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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.

28 Comments

  1. Donna permalink

    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

    • 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 permalink

      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.

  2. Lower_Ashland permalink

    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

    • 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. :)

  3. Donna permalink

    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

    • 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!

  4. Lower_Ashland permalink

    Donna,

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

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

  5. Donna permalink

    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

  6. Russ permalink

    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.

    • 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.

  7. Sandy permalink

    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 !

    • 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. :)

  8. Donna permalink

    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.

    • 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.

  9. Kelli Rodda permalink

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

  10. mike gold permalink

    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?

    • 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.

  11. Lisa permalink

    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

    • 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 permalink

        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.

  12. 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.

    • 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! :)

  13. Brad Nickell permalink

    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

  14. Debbie Bartick permalink

    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?

    • 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).

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