Kiwifruits have not been known in the US for very long. They were introduced in 1962, with origins in Asia (they are sometimes called Chinese gooseberries). They also have a reputation for growing in New Zealand, so much so they are mistakenly credited as the reason New Zealanders are lovingly referred to as “kiwis,” which is actually in honor of the flightless bird endemic to the island.

Whatever the case may be, kiwi, the fruit, is held in pretty high regard these days. Most of the time it’s something we find in supermarket produce sections. However, the fact is that the bulk of the United States is well-suited for growing delicious kiwis, and wherever they grow, they tend to fruit in abundance.

If that sounds interesting, then here’s how to get started.

The Lowdown on Kiwi Species

kiwi

Source: Rillke/Wikimedia

In reality, there are different types of kiwifruits. The kiwis with fuzzy exteriors (Actinidia chinesis) that we are accustomed to in grocery stores are more of a tropical/subtropical fruit. However, hardy kiwis (A. arguta) are better suited for temperate climates, ranging from chilly USDA Zone 5 (Wisconsin) to very warm Zone 9 (Louisiana). Some Russian cultivars can withstand even colder places.

While hardy kiwis taste much the same as the fuzzy variety (some say slightly sweeter), they have a smooth exterior that is edible, with no peeling necessary. Hardy kiwis are also a little smaller, about the size of gooseberry or large grape, and they have rosy-colored skin.

Regardless, kiwis grow on perennial vines, not dissimilar to grapevines, that can reach up to 40 feet in length. That’s a lot of potential for fruit to grow!

Getting Kiwi Vines Growing

Those familiar with growing perennial fruits, be them on trees or vines, know that it takes a little patience, but the payoff is huge. While most vegetable garden plants grow over the summer and provide food for one season, perennial food sources take longer to get productive, afterward providing harvests for many seasons, often decades.

Kiwis are relatively fast-growing plants, but they’ll need a few years to provide fruits. The other thing they’ll need specific gender roles: Kiwis are dioecious, meaning each plant is either male or female, and only the females produce fruit. In other words, home growers need at least one male and one (or up to six) female plant to get a good production.

It’s best to plant the young vines after the last frost, spacing them no less than eight feet apart. They like loamy soil, on the acidic side, with good drainage. Adequate water is crucial, but kiwis don’t deal well with wet feet. They can tolerate a little shade, but full sun is ideal, save for hot climates like the Deep South or Arizona desert.

Kiwi Vine Maintenance

kiwi flower

Source: Hunda/Flickr

One of the unforeseen benefits of growing kiwi fruits (and most fruits, for that matter) is the annual flower display. Kiwi flowers will be either white or green, and they put off a pleasing aroma. The flowers come in spring, the fruit in fall.

To get the most from the vines, they require regular pruning, including a good session during dormancy and some haircuts throughout the summer. Fruit only grows on new shoots from last year’s growth, so last year’s producers will need to be clipped away each year to make room for the good stuff.

The other important thing is to provide kiwifruit vines with a sturdy trellis to climb. The general idea is to train young vines to the top of the trellis before letting them branch out. A single vine can produce 50-100 pounds of fruit, so the trellis/fence/pergola will need to be able to handle the weight.

Using Kiwifruits

Kiwi Avocado Juice

Source: Kiwi Avocado Juice/One Green Planet

Keeping in mind that a couple of kiwi vines might yield a couple of hundred pounds of kiwifruit, it’s probably a good idea to prepare for that harvest. That’s a lot of fruit salad! What else, one might ask, can we do with kiwis?

Kiwis are more versatile than many of us realize. Kiwi in smoothies and juices is a no-brainer. They also make great sorbets and salsas. Kiwi jam is an option, and kiwi cobbler works, too. Like any good fruit, it can also make a nice component coming from the grill. And frozen kiwi is possible, storing that way for up to a year.

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