The jujube is a beautiful fruit plant, very suitable also to be cultivated as an ornamental plant.
It is a small tree, which usually does not exceed the 3-4 metres of height; the bark is wrinkled and the branches have a tortuous and twisted development, often hanging, the branches have numerous big thorns very sharp; the foliage is deciduous, formed by pinnate leaves, composed by small oval leaves, of a bright green colour, glossy and slightly leathery.
In late spring or early summer, it produces a profusion of small white flowers, followed by edible, olive-like fruits.
Jujubes ripen at the end of summer, or during the first weeks of autumn; they are light green in colour and are usually edible even when they are unripe; at first, slightly sweet, they become more and more sweet as the skin darkens; with the passing of the weeks, the pulp of the jujubes wrinkles, but remains edible and very sweet.
Cultivation of jujubes
The Zizyphus jujuba plants are easy to grow; they are not afraid of the cold and can bear very intense and long-lasting frosts, therefore they can be grown quietly in the garden, in the ground; they are very slow growing plants, also suitable for small gardens. When planting, let’s mix mature manure or slow release granular fertilizer with the soil, and repeat this operation at the foot of the plant every year, in the spring.
IL GIUGGIOLO IN BREVE
Family, genus, species: Rhamnaceae, Ziziphus jujuba
Type of plant: Fruit tree or shrub
Your Highness: From 1 to 10 meters
Years for fruiting: At least 2
Exposure: Full sun
Minimum temperature: -15°c
Ideal climate: Mediterranean
Land: Poor, sandy or stony
Soil pH: Alkaline to Neutral
Soil moisture: Dry, well-drained
Irrigations: Only in summer
Propagation: Sowing, cutting, grafting
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The plants of Zizyphus jujuba can bear even prolonged periods of drought, but if we want to get a good harvest, with swollen fruits, it is good to water the plant with good regularity, from April to September. These plants develop without problems even in areas with cold climate, but usually show a better fructification, and better quality, in areas that enjoy hot summers, so in areas with cool summers the jujube is grown more as an ornamental plant.
Use of the fruits
Jujubes are eaten raw, when they are green or even when they are brown; they are not succulent or fragrant fruits, but their sweet and particular taste makes them interesting. In the nursery we can find also varieties with very big fruits, called jujube apple, with compact pulp, which becomes floury when the fruit is completely ripe.
Jujubes have also been used for centuries in herbal medicine and in traditional European and Asian medicine; the fruit, the seed and even the decoction of the fruits are used as a calming, sedative and in the treatment of respiratory diseases.
The ancient Romans prepared a wine obtained from the fermentation of jujube fruits; still today, in some Italian regions, liqueurs made from jujube are prepared, one of which is the “jujube broth”, produced in the birthplace of Petrarch, Arquà, but also in other regions of the north.
Exposure and climate
The jujube is the ideal plant to cultivate in the Mediterranean garden, as, in order to give the best of itself, it prefers warm climates and, once freed, it is absolutely not afraid of drought.
However, it is a very adaptable essence: it can be grown without fear throughout our peninsula. The cold is not a problem: a well-exposed jujube does not even fear temperatures around -15°C.
In this respect, too, it is truly tolerant: it prefers light and well-drained soils, even stony ones, possibly slightly calcareous and alkaline. However, it is also suitable for different substrates such as wet or salty ones due to the proximity of the sea.
The jujube lives well even without irrigation: in those conditions, however, the growth will be much slower and the fruiting could be completely compromised. To get the best it is good not to miss water for at least the first two years after planting: we water once every 15 days, in the absence of rain. Afterwards we can completely leave it out unless we are interested in an abundant production. In that case we water at least once a month, especially during the summer.
Thick mulching can help us to reduce interventions and protect the roots from the cold of winter.
Plants not intended for intensive production are satisfied with a little nitrogen fertiliser at the end of winter. Otherwise we will have to distribute soil improver in autumn and a sufficient dose of specific fertilizer for fruit trees at the end of winter.
Jujubes can be left to grow without specific intervention. However, low bush pruning is widespread to facilitate fruit harvesting. In Europe, pruning is usually carried out every three years, lowering the subject and opening the canopy. However, it is also possible to intervene every year by creating, for example, small informal hedges. Usually we proceed by shortening the tips and then selecting 4 jets produced the previous year and eliminating the others.
In Europe and in the Mediterranean area there are only two or three different species of jujube that differ essentially in the shape of the fruit, perpendicular or round. In China, however, the plant has always been very popular and the fruits find countless uses in cooking. The dried ones (called “Chinese dates”) are very much in demand: ideal are the medium sized varieties, with thin skin and sweet taste but with harsh accents.
The larger jujubes are instead intended for fresh consumption or candying.
Some Italian nurserymen are trying to introduce new varieties, potentially interesting for the market. Their particular characteristics are resistance to adversity, adaptability to different climates and the quality of the fruit.
Some come directly from China, others were first imported into the USA and then to our continent.
Traditional jujube varieties
The traditional species are:
Ziziphus lotus very widespread throughout the Mediterranean area for its great resistance to drought. It is used in nurseries as a rootstock for more delicate varieties.
It grows to a height of 3 metres; its branches, which are very thorny, grow irregularly. The root system becomes very deep over time and guarantees the supply of water. The fruits, however, are small and not very pleasant.
Mauritian Ziziphus native to Africa and very widespread along the shores of the Mediterranean, but also in the Middle East (it is very popular in India). It grows up to 5 meters high when treated as a shrub, but left free reaches even 20 meters. The branches have the typical zigzag shape and are extremely thorny. It has a very deep root system and is therefore very resistant to drought.
It produces round fruits of about 1,2 cm, yellow and sweet, with a big kernel.
Jujube – Zizyphus jujuba: Other cultivars
Ziziphus jujuba ‘Buluoshuzao’ beautiful medium sized plant, absolutely free of thorns. The fruits, large in size and with an excellent taste, are produced in early autumn, but ripen gradually.
Ziziphus jujuba ‘So’ has rounded fruits, late in ripening. Suitable for hedges due to its compact and rounded shape. The branches are thornless and the foliage is almost everywhere deciduous.
Ziziphus jujuba ‘Zanhuangdazao’ medium sized plant, but very productive. The fruits are oval and fairly late, sweet with an acidic aftertaste. Not suitable for humid or rainy climates.
Ziziphus jujuba ‘Li’ interesting cultivar for its rapid growth and for its large, rounded fruit with an intense taste. The kernel is very small.
Ziziphus jujuba ‘Autumn Beauty’ to be taken into consideration both as fruit and as an ornamental element. The jujubes are large and oval, produced early. The leaves take on a nice colouring in autumn