There are three types of kiwis and we can grow them all here in eastern North Carolina


Nearly everyone is familiar with the fuzzy green fleshed kiwi fruits (Actinidia deliciosa)  in grocery stores. Their taste is sweet and tart at the same time. The flavor reminds me of blackberries. Best of all, kiwi vines grow well in our climate and usually aren’t damaged by winter temperatures.

There are two other types of kiwi that tolerate extremely cold temperatures. The Issai kiwi (Actinidia arguta) is extremely cold hardy, smooth skinned and self-fertile. Most kiwis require a pollinator to produce fruit. Issai kiwis are about the size of a large grape, but they may be eaten skins and all.

Another hardy type is only slightly larger than the Issai, but like commercial kiwis, plants are dioecious. One male needs to be planted for each six females in the garden or landscape. Flavor of all kiwis is similar and most have green flesh. Red, orange and yellow fleshed varieties are less common.

Flowers of all types usually appear in May and are white and quite fragrant. Aroma is similar to orange blossoms. Despite this pleasing scent, kiwi flowers are not great bee captivators.

All kiwis require some type of trellis. They have vigorous heavy vines that need support or they will sprawl everywhere. Any type of sturdy posts with heavy gauge wire works well. Vines also make an effective privacy screen.

Regardless of the kiwi type, don’t expect plants to produce fruit for about five years. Vines are usually planted between four and ten feet apart, depending on the desired use. Best fruit yields are usually obtained with wider spacing.

Kiwis should be planted in direct sun for best fruit yields. When grown in shady spots they eventually lose vigor and die out. Soil should also be well drained. Wet soil inhibits root growth. Plants also should not be fertilized too much at one time. They do respond to relatively high rates over the course of a season.

Kiwi vines require a lot of pruning. Most of the time, this is done in winter when plants are dormant. Occasionally plants can be kept under control during the growing season by minor trimming. This is especially useful for ornamental use where a stray branch can be unsightly.

One disadvantage with growing these plants is that they must be pruned regularly. Neglecting to prune them is even more problematic than not pruning grapes enough. Kiwi vines will sometimes wrap around each other. Branches will crisscross. Both of these scenarios are bad and will require major pruning. The good thing is that plants bounce back well.

Another problem, especially with the extremely hardy types is that if fruits are not harvested the vines could become invasive. Vines that spread to the wild can climb and damage trees. If no trees are available they will run along the ground until they encounter something they can climb on.

Kiwis have few insect or disease problems other than root knot nematode. Mulch is helpful to control weeds while plants are young. Once established these tough vines usually hold their own.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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