The kiwi fruit is no longer the exotic that it once was but it is a wonderful fruit. It grows like a clematis and given its hardiness is admirably suited to growing in the UK garden, reaping the benefits of its climate. I have admired a number trailing over a pergola.
Kiwi fruit is literally a super fruit and we have discussed at length its health benefits in articles about the compounds to be found in the fruit. It is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and the seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Choose a sheltered spot for the plant. The leaves and stems are surprisingly brittle and are often damaged by the wind.
They do not mind either sun or semi-shade. A sturdy structure is ideal, such as a pergola, wire fence or trellis with plenty of supports to allow for espalier. They like to grow up and over a pergola like a grape vine.
The plant has a spread of 3 to 4m and so need lots of space. They are very hardy down to -15 C but late frosts will damage the fruiting spurs and young growth. Cover with fleece when frost is forecast at this time. This level of protection will ensure successful fruiting.
Self-fertilising cultivars of kiwi fruit species such as Actinidia deliciosa are ideal – this is the green-fleshed species. ‘Jenny’ is a firm favourite.
A. chinensis of the Chinese Kiwi Fruit has a yellow pulp. The small fruited species A. arguta ‘Issai’ is better for s smaller space.
If you have the room and want reliable cropping then get separate male and female plants which pollinate each other. Bees are a great boon here. The female cultivars are ‘Haywood’ and ‘Bruno’. The male cultivars are ‘Tormuri’ and ‘Atlas’
Plant them in early autumn or early spring. They like well-drained slightly acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. Train these vines as an espalier to encourage plenty of horizontal growth, which is best for producing fruit. The espalier method is best for training fruit trees by producing a framework of horizontal branches evenly spaced up a wall. To create the first set of lateral branches of the espalier, cut the main stem to the height of your first wire which should be at 30cm off the ground. Tie in as they grow to keep the new growth under control and to produce the desired shape. Encourage the top bud to become your vertical shoot to grow up to the next wire 50cm up. Repeat the process every year. With a pergola, train the main stem to the top and then prune to create your laterals along the beams.
Continuation Of Care Of Your Kiwi
The vines are extremely vigorous and need to be regularly pinched out and pruned throughout their summer. This keeps the fruit under control and leads to production of fruiting spurs. Pinch out the growing tips of the side shoots when they have reached five leaves. Stop the lateral branches when they have reached the end of the wires and filled all their space. It takes between three and four years to form a framework and then it starts producing fruit.
The fruit is edible. It is pest-free and disease -free. It suffers from these if they are treated badly during cultivation. To prevent health problems feed in spring with a balanced fertiliser. Mulch around the shrub in winter with well-rotted manure or homemade compost. Do not allow any compost onto the main stem. The compost helps with water retention but the crops need continuous watering during any periods of drought.
The large leaves are prone to browning and dropping due to water stress. Avoid overwatering by the way as the roots are prone to rotting.
Harvesting The Fruit
Harvest the fruit before the first frosts and ripen them in a bowl. In the fridge, they keep up to 3 months. Store in a plastic bag with a few breathing holes. Use to make jams, jellies and sorbets. Do not overeat as they will readily relieve constipation.