Many gardeners enjoy the process of growing fruit. If you are one of these gardeners then maybe you will have an apple tree in your garden or perhaps some blueberry bushes and even a few strawberry plants. Something that you are unlikely to have growing in your garden are kiwis but growing kiwifruit is easier than you may think. You may be thinking that the only kiwis available are those brown ones that you see at the grocery store known as Actinidia chinensis which are mainly found in southern Asia. However the problem is that these kiwis are unable to survive when the temperature falls below 10° Fahrenheit. But there are more cold hardy kiwis known as Actinidia arguta which can be found in Russia and northern China. These kiwis are able to withstand temperatures down to -25° Fahrenheit.
The very best thing about these hardy kiwis is that their skin is smooth and beautiful so you do not have to peel them. You can eat them just as they are and they will taste almost the same as their less hardy cousins from south Asia. But I find hardy kiwis to be sweeter and far more enjoyable to eat. So if you thought that growing kiwi fruit is challenging, I’m here to tell you it’s one of the easiest fruits to grow if you keep these few things in mind.
Select the Right Cultivar
There are different cultivars of hardy kiwifruit and the good news is that the majority of them are suitable for growing in USDA 5-9 zones. However if you live in a region where it is extremely cold during the winter, then you should choose one of the following Russian types such as Ananasnaja, Natasha or Tatyana. These three Russian kiwi fruits are said to be able to withstand temperatures as cold as -35° Fahrenheit. You can also choose Ken’s Red which are sweet kiwis with a reddish skin or Michigan State which are larger.
You need to be aware that the hardy kiwis are smaller than the brown ones you can find at the store. They are similar in size to a grape most of the time. After planting you can expect to see a large number of kiwis that measure between one and two inches in around 3 to 4 years. Once the vines are around eight years old, you should see the best production and this should be maintained for around 40 years.
Some hardy kiwi cultivars require fewer chill hours than others. Chill hours are hours that fall between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you live in a warmer climate, you should try to choose a cultivar that has a low chill hour requirement. Perhaps one that requires just 100 hours might work like Vincent or Ken’s Red for example. Northern gardeners would do best with cultivars that require 300 or more chill hours depending on their climate.
Planting and Caring for Kiwi Vines
After planting the kiwis, place your vines in the sun and away from areas that are susceptible to frosts in late spring as this can cause early growth damage. Keep the vines about 10 feet apart and keep watering them regularly until they become established. Once they are established, you may start using a balanced fertilizer to provide extra nutrients to the vines.
To keep the soil moist, you can use shredded leaves or compost to a depth or around 3 inches. Avoid piling the mulch against the plant base by keeping it 3 inches away. These robust kiwi vines grow very fast and can get very tall as much as forty feet. So you must have a sturdy way of supporting the vines such as a strong trellis or pergola.
It is not always easy to prune your kiwi vines but you must do this with good quality pruners that are sharp. Pruning needs to be done in the winter and 2-3 times during summer. During the winter, prune the branches that bore fruit last season and get rid of crossed or dead branches.
Year old branches will produce fruit the most so just trim these back rather than pruning them out. Trim them back to the eighth node from the plant base. You can easily identify the nodes as they have a nub like appearance. In the spring the nodes will create new spurs which will fruit. In the summer prune vines that are arching and long that are beyond developing fruits and also prune vines that do not flower that have extended off the supporting trellis.
Flowering and Fruiting
The kiwis have separate male and female vines and only the female vines will bear the fruit. When you are growing kiwi fruit, you must plant a male vine for every 8 female vines. Due to vegetative propagation you will find that these kiwi vines are sexed when you buy them.
You need to know that fragrant flowers appear first in early summer, which smell like lily of the valley and are white and small. Then you will need to wait for the fruits to mature throughout the summer ready for fall harvesting.
Harvesting and Storing
Vine ripened kiwi has the best flavor but does not store well when ripe. Therefore do not wait until there is a threat of frost in the fall to harvest your kiwis. If they are not ripe, then place them in your kitchen to ripen. To store them for several weeks, pick the fruit while they are still hard and store immediately in the refrigerator.
Kiwis are one of the easiest fruits for anybody to grow at home. However it is very important to choose the best cultivar for your climate before start planting them in the garden. Hardy kiwis are among the most pest free fruits you can grow and when they are treated right, you’ll have more fruit than you can handle. The fruits can be harvested once they are firm, yet starting to soften. Kiwis are a good nutrient dense fruit for fruit salads or just eating by itself.
Fast Facts on Kiwifruit
- China is the top kiwi producing country in the world.
- Kiwifruit has high amount of fiber, which is good for digestion.
- Kiwis are nutrient dense and full of vitamin C.
- They are packed with high amounts of antioxidants.
- There are over 60 different species of kiwifruits and they are botanically berries.