If you love kiwi from the grocery store, you might try growing its relative, the hardy kiwifruit, at home. Sweeter in flavor when compared to the commercial variety, the hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta) can be grown in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 4 through 7. Like its name implies, the plant can tolerate cold temperatures down to 25 degrees below zero.
A native plant to Asia, the hardy kiwifruit plant is an ornamental vining plant sometimes called a bower vine. It is a vigorous grower, and has been found to climb 100 feet into adjacent trees in its native environment. Its delicate appearance with small green leaves on a contrasting red vine make it an attractive addition with the added benefit of providing delicious fruit. The hardy kiwifruit is also known as bower berry and Chinese goose berry. It is smaller than the grocery store variety of kiwifruit with smooth, edible skin rather than fuzzy. The fruit can be compared in appearance to a grape.
How to grow and care for hardy kiwifruit
To successfully grow the hardy kiwifruit, be sure to choose the hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta) variety rather than the tropical kiwifruit variety from a nursery. Choose one male plant to every nine female plants to ensure proper pollination and fruit production. Plant the transplants at least 10 feet apart in mid-May after the danger of frost has past. Regular gardening soil infused with a few handfuls of organic material will suit the new plant. The hardy kiwifruit loves a full sun location. It also thrives in moist but well-draining soil, so regular watering is important.
Provide a trellis. Ideally, the trellis will be T-shaped with a 5 foot crossbar 7 feet off the ground. Train the main cane, or leader, to grow up the trellis post. Make sure the main cane doesn’t twist. Wires running laterally to the post will support the vine as it matures and as fruit develops.
After the first year, you should begin to fertilize your hardy kiwifruit plant. Apply fertilizer once in early spring while the plant is still dormant and again in June after bloom. Prune your female hardy kiwifruit vines once in early spring before growth begins and again just before flowering. Inspect the vines consistently and remove tangled shoots. Male plants should be pruned once immediately after flowering. Shoots should be cut back toward the leader.
The hardy kiwifruit requires 150 days for ripened fruit, so in more northerly zones, special consideration for plant location is required. Plant in a protected area with northern exposure to prevent early spring growth that would be susceptible to frost. Patience is required with this particular plant because it will not reach maturity or bear fruit until about its fifth year.
Pests and problems when growing kiwi
The hardy kiwifruit is particularly prone to failure during the first year due to neglect and to root rot from poor soil. This plant is also prone to collapse and die in hot, dry weather. Be on the lookout for root knot nematodes, spider mites, and Japanese beetles. Cats are reported to be attracted to this plant and may dig up the roots and scratch the vines and leaves. If you find this to be a problem, you might choose to wrap the lower portions to the plant with chicken wire trunk protectors or hardware cloth.
While the plant itself is cold hardy, the fruit and its blossoms are susceptible to damage from late spring and early fall frosts. Since the hardy kiwifruit does not fully ripen until October after the first frost deadline, harvesting vine-ripened fruit is not recommended. The fruit will ripen in a refrigerator, so pick the fruit before the first fall frost and store for up to five weeks.
Varieties worth considering
Hardy kiwifruit variety development is very new and limited.
“Issai” is the only self fertile variety, so it doesn’t require a male plant for pollination. The fruit is somewhat challenging to harvest as it ripens unevenly in clusters, but it is flavorful and good.
“Passion Poppers” are the sweetest, most flavorful, and most nutritious kiwi.
Please visit the following links to learn more about how to care for the hardy kiwifruit plant:
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of whologwhy