How to Grow Kiwifruit

strawberry sized kiwi with edible skin (Actinidia arguta) next to familiar fuzzy skinned kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa)

golden kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis)

How Kiwis Got Their Name
Have you eaten any Chinese gooseberries lately?
This exotic sounding edible treat has a more recognizable name, introduced to this country just thirty years ago by Frieda Caplan, a Los Angeles produce broker.   That name is kiwifruit. Yet even before Caplan’s local name-changing and subsequent marketing success, New Zealanders had started calling the fruit kiwis due to their resemblance to the roundish and flightless brown birds, endemic to New Zealand, of the same name.
How Many Years Does a Kiwi Plant Produce Fruit?
Kiwi plants (Actinidia deliciosa), which are actually vines, are native to China, where they are known as yang tao, which means “strawberry peach,” an apt description of the combination of flavors found in the fruits.  The texture of their flesh is kind of strawberry-peachish, too. And the kiwi’s climatic requirements, at least of the near monolithic ‘Hayward’ variety, are similar to that of the peach as well.  As of 1990, the original ‘Hayward’ vine brought to Chico, California, in 1934 was still alive and producing lots of fruit, although normal production longevity for a vine is about twenty years.
New Zealand was the first place to grow kiwis commercially, a development that began in earnest only in the last quarter of the 20th century. There are more than fifty species of Actinidia, the genus name of kiwis, and the breeding of this fruit is still in its infancy.  There are kiwis with richer flavors and of a sweeter taste than those you find at the market, nearly 100% of which are of the ‘Hayward’ variety.
Most Popular Kiwi Variety (‘Hayward’) Result of Chance Seedling
Just as the ‘Hass’ avocado owes its origins to Rudolph Hass who, in 1926, found a sturdy seedling tree that bore uniquely black, pebbly, and nut flavored fruit, so too the ‘Hayward’ kiwi owes its beginnings to one man, Hayward Wright, a New Zealander who, in 1924, found a chance seedling that he nurtured into a vine that produced the familiar, world famous variety that would bear his name.  Keep an eye out for chance seedlings that sprout from seeds.  As in that Forrest Gump line about a box of chocolates . . . with seedlings, too, “you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Kiwi Varieties
But just as avocado has many more varieties than ‘Hass,’  kiwi has many more varieties than ‘Hayward.’  In fact, the diversity of kiwi varieties is significant.  There are yellow fleshed or golden kiwis (Actinidia chinensis),  red fleshed kiwis, and baby kiwis or kiwi berries, the size of strawberries, with smooth skin that are eaten whole.  Kiwi berries (Actinidia arguta), sweeter than the common kiwi, include varieties that are cold tolerant down to 20 degrees below zero and others that may be grown in Malibu.  It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why baby kiwi plants are not more widely available.
The above kiwi exploration was prompted by an email from Mike Seeman, who resides in the San Fernando Valley and wants to know if it’s better to grow kiwis from seed or from established plants.  As stated above, you can certainly plant from seed, as tiny as they may be, and you may witness the emergence of a plant bearing kiwis of a taste unlike any other, a new flavor that would be embraced the world over and would make you rich.  Then again, you are more than likely to grow a plant whose fruit is thoroughly unremarkable, and even less sweet than the standard ‘Hayward’ variety.  You will also have to be prepared to wait five years before you see any fruit when starting from seed.
You Need a Male and a Female to Grow Kiwifruit
In addition, you will need to sprout more than one seed since kiwis are dioecious, meaning that vines are either female and fruit bearing or male and pollen bearing so that you need at least one of each to get fruit.  In addition, you will need to have plenty of bees around for pollination.
Need Lots of Kiwi Flowers to Attract Bees
Kiwi flowers are rather boring for bees and they would much rather buzz around nearly every other flower so you will need a healthy population of them to make sure they pollinate your female vine.
Strong Trellis Support Required to Grow Kiwis
Strong trellis support is another necessity when it comes to growing kiwis.  Kiwi vines are weak and simply cannot stand on their own when burdened with the weight of their heavy crops.  In their native China, kiwis have an epiphtyic growth habit, meaning they utilize trees for support, vining up and through them and bearing fruit all along the way.  Annual pruning of kiwi vines is a considerable chore because of the explosive vegetative growth they put forth each year.  Incidentally, the twisting tendrils that help them climb eventually become woody and may serve as shapely complements to flower arrangements.
Kiwi Varieties for Mild Winter Climates
Having said all that, you can grow kiwis in the San Fernando Valley but you will not get fruit from ‘Hayward,’ which is usually what is sold in nurseries.  The reason is that ‘Hayward’ requires winters colder than those experienced in the Valley.  However, there are varieties that will produce despite mild winters, including ‘Elmwood,’ ‘Vincent,’ ‘Matua,’ ‘Tamuri,’ ‘Cordifolia,’ ‘Anna,’ ‘Ken’s Red,’ ‘Dumbarton Oaks,’ ‘Meader,’ and golden kiwi (Actinidia chinensis ) species.  If you are serious about growing kiwis, you should go the website of the California Rare Fruit Growers at crfg.org.  There you will find a number of nurseries in Southern California that grow kiwi varieties appropriate for our climate.
Kiwi Irrigation and Mulch Requirements
In terms of water, you will need to make sure plenty is provided during the summer and that a thick layer of mulch is in place.  Pollination occurs in spring while fruit is ready for harvest in the fall.
Kiwis may be used as a tasty topical bonus for any cake or ice cream treat.  However, if you put the fruit over ice cream, yogurt, or any other milk product, you should indulge at once since, if you wait, your ice cream or yogurt will start to break down.  The reason for this is an enzyme in kiwis that digests milk products.  On the beneficial side, this same enzyme is used as a meat tenderizer.
Fill Empty Garden Space with Clover

red clover (Trifolium pratense)

alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum)

Tip of the Week:  If you have empty space in your lawn-less front yard, consider filling it with clover.  Clover seed is easily found through Internet vendors and it sprouts without effort.  Just broadcast it over the earth, apply a thin layer of mulch or amendment on top of the seeds, and water.  You can choose from white clover (Trifolium repens), red clover (Trifolium pratense), or alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum). Clover, a legume, is rather drought tolerant and puts nitrogen into the soil so that, when you are ready to plant where your clover grew, you will not need to fertilize.

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