[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.
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.
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.
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.