In our continued efforts to provide educational outreach, the Baltimore County Master Gardeners (BCMG), volunteers who are part of the University of Maryland Extension, offer this newest installment in our monthly newsletters designed to provide timely, informative articles to assist you in your gardening activities.
Visit the Demonstration Garden after reading this article about Goji Berries! Read about Norman's trip to Egypt.
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An unusual and rewarding fruit we have growing in the BCMG Demonstration Gardens orchard is the goji berry (lycium barbarum), sometimes known as wolfberry. Goji berries have a long and well-established reputation as a so-called superfood, high in antioxidants, vitamins B and C, and amino acids. Their 2,000-year history of use in ancient Eastern medicine (they are native to Asia) is impressive, and they have been attributed with numerous health benefits, including boosting the immune system, protecting against cancers, and improving life expectancy. So it is good news that they are easy to grow, somewhat spiny deciduous shrubs that will bear fruit from mid-summer all the way through to the first frost!
Suitable for zones 3-10, goji berries prefer slightly alkaline soil (pH 6.5-8) and full sun, although they tolerate some shade. My berries at home are in part shade and still fruit well but not quite as prolifically as those in the Demonstration Garden, which are in full sun. Graced by long arching branches, gojis can become rangy if left unpruned, rather like a raspberry, with a 4-foot spread and 5-10 foot height at maturity. Height can easily be controlled with pruning. They are self-fertile, but if you plant more than one space them at least 3 feet apart. Place them thoughtfully as they are tap-rooted, and moving them after they are established can meet with mixed success. Goji berries can also be successfully grown in containers but require at least a 5-gallon container.
Plant in early spring. Although they can be grown from seed or cuttings, potted plants are readily available. Crimson Star and Phoenix Tears are two cultivars that offer some variety in size and habit. Water regularly during the first year. Goji berries are drought tolerant once established and prefer hot, dry conditions for best fruiting. The trumpet-shaped purple berries appear in early summer, ripening mid-summer into bright red-orange oblong half-inch fruits. A light berry crop may appear the first year, with a full crop in year two if you start with a potted or bare root plant. Gojis belong to the nightshade family - fertilize like a tomato if needed.
Pruning is fairly simple. Fruiting occurs on current-year canes. Do not prune at all year one. In subsequent years winter prune when the plant is dormant, removing any dead, damaged, or crossing canes and thin canes if too dense. Shorten side branches 6-18 inches from the tips and cut back long vertical branches to the desired size. In early summer, you can pinch out 2-3 inches from the growing tips to force side branching and more fruiting. Trellising or growing along a fence is perfect for goji berries. Loosely tie the strongest new canes to a fence or stakes. After several years they do tend to sucker. Cut them off at ground level or use the suckers to create new plants.
Harvest starts mid-summer. Berries are easy to pick but bruise easily. Be sure they are richly colored and soft - they are on the tart side in flavor, so pick them ripe. I find them delicious fresh. They can be juiced. They freeze well also, but most growers dry them. The leaves are edible and can be used in tea or powdered as a nutritional supplement. (Going to try that next summer!)
We have not had disease or pest issues in the orchard, but goji berries can be visited by aphids, spider mites, and thrips. Discourage these pests by surrounding your plants with aromatic herbs or marigolds and nasturtiums.
Happy growing! Visit our gojis this summer in the Demonstration Gardens.
Goji Berry Culture, Kathy Demchak, Penn State Extension, extension.psd.edu
Gojis in the Garden, Brent Black, Utah State Extension, extension.usu.edu
Photo credit: Raintree Nursery
An Egyptian Sketch By Norman Cohen, Baltimore County Master Gardener
Last November, one item on my bucket list was accomplished, a 12-day trip to Egypt. The tour of the Egyptian antiquities can only be described in superlatives. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so ask to see mine of the Step Pyramid, the Great Pyramid and Sphinx at Giza with camel ride (me on a camel!), the temples at Luxor and Karnak and Rameses the Great’s monument at Abu Simbel.
During one of our tour meals, a fellow tour member asked how I keep myself occupied since retiring. “I volunteer my time as a Master Gardener with the University of Maryland Extension program. My favorite job is conducting an ‘Ask the Master Gardener’ informational table.” I then blurted out, “Do you have any gardening questions?” (Force of habit!)
The gentleman, without hesitation, replied, “My garden is heavily shaded, located in the Boston suburbs and deer-ravaged.” Six thousand miles to Egypt to hear the same complaints heard every week at the Towson Farmers Market. The same chapter and verse recited: “The best deterrent is to install an 8-foot solid fence; no fence? Use deer-resistant native and non-native non-invasive plants. Rutgers University, the University of Maryland Extension and Cornell University list the best to worst plants to reduce deer damage. Finally, spray deer repellent on a regular basis, especially after rain.”
Thank you given, but “I will not use the repellent which contains coyote urine.”
After four days on the Nile, the tour disembarked the river boat, then took a bus from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Without much to do I stared out the window at sand, dunes, rocks, and an occasional date palm. Wow! Suddenly I saw a medium-sized shrub blooming with pinkish-red flowers. The tour guide opened his mic. “If you saw the shrub in flower we passed, the plant is a bougainvillea brought to Egypt from Rio de Janeiro by the French in 1820.” Bougainvillea is a thorny evergreen shrub or vine indigenous to subtropical or tropical forests and thickets that grows in fertile well-drained soil in Zone 10 or 11. The pinkish-red petals are actually bracts similar to dogwood blooms. Amazingly, the plant has adapted to a desert environment.
A tour of the Egyptian antiquities and the bougainvillea are highly recommended.
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