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Grow your own Hardy Kiwi

by Guest Author on 03/29/2012
Issai Hardy Kiwi

[Guest Post by Laura Mathews]

My garden constantly changes. I move plants as if they were furniture, add new gardens and try new plants. Over time, I’ve found my success rate is a lot higher if I study plant options thoroughly before bringing new plants home. In anticipation of spring, I’ve been reading up on growing hardy kiwi. And lucky for me, I happen to know a farmer or two, and I was able to confirm a lot of what I read with a farmer who’s grown it.

What is a ‘Hardy Kiwi’?

Compared to fruit we know from our grocery stores, hardy kiwi, or kiwi berry, is a smooth-skinned, smaller and sweeter version of the kiwifruit. Kiwi berry vines are robust vines with pretty deep green leaves. Once established, the plant can outlive your mortgage, but it may take several years to mature before bearing fruit. Depending on the variety and age of the vine when you buy it, you’ll see fruit between 2 and 5 years. My farmer bud said the yield the first year will be less than following years. He also confirmed that while most varieties need both male and female plants to produce fruit, the ‘Issai’ Hardy Kiwi is self-pollinating. Issai also tends to bear fruit earlier than some varieties.

Hardy Kiwi - Joe Archie

As with most fruits, hardy kiwi likes full sun (at least six hours a day) and well-drained soil. About the only way to make a kiwi unhappy is to plant it in wet soil. Consistent moisture will help produce the best yield with the best flavor. Drought, early in the season, can cause blooms to drop and a prolonged dry spell in late summer can cause the fruit to fall before it is fully ripened. Mulching will help hold moisture in the soil and keep down weeds.

Like grape vines, kiwi vines need support. Start out by growing the vine vertically with stakes. The vine grows rapidly, between 10 and 20 feet per season, so it can quickly cover an arbor or a pergola. You can also build a ‘T’ shaped structure.

For easy harvesting, consider growing the kiwi 6 or more feet off the ground. Once the Kiwi reaches the top, train the vine to grow horizontally. Create a trunk by trimming off the lateral branches on the vertical section toward the end of the first season.

Fruits will reach full-size by mid-season, but will not fully ripen until late in the growing season. They will keep longer if picked just slightly before fully ripe and refrigerated. Hardy kiwi will ripen on a counter or windowsill.

Truly a multi-tasking plant – producing fruit and looking good doing so – hardy kiwi is a perfect addition to the home garden as we transform our yards from attractive to both pretty and useful.

About the Author

Laura Mathews

Laura is a garden writer and photographer. She writes online content for gardening websites, writes for gardening publications and blogs for three gardening blogs. Her interests are local food, organic gardening, backyard homesteading and native plants. She assists gardening related clients with social media. And occasionally, she’ll offer a solicited opinion as a garden coach.

You may read more from Laura on the Punk Rock Gardens Blog and the Proven Winners Blog and connect with her on Twitter.

53 comments on “Grow your own Hardy Kiwi

  1. Carl on said:

    It would have been helpful IF the author had mentioned what “Zones” this hardy-kiwi could be grown in. Also helpful would be some indication of whether this plant can be grown-from-seed OR must be started with a healthy seedling/plant.
    Without this information, the other information is useless.

    • Sarah on said:

      Hi Carl. The Issai Hardy Kiwi, as mentioned on our website, grows in these Recommended Hardiness Zones: 5-9.

      We wrote a post recently on the benefits of rooted cuttings/grafts/cloning versus growing from seed: The Science of Grafting.

      Thanks for your comments. :)

    • Shanon on said:

      Carl, the information is not useless just because it did not answer all of your questions at once. Heaven forbid you have to read the description in the catalog. A little bit of “please” and “thank you” still goes a long way, even when on the internet.

      • Ben on said:

        It makes me so happy when I see someone being nice on the internet. I saw this in the paper catalog, I’m so excited about Kiwis in Kansas!

  2. Jim on said:

    It would have been nice if you had told us just what HARDY means… to 32°? …. to -25°? ….uh, “hardy” to what temperature? Not much point to the article without that key knowledge

    • Sarah on said:

      Hello, Jim. The Issai Hardy Kiwi, as mentioned on our website, states that it is Recommended for Hardiness Zones 5-9. If you need to know if this is recommended for you in your zone, you can enter your zip code on that same page for the Hardy Kiwi and a check mark will appear next to the recommended zones if it is recommended for you there.

      The minimum hardiness zone for this particular plant is 5 which, according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, tolerates temperatures from -10 to -20ºF.

  3. Donna on said:

    I don’t know what variety of kiwis I have, but they do produce fruit. The problem is that when the fruit is about the size of a large pea…it just vanishes! I have no idea what could be getting it. I hesitate to net the vine because I know I’ll never be able to untangle it once I put it on the vines!
    One year I did see a swarm of tiny flies,(like fruit flies, but smaller)..so I sprayed with dormant oil the following season..it didn’t help at all. Any ideas? Thanks, Donna

    • Sarah on said:

      Hi there, Donna. It’s difficult to diagnose if we don’t really know who the culprit is making your kiwi fruit disappear. Chances are it’s a critter (birds, squirrels, etc.) because insects don’t typically consume all evidence of all fruit. Netting would be a good way to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels, and your local garden center may even carry a garden fabric that would be less prone to tangling with your vines. It would provide protection from birds, insects, and even provide insulation in chilly temperatures. I would definitely recommend looking into that to protect your kiwi! :)

    • Phyllis on said:

      What variety of Kiwi do you have, Donna? My book tells me that you need one male plant in the mix for proper pollination. If you do not have the Issai Hardy Kiwi, which is self pollinating, maybe that could be your problem.

  4. Lower_Ashland on said:

    Although root hardy to zone 4, once they break dormancy hardy kiwis are extremely sensitive to frost. Even the lightest of frosts will kill back the young shoots and flowers resulting in no fruit. They do well in microclimates favorable to grape cultivation. Don’t bother planting if your location is subject to late frosts

    • Sarah on said:

      This is very true. New growth and blooms are sensitive to frost across many species of plant. Your advice is sound! Thank you, Lower_Ashland. :)

  5. Donna on said:

    I will look into a garden fabric for them…thank you! I knew there had to be a solution! By garden fabric…I think you mean those white sheet type things that they call floating row covers? Or is it something different?Thanks for the help…I really can’t wait to have kiwi! Donna

    • Sarah on said:

      Donna, that’s right, the garden fabric is also called “floating row covers” or even simply “row covers”. If your local garden center is confused by the name, they will most likely know what you need if you describe your issue with birds and pests. :)

      Note Lower_Ashland’s suggestion as well, if the fruit isn’t disappearing but is simply dropping below, that may be the culprit!

  6. Lower_Ashland on said:

    Donna,

    Premature fruit drop in hardy kiwis is usually the result of poor pollenation. The fruit forms but aborts before it reaches maturity.

    • Sarah on said:

      Thank you for your input Lower_Ashland! That would be a good explanation for fruit not staying on the vines. :)

  7. Donna on said:

    Thank you, Ashland and Sarah. I am pretty sure the fruit is not dropping, as I watched it very closely when it started to develop..I looked for any sign of it on the ground and there was none, so Sarah was probably right when she suggested a squirrel or bird. I will try the floating row cover, and keep my fingers crossed! Thanks…Donna

  8. Russ on said:

    There is a possibility that the fruit is a variety that requires pollination, receives none and drops, then is eaten by critters of some sort.

    • Sarah on said:

      Russ, you’re correct. That can happen if pollination is unsatisfactory. The vine may also try to overbear and, if there are not enough nutrients being taken from the soil or photosynthesized through the leaves, fruit-drop may occur.

  9. John on said:

    I read in a book that kiwi require a considerable amount of water. Is that also true for Hardy Kiwi? Can Hardy Kiwi thrive with summer afternoon humidities of under 10%?

    Thanks.

    • Sarah on said:

      Hello, John! What you may have read is that the Issai Hardy Kiwi is tolerant/forgiving of water. It doesn’t require a tropical environment by any means but if you happen to have a location that gets a lot of rain it won’t be detrimental to the plant/roots. :)

      In drought/dry conditions, however, you will need to be sure the kiwi is getting enough water. I’m not sure if your afternoon humidities of under 10% mean it’s not raining, too, but it would be best to ensure the soil doesn’t become overly dry around the roots.

  10. Linda Norton on said:

    I love Kiwi, especially with sliced strawberries. I wonder if I can grow it in Georgia clay. My yard is almost all clay and I have lost a lot of plants due to its
    properties. Maybe I will try one and get lucky.

    • Sarah on said:

      You’re making me hungry, Linda! :) Since the Issai Hardy Kiwi is tolerant of water, it may not be too sensitive to growing in Georgia clay.

      You should consider amending your soil with something like Coco-Fiber Potting Medium to break up heavy clay allowing the roots, of plants and trees you try to grow, to spread.

  11. Sandy on said:

    I can attest to the Hardy Kiwi being HARDY. I have kind of abused my plant for a couple of years, Planting it in a pot and against a back fence behind my shed. Most times it never gets water in the hot sun. I kept forgetting about it. Last year I cut most of it off the fence and moved the pot, thinking it was almost winter, and I must have killed it by now.

    Surprise ! It is greening out and I guess I will water it and give it a better spot to grow on my fence. This time I will plant it in the ground. No fruit, but I did not give it a chance to live let alone produce. Time I respect it, it is hardy and wants to live !

    • Sarah on said:

      Thank you for sharing your experience with the hardy kiwi, Sandy! It makes me feel better about my current situation: I have one in a pot in my windowsill because I don’t have a spot in my yard for it yet. It has practiced its vining by climbing the cord for the blinds, though. :)

  12. Donna on said:

    Sandy…you do know that you need 2 plants, right? You need a male and a female before you will get fruit..one plant won’t do it, unless you have others already planted.

    • Sarah on said:

      Thanks for your concern for Sandy’s fruit production, Donna! :) The Issai Hardy Kiwi is actually self-pollinating and does not require a male and female plant to produce fruit. Additionally, the Issai Hardy Kiwi is often used as a pollinator for other kiwi vines that require one for fruit production.

  13. Nancy on said:

    Do you have any recipes for canning this fruit?

    • Sarah on said:

      Nancy, I don’t have any (I could probably do an internet search since I’m curious now) – I encourage anyone reading to post recipes and canning information if they have it, though! :)

  14. Javier on said:

    I have a question about the Issa Hardy. I bought one (along with some blueberries, raspberries and 2 paw paws) for fall planting last year. The plant is in the ground, but I am worried since it seems to have succumbed to the cold and snow. Am I just being over-protective? Will the plant return from dormant roots this spring? Thank you for your help.

    • Sarah on said:

      The same thing happened to the young Issai Hardy Kiwi vine I planted in the fall, Javier, but it sprouted right back once it became warm again in the spring. If yours doesn’t come back this spring, give our customer support team a call [800.325.4180] and we should be able to look into replacing it for you. :)

      • Javier on said:

        Thank you, Sarah. I grew up in a warm climate and still panic when I see a plant “die” (aka go dormant) for the winter.

        • Sarah on said:

          It must be a warm-climate native thing, because I am the same way! I don’t know if I’ll really get used to it. Trees are one thing, but the tender leafy things like the young kiwi vines… I don’t give them enough credit, I think. :D

  15. Kelli Rodda on said:

    Sarah, you are awesome at answering all these questions. Fabulous customer service!!

  16. mike gold on said:

    Sarah, I bought a male and female “anna” arguta from a well known nursery just south of Seattle. The female has struggled due to Idaho’s nearly predictable late spring frosts, the “male” has surprisingly thrived and is now in its 5th year. Today I noticed the “male” for the first time has a few fruits! The female never had blossoms and remains pretty small. I’m curious as to whether the “male” was mislabeled and got pollenated by some other fruit tree or this is weak attempt at self-pollenation. Your thoughts?

    • Sarah on said:

      That’s wild, Mike! I’m willing to bet it’s either that the “male” was mislabeled (maybe your male and female got switched?), or the variety is actually partially self-fertile there. Kiwi needs to be pollinated by another kiwi, so, unless someone around you also has kiwi vines growing, the neighboring fruit trees weren’t helping your fruitful kiwi out.

  17. Katie on said:

    I share a rather unsightly chain link fence with my neighbor, and I’ve been looking for a fast growing vine to cover it. In my research, I found the arctic kiwi, and a quick google search of that somehow lead me to your website. I realize these aren’t the same vine, but would this vine work, as well. Will the hardy kiwi vine grow in thick enough to cover the fence?

    • Sarah on said:

      Issai Hardy Kiwi and other types of hardy kiwi vine do have a tendency to fill out as they mature. They can become quite heavy, especially when they are set with fruit. Kiwi vines will cover the fence with no issue, but, if the chain link fence itself is not steady or durable, or if you don’t prune/maintain the long vigorous growth, a kiwi vine may pull the fence down.

      If it’s not your fence and you simply want to cover it by something less of an eyesore, I would recommend planting a bush- or shrub-type plant (like blueberries or erect blackberries if you’re hoping for something edible) that won’t require the fence for support. :)

  18. Lisa on said:

    Hi Sarah
    I have Issai hardy Kiwi for 8 yrs. old, self fertilize per the tag ,were a lots flowers every year then only 10 fruits left on the vines, hope they ripes. I called to nursery she said need to have “male” , so I got one Male yesterday, like blue berries need two difference plants, hope it works. Is she right?? thanks
    Lisa

    • Sarah on said:

      Many hardy kiwi varieties are not self-pollinating and need a male and a female to cross pollinate and produce fruit. Issai is a self-pollinating hardy kiwi vine, which is why you were able to get fruit without another hardy kiwi vine nearby. The advice you were given about planting a male may still help increase fruit production, but you will have to wait for the new male vine to mature before you see any help from it. In the meantime, your Issai hardy kiwi, being self-pollinating, should still set fruit for you to enjoy.

      Is this the first year your Issai kiwi vine tried to fruit? It may be that this small crop is its first crop and it will produce more in future seasons. The kiwi’s flowers are sensitive to weather factors like frost and heavy rains, so the weather may have damaged the flowers and therefore limited fruit production.

      Do you ever prune your Issai hardy kiwi vine? They do enjoy being pruned (usually in the summer) and it encourages the development of new fruiting “spurs” — where the fruit will eventually grow. Old, unproductive vines should be pruned back to make room for new growth, especially if your current kiwi vines are overgrown and becoming tangled. This should help!

      • Lisa on said:

        you must be right about the weather, I live in Seattle is raining state , June is still rain when the flowers are blooming. then they turned dried and fell off the vine. My Issai produce fruits every year but not much as I expected , no more than 10 fruits . I did prune the tip of the vine where its has the fruits so nutrition enough to feed the fruits. I should contact you before I bought the Male kiwi. thank for advice.

  19. Javier on said:

    I’m back with another question. Turns out my first kiwi did succumb to the winter. I received a new one this spring, and it seems to be doing great. I have noticed though that every time the vines start to grow out, they turn black and die back. Any idea what may be causing this?

    • Sarah on said:

      Welcome back, Javier! Without seeing your plant with the damage you’re describing, I can only tell you a few things that might be causing what you’re seeing on your kiwi vine:

      • If it is growing in a windy area, the die back could be caused by damage from whipping around and hitting itself, or hitting a stake, or hitting the container, etc. Consider choosing another, less-windy, location to plant your vine if this is the case.

      • It could also be caused by a poorly-drained soil — hardy kiwi vines, and most other types of plants/trees, may succumb to “root rot” if water doesn’t drain properly from the planting site. This would be remedied by choosing another planting site as well; one that is more ideal for the needs of your kiwi vine.

      • If the vine is getting direct sun and is exposed to summer’s intense heat, then it could be a sun-scald/scorch issue. If this sounds like it could be your issue, then the solution doesn’t necessarily involve moving the plant, but, while it’s young and tender, you might consider constructing a shade cloth over it as it grows to protect it from the sun. Materials can be found online or at your local garden center or hardware store.

      • If you have fertilized the vines with more than a balanced fertilizer (example: 20-5-5 instead of a balanced 10-10-10) it could have a negative affect as well. High-nitrogen fertilizers can burn young plants, so consider a more balanced fertilizer. And be sure you’re not fertilizing anything after July 1. Any forced growth after this time leaves your plants susceptible to winter injury.

      My hardy kiwi vine has struggled and had its tips die back from inconsistent watering — drought, then rain, then drought again — with fluctuating temperatures in between (cool in the 50s to hot in the 90s). I’ve just pruned back the damaged tips and let the healthy parts prosper.

  20. Just a couple of remarks about previous comments. I also live in North Idaho, and late frosts do happen (usually once in May sometime). I have my Assai kiwi growing on a custom iron trellis, 10 feet high, bolted to the chimney. If the plants are budding, I just drape floating row covers over the plant and it seems to protect all but the most tender tips from the frost. The plant overall never suffers. You can also spray a mist overnight on the plant and it will survive. If it’s not budding, it can tolerate anything, although we usually don’t get below the 20′s in the coldest part of winter, so no problem here.

    As far as the small plant, I had a problem with my male plant wanting to be small for a couple years. I just babied it and kept the females smaller than they wanted, and now it seems to be catching up. The two females are both very sturdy.

    One year ago summer, I had my kiwis suffer the black die back explained above. I found the intense summer sun and lack of sufficient water to be the cause. Consistent water is the key. The vine is exposed to 100 degree heat and clear blue skies (not those hazy blue skies they have out east) nearly every day in July and August, and with consistent water (tied a drip line into the sprinkler system) they are doing great. very robust.

    I agree with the comment above about grapes. If you can grow grapes, you can grow hardy kiwi. That’s more practical than zone 5-8, since where we live within a 10 mile radius we have zones 3-7. I couldn’t grow grapes just two miles from our house due to microclimates. We are 6b here.

    • Sarah on said:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience growing hardy kiwi TJ! It truly helps to hear from someone else currently growing this vine – I know I was relieved to hear you’ve experienced the same things I have (like the die-back). It makes growers feel like they’re not alone. Thanks again! :)

  21. Brad Nickell on said:

    I planted “cold hardy” kiwis last summer. I have a male and two females. The male showed a little growth but not much. The two females were like night and day, the one grew 10′ providing a great vertical base for my t trellis however the other female grew maybe an inch. I guess they are as individual as people…lol

  22. Sandy on said:

    Approximately how long does it take a male kiwi to mature so it can be used for pollination?

    • Sarah on said:

      It usually takes 2-5 years for hardy kiwi vines to mature and be productive, regardless of male/female/self-pollinating plants. It depends more on the variety you’re growing, the care/maintenance, and the environment they’re growing in. I hope this helps! :)

  23. Tony on said:

    Hi Sarah,

    I haven’t heard anyone speaking about sowing the seeds of Hardy Kiwi. I purchased Hardy Kiwi, Actinidia arguta Vine Seeds on eBay for a couple bucks, $2.45 + delivery for 50 seeds; they gave me over 100 though which was cool. My question is: they gave me directions to stratify for 60-90 days at 40°F to season them. Then on YouTube I saw them being taken right out of the Hardy Kiwi fruit themselves and sowed directly into potting soil or paper towels and they started sprouting in about three weeks; can you help me with your advice on sowing the Hardy Kiwi seeds?

    Thank you so much,

    Tony Costa
    St. Louis, Mo

    • Sarah on said:

      It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re working with seeds, isn’t it? :) Fortunately, I watched some of these YouTube videos you’ve probably seen, and I can attest to the paper towel sprouting method working best for me. I sprouted some kiwi seeds on damp paper towels in a ziplock bag and then sowed them into a tray of seed-starting mix, like you would herbs or any other indoor seed starts — although a late frost killed my seedlings when I moved them outside… oops!

      Since you have so many “bonus” seeds to start with, why not try a few with each of the methods you’ve found and see what works best, and then use that method for the remaining seeds? You’ll end up thinning out the plants anyway so that you can care for a select few of the healthiest/strongest kiwi plants.

      Just keep in mind that most plants grown from seed are somewhat unpredictable. Hardy kiwi varieties tend to be selected and then propagated from rooted cuttings rather than grown from seed, because you have certainty about the variety’s favorable characteristics, like fruit quality and plant vigor. The vines tend to be older and closer to their productive years when you buy already-started plants, and hardy kiwi can take several years to bear as it becomes established.

  24. Debbie Bartick on said:

    I bought a bare-root kiwi berry vine, and when it started producing leaves they came out with black tips. Eventually the plant died.
    What does the black tips mean?

    • Sarah on said:

      The leaf discoloration/damage you saw is commonly caused by a cold snap* or by wind damage. The actual culprit depends on what the weather was like before the damage occurred.

      *They’re called “hardy kiwi”, but the new growth is very tender and sensitive to cold. They become “hardier” as the vine matures, but may need protection in some areas prior to that.

      You can try planting in containers so that you can move your kiwi vine into a protected area indoors when temperatures are expected to drop, and you can move the vine back outdoors, even plant it, after threat of cold weather has past in the spring. It’s just an option to consider.

      Choosing a location that is protected from wind will help, too, but the plants will eventually toughen up against wind in most cases (unless your location is extremely windy, obviously).