, if the weather is extremely cold, they should provide the desired protection to the plant.
Harvesting and Storing
The grower should allow their goji berry plants to grow and develop for a couple of years before harvesting. When berries become fully red, they are considered to be ready for harvesting. The grower can then simply pick the berries from the plant. They should remember to wear gloves while harvesting since the plant is a little thorny.
However, when touched with hands, the berries can turn black from red. To overcome this problem, one can spread a clean sheet under the plant and shake the branches bearing berries gently onto the sheet. Then they should lift the sheet and wash the berries before using.
Although goji berries are best used fresh, one can even store them for long by freezing them in an airtight container. Goji berries can also be dried.
After the first frost, the plant sheds its leaves. These too can be harvested and used in teas.
Growing one’s own goji berries in a pot is amazing. With a little effort and wait, one can get a punch of ruby-red nutritious berries. Plus, the lovely plant can be a decorative element of the house. So, to get health, taste, and beauty, every homeowner should consider planting goji berries in pots.