It is certain that August will be a warm month and possibly quite dry as well. Despite tough growing conditions, we will be harvesting one of our most hardy and somewhat unusual fruit trees – the jujube.
The jujube (Ziziphus jujuba ) also known as the red date and the Chinese date, is a medium-sized tree growing up to 30 feet tall or more depending on location. The tree is in the Buckthorn family and so is somewhat related to our local native Carolina buckthorn tree. Originally from Asia, the jujube is now widely distributed and has been in cultivation for thousands of years.
The tree is deciduous and produces shiny leaves on many-angled thorny branches. The flower of the jujube is tiny and a pale yellow/green with a light pleasant scent. Bees are very attracted to the flowers. The jujube fruit is a round to somewhat oblong drupe from an inch to over 2 inches in size depending on cultivar. The fruit has a single kernel like an olive. Immature fruit is light green and begins to take on a mottled brownish/ maroon color as they ripen eventually turning completely brownish. Shortly after becoming completely ripe, the fruit will wrinkle and dry.
The tree is very undemanding but will do best in full sun and well-drained soil. Not only does the tree like our summer heat but it has no problem with our winters either. The trees have no significant pests or diseases and once established can get by on natural rainfall. Trees have given supplemental watering and a bit of nitrogen fertilizer in the spring will be more luxuriant and set more and better fruit. The tree does produce quite a few root suckers that need to be removed to avoid forming a thicket of jujubes. If the tree is planted in a lawn, mowing usually takes care of this issue. Many different cultivars are available sometimes locally but more often from online nurseries. Most jujubes will self pollinate so a single tree will produce fruit. Of the varieties I’ve grown and tasted, I like the varieties Honey Jar and Sugarcane the best. Jujubes don’t really require pruning but I do shape our trees to keep them open in the center and short enough to be harvested from the ground.
Jujubes flower for an extended period and so the harvest is also several weeks long, generally starting in late July and continuing into September or even later with good conditions. Fruit to be eaten fresh are usually picked once they are partial to fully brownish but before they begin to wrinkle and dry. The fruit is crunchy and sweet much like an apple but not as juicy. The dried fruit with the kernels removed can also be used much like raisins or dates. Around the world jujube fruit is also juiced, pickled and made into marmalades, butters, teas, and even a fermented beverage.
If you are looking to grow a fruit tree that is unusual in our area and requires practically no attention once established, the jujube might be just what you are looking for.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor