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Do you enjoy growing fruit? Perhaps you have a few blueberry bushes, a handful of strawberry plants, or some apple trees and you’re looking to expand your garden’s offerings? Consider growing kiwi fruit.
While you may be picturing the brown fuzzy kiwis you find at the grocery store, those aren’t the kiwi fruits I’m talking about. Grocery store kiwis (Actinidia chinensis) are native to southern Asia and they don’t survive temperatures lower than 10 degrees F. But, hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta) are native to northern China and Russia and can survive temperatures as low as -25 degrees F. And, best of all, hardy kiwi fruits do not have to be peeled! Their skin is beautiful and smooth, so they can go straight from the plant into your mouth. They taste much like their fuzzy-fruited cousins, but I find hardy kiwi to be sweeter and far more enjoyable to eat.
You may think that growing kiwi fruit is challenging, but I’m here to tell you it is one of the easiest fruits to grow, if you keep these few things in mind.
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Tips for Growing Kiwi Fruit
- Variety selection is everything. Most hardy kiwi varieties are hardy from USDA zones 5-9, but if you live where it gets very cold in the winter, your best bet is to plant Russian selections like ‘Natasha’, ‘Tatyana’, and ‘Ananasnaja’ (a favorite for its aromatic fruit and extremely productive nature). These Russian varieties are said to be hardy all the way down to -35 degrees F! Other good varieties for growing kiwi fruit just about anywhere include ‘Michigan State’, a larger fruited, hardy variety that I love, and ‘Ken’s Red’ which bears sweet-flavored fruits with reddish-plum colored skin.
- The fruits are smaller than the fuzzy kiwis at the grocery store. The green fruits of hardy kiwis are only slightly larger than a grape, but they’re produced prolifically. Expect dozens of one to two inch long fruits to be produced within three or four years of planting. The best production occurs when the vines are about eight years old, and you can expect them to produce for forty years or more.
- Only female vines produce fruits. Hardy kiwis are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. So, for growing kiwi fruit, you’ll need to plant one male vine for every eight or nine female vines. Since vines are vegetatively propagated, the vines will be “sexed” when you purchase them.
- Hardy kiwis are fast growing (like, seriously fast!). You’ll need a sturdy pergola or trellis to support the growing vines. Each one can grow up to 40 feet tall!
- Growing kiwi fruit means you’ll also be growing fragrant flowers. The flowers, which appear in early summer, are small and white. Their fragrance is similar to lily of the valley. The fruits continue to mature all summer long and are ready to harvest in late fall.
- When growing kiwi fruit, site the vines in full sun. Try to find a location that’s protected from late spring frosts that might damage newly emerged spring growth. Space vines about ten to twelve feet apart, on center. Make sure they’re regularly watered until established.
- Pruning is a must. For many people growing kiwi fruit, pruning is the most challenging task. The vines must be pruned with a sharp pair of high-quality pruners when they’re dormant in the winter, and again two or three times throughout the summer. In winter, prune out any branches that produced fruit the previous season, as well as any dead or crossed branches. The one-year-old branches produce the most fruit, so don’t prune them out, instead trim them back to the eighth node up from the base of the plant (the nodes look like little nubs along the branch). These nodes will push out new fruiting spurs in the spring. Summer pruning involves removing any long, arching vines that extend beyond the developing fruits. Any non-flowering vines that extend off the trellis can be removed in the summer as well.
- Keep the vines well mulched. I like to use three inches of compost or shredded leaves. But, don’t pile the mulch against the base of the plant; keep it three inches away from the vine’s base.
- If your hardy kiwi fruit aren’t ripe when frost threatens in the fall, harvest them and allow them to ripen on the kitchen counter. Make sure all the fruits are harvested before frost strikes.
- Hardy kiwis are among the most pest-free fruits you can grow. The plants are not fussy, nor do they require any spraying. Oh, and they’re pretty, too!
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In many ways, growing kiwi fruit is much like growing grapes. They are vigorous growers and need to be properly pruned, trained, and trellised. But, when they’re treated right, you’ll have more fruit than you can handle. Growing kiwi fruit should be on every gardeners to-do list!