By: Amy Grant
If you have ever eaten a kiwi, you know Mother Nature was in a fantastic mood. The flavor is a rainbow mix of pear, strawberry and banana with a bit of mint thrown in. Ardent admirers of the fruit grow their own, but not without some difficulties. One of the major complaints when growing your own is a kiwi plant not producing. How then, can you get kiwi to fruit? Read on to learn more about non-fruiting kiwis.
There may be several reasons why a kiwi vine is not fruiting. The first thing to discuss is the type of kiwi planted relative to the climate.
Kiwi fruit grows wild in southwestern China and was introduced to the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States and New Zealand in the early 1900’s. New Zealand has since become a major producer and exporter, hence the term “kiwi” is sometimes used in reference to its people. The kiwi grown in New Zealand and that you purchase at the grocers is a less cold hardy variety with egg-sized, fuzzy fruit (Actinidia chinensis).
There is also a hardy kiwi with smaller fruit (Actinidia arguta and Actinidia kolomikta) which has been known to tolerate temperatures down to -25 degrees F. (-31 C.). While A. arguta is cold hardy, both may be affected by extreme cold. Spring cold snaps can damage or kill the tender new shoots, thus resulting in a kiwi plant that is not producing. Successful kiwi production requires about 220 frost-free days.
Young plants should be protected from trunk injury during cold periods. The trunk hardens as it ages and develops a thick protective bark layer, but the juvenile vines need assistance. Lay the plants on the ground and cover them with leaves, wrap the trunks, or use sprinklers and heaters to protect the vine from frost.
The second major reason for no fruit production on a kiwi vine may be due to the fact that it is dioecious. That is, kiwi vines need each other. Kiwis bear either male or female flowers but not both, so obviously you need a male plant to produce fruit. Actually, the male can satisfy up to six females. Some nurseries have hermaphroditic plants available, but production from these has been lackluster. At any rate, perhaps the non-fruiting kiwi just needs a friend of the opposite sex.
Additionally, kiwi vines can live for 50 years or more, but it takes them a little time to begin producing. They may bear a few fruits in their third year and most certainly by their fourth, but it will take about eight years for a full crop.
To summarize about how to get kiwi fruit to produce:
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Read more about Kiwi Plants
This is the type of kiwi that is usually found in grocery stores. It can be called kiwi, fuzzy kiwifruit, kiwi fruit, Macaque peach, yang tao, Chinese gooseberry, and fuzzy kiwi. The name was chosen because of its resemblance to the kiwi bird of New Zealand and is now used for all members of the Actinidia genus.
You can grow this species in the U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 7 through 9. Make sure you have protection from frosts as it will kill the vines, especially in zone 7. If you live in a cooler climate, try growing the hardy kiwi. It is a related species (Actinidia arguta) that can be planted in zones 4 through 8.
These long woody vines (lianas) can be up to 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, making it an excellent cover for surfaces like arbors and fences. It may also be more of a climbing shrub.
Grow kiwi fruit in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Most varieties do best when a male and female plant are growing together, although self-fertile varieties are available. Mulch with well-rotted manure or compost in spring and feed weekly with a high potash fertiliser in summer. Harvest the fruits from August to September.
Generally you’ll need to plant a male and a female kiwi cultivar to ensure good pollination and a decent crop of fruit. However, if you’re short on the amount of space required for two vines, you can opt for a self-fertile variety.
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with rich, fertile soil for your kiwi vine to thrive. Dig a generous hole for your kiwi plant, adding in a few spadefuls of well-rotted manure. If you have room for a male and female vine, make sure they’re planted a few metres apart so they have plenty of room to climb.
Despite being an exotic fruit, kiwis are relatively easy to look after. They benefit from a good mulch in spring and a regular weekly feed with a general purpose fertiliser through the growing season.
Fruit-producing kiwis should be pruned in summer and winter.
Kiwis are relatively trouble-free in terms of pests and diseases. However, young shoots can be prone to damage during cold weather, so protect with horticultural fleece.
Kiwi vines take up to four years to produce fruit, so they’re a long-term investment. The fruits should be picked in August and September and left to ripen off the vine over a few weeks.
You can store fruits in a cool place or in the fridge up for three months.
Fruits produced by cross-pollinated fruitless pear trees held fertile seeds that were spread by birds. Some of these seeds produced wild cultivars that bore sharp thorns. Naturalized populations of these trees competed with native species and have the potential of becoming invasive.
Many fruitless pear varieties do not have a strong branch structure, so in regions where wind and strong rain are problems, you may have problems with fallen or damaged trees.
Many aspects of kiwiberry production in Minnesota are still in the research phase. The region-specific growing recommendations on this page are based on our research to date. We will continue to update information as we discover more.
Most kiwifruit plants are either male or female: the males supply the pollen and the females produce the berries. To get fruit you need to plant one of each. On a larger scale, you would plant one male vine for each 6 to 8 female vines.
Several named varieties of each species are available. New varieties will likely be available soon thanks to fruit breeding programs across the U.S.
Kiwiberry species and varieties
|Things to do||When to do them|
|Plant kiwiberry vines in spring after the threat of frost is past.||May|
|Control weeds throughout the growing season.||May through September|
|Tie new growth to trellis as needed.||May through August|
|Prune excessive non-fruiting “explorer” shoots.||June to early July|
|Harvest mature berries. Timing depends on variety.||July through October|
|Clean up any fallen fruit to prevent Spotted Wing Drosophila.||August through October|
|Prune dormant vines in late fall after soil freezes and before significant snowfall.||November|
Several Minnesota retail nurseries sell kiwiberry vines. Plants can also be ordered from many nurseries online, and are usually shipped dormant and bare-root. Remember to buy a male vine and a female vine.
In the wild, the trunks of kiwifruit vines grow on the edges of forests where they are partially shaded by trees. The trees also provide protection from strong winds and help protect tender shoots during the spring growth. The cooler soil and air temperatures of these locations delay flowering in the spring and help retain soil moisture during the growing season — both good things.
Plant vines in a location where they will be shaded from afternoon sun and winter sun, such as north or east of a treeline or building structure. These locations contribute to cooler and moister soil conditions that kiwifruit like. This is especially important for A. kolomikta A. arguta can tolerate more sun.
Feeding, weeding and watering
Use a 4-inch thick layer of mulch to retain moisture, regulate soil temperatures, control weeds and encourage healthy root growth.
Compared with plants grown in bare soil, A. kolomikta grown under a thick layer of mulch tend to have a more extensive and denser root system with dense fine roots. Roots can extend several feet out from the trunk where the mulch meets the soil.
In the spring, the cooler soil temperatures beneath the mulch layer can delay buds opening until temperatures are warm enough. Mulch also can reduce injuries from spring freezing.
Recommended mulch materials:
Once the vine has begun fruiting, annual fertilizer may be necessary. Apply compost or a light application of a balanced fertilizer around the trunk area in the spring after risk of frost is past. To prevent excessive late season growth, do not fertilize after July.
For soils with low organic matter, additional nitrogen might be needed. Although, too much nitrogen causes excessive vegetative growth, so be careful not to over-fertilize. Have your soil tested every couple of years to guide your fertilizer strategy.
Watering is likely to be required during most Minnesota summers, especially those that are dry in mid- to late season. Drought-stressed plants are prone to smaller fruit, premature berry drop, and are more susceptible to winter cold injury.
Keep weeds and grass away from around the base of kiwifruit vines to prevent competition for water and nutrients. A 4-inch layer of wood chip mulch will help control weeds.
Insects, wildlife and other challenges
Insect damage is rare on kiwifruit vines, though spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly, may appear where overripe fruit is left on the vine or on the ground. Pick all the fruit at harvest time and remove any fruit that falls to the ground.
Rabbits and deer can cause problems to the trunk and foliage. Rabbits chew on the bark in fall and winter and may completely girdle the vine's trunk. Surround the trunks with fencing or plastic trunk guards higher than the expected snow depth to protect from rabbit damage.
Deer may browse kiwiberry leaves throughout the growing season until the vines reach a height where the deer can no longer reach the foliage.
Aside from the root rots common to kiwifruit in poorly drained soil, there are no significant diseases to worry about when growing kiwiberry.
Like fuzzy kiwifruit, they are best eaten fresh and can be refrigerated for a week or two. To extend storage life, separate the firm berries from the soft ones and remove all debris and damaged fruit. Place the firm berries in special plastic fruit storage bags designed to absorb fruit-ripening ethylene gas. These can be found in many grocery stores and online.
In late winter, the warmth of the sun combined with the reflection off the snow surface heats up the wood tissue in the vine's trunk. After sunset, the temperature cools quickly and refreezes this tissue. That rapid thaw-freeze cycle can result in death of cambium-layer tissue under the bark and lead to cracking of the trunk, severely damaging the vine. This is called sunscald injury.
All young vines are susceptible to sunscald because of their thin bark.
A. kolomikta vines of all ages are susceptible because of their dark-colored bark that readily absorbs heat.
Mature vines of A. arguta develop a thick, shaggy bark. Once mature, these vines are not as prone to sunscald and do not need as much protection from winter sun.
Place a shade barrier on the south and southwest sides of the vine's trunk to protect from sunscald if not enough shade is available.
Use plastic spiral wraps, split grow-tubes, or full grow tubes or tree shelters around the trunk.
If using split grow-tubes, the split side should be placed on the north side of the trunk and secured at the top to keep them from blowing off in strong winds.
Spiral and full grow tubes and tree shelters can also prevent rabbit damage in winter. Split tubes do not protect the vines from rabbit damage, since the animals can access the trunk from the open side.