Spotlight on Hardy Kiwi & How to Prune

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Cluster of hardy kiwis, photo taken 10/16/13

Hardy kiwi is a fruit that I’m just starting to become more acquainted with over the past few years— thanks to my generous/nutty friends and colleagues who kindly share their space and knowledge. Not to go on a tangent, but really its folks like Mike Levine, Ken Asmus, Marc Boone, and so many others who have made this path of fruit exploration so much more accessible for me as a young orchardist, and for that I’m very thankful. Anyways…Actinidia! Actinidia is the genus for kiwi, the fuzzy kiwi that we all know so well is A. deliciosa, but unknown to most are A. arguta and A. kolomkita, two kiwi species that are reportedly hardy to -25F. Hardy kiwi fruit however is approximately grape size and entirely fuzzless, unlike the supermarket kiwis most people know. So you can just pop ’em in your mouth whole, and their flavor is truly exquisite; many people, including myself, claim they have much better aromatics, sweetness, and overall flavor than the fuzzy kiwi. Out of all the uncommon fruits, like pawpaw, black currant, and jujube, to name a few— hardy kiwi seems like one that really has the potential to catch on and to be sought after by the likes of many, not just foody fruitnuts with crazy palates.  One company, Kiwi Korners, has been successfully growing hardy kiwi as a commercial crop for some time now.  None of my kiwi vines are producing yet, as they can take 5-10 years to come into bearing. DON’T WAIT, plant your kiwi vines today. Another reason I’m so adamant about hardy kiwi is how late they ripen in the season when not much else is available; from a resiliency and season extension standpoint this is prime. One minor challenge with kiwi vines in cold climates is their tender leaf buds want to unfurl very early and they’ll often get zapped by late spring frosts. This doesn’t kill the plant but it certainly sets it back for that season.

A well managed vine with high productivity.
A well managed vine with high productivity.

All In The Pruning…

This unproductive kiwi vine grew up trees and as a tangled mass on the surrounding shrubbery.
This untrained/unproductive kiwi vine grew up trees and as a tangled mass on surrounding shrubbery.

Kiwis grow on vines, similar to grape vines. From my research and explorations thus far, it seems that the key to growing a productive hardy kiwi vine is all about proper training and pruning. Generally speaking, vining plants inherently want to just grow, grow, grow, and focus most of their energy into vegetative growth rather than flower and fruit development; so as caretakers of the vines there are certain ways we can coax the vines into instead thinking fruit, fruit, fruit. Its called spur pruning. Kiwi vines need annual pruning to develop small fruiting branches known as spurs. In my travels I’ve seen many large healthy looking kiwi vines, but often times their productivity is very low. Now I realize that these plants weren’t managed under a careful annual pruning regime. I am no expert in this field, or vineyard as it were, but I do know people that are so I’ll use this time to plug their expertise.

Kiwi vine trained to a single trunk with two cordons growing outward in either direction.
Kiwi vine trained to a single trunk with two cordons growing outward in either direction.
Hardy kiwi grows on the front of the home-studio at the Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Vermont.
Hardy kiwi grows on the front of the home-studio at the Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Vermont.
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For largescale production a sturdy T-trellis is the most common system, photo courtesy of www.kiwiberry.com

Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture, LLC has been growing hardy kiwi for several years in SE Michigan and he is one of the few people I know around here with such a successful system. Hats off to Mike for what he’s doing…

Another person who is perhaps one of the most experienced kiwi geeks in North America is Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia. Here Michael talks about summer spur pruning of kiwi vines…

Lee Reich is one of the upmost authorities on uncommon fruits and has a lot to say about hardy kiwi. Check out his book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden to find more on hardy kiwi.

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Halved kiwis prior to dehydration, photo courtesy Whole Systems Design

If you’re going to plant hardy kiwi(which everyone in the north should ASAP) it seems very worthwhile to take the time to train the vine to develop a single trunk system, and then manage the cordons each years to maximize their fruiting potential. I am so excited for the day that my vines come into production. There is oodles of information available on the web about hardy kiwi and the purpose of this post was to primarily talk about the training and pruning techniques necessary for growing productive vines. Visit the nursery links page to find sources for hardy kiwi plants. I’ll be busy dreaming of jars and jars full of kiwi raisins stored away for winter snacking…until next time!!

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3 thoughts on “Spotlight on Hardy Kiwi & How to Prune

  1. So so good! I was actually going to write my next post on hardy kiwis as I just planted one yesterday, but after seeing this I’ll have to move on! Thanks for all the info Trevor.

    1. Thanks Solara, if we ever want to it’d be a good idea to share each others posts on our own websites. I’ve done reposts like that before with a few other folks and it seems like a good way to expand the network and find-ability of the info!

  2. I am fairly local, Saint Clair Shores, Mi, and I’d be happy to let you come out and see producing kiwi vines (though I freely admit that I do not prune well, or often). My vines were planted 9-10 years ago and have been producing yearly for the past 5 years. My vines are growing on an arbor I build especially for them, though I wish I had made the arbor larger.

    I also am growing pawpaws, persimmons, cherries, goumi, many types of berries and nearly everything else I can in my zone 6 (sometimes zone 7) garden.

    I’m currently at the limit of planting in my small 1/8th acre, if something new goes in, something else must be removed to make room.

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