By: Nan Sterman
Have you tasted these remarkable miniature kiwis yet? Every bit as delicious as the larger, more familiar fuzzy kiwi, hardy kiwis are much easier to grow and eat (skin and all). And just about every home gardener in North America can grow them.
Hardy kiwi is a catchall term for types of kiwis (Actinidia) that, when dormant, can survive temperatures as low as -40° F (USDA Hardiness Zone 3). These beautiful, vigorous natives of Russia, China, Japan, and Korea have deep green leaves and long whiplike vines that can grow as much as 20 feet in a season. In the wild, they may climb 50 feet or more into treetops.
The fruits, somewhat larger and rounder than grapes and with a more opaque green skin, hang in long, heavy clusters. Like fuzzy kiwis, they have soft flesh with small, black, crunchy seeds. They taste sweeter than fuzzy kiwis and don't require peeling. Hardy kiwis are not common in markets because they don't ship very well. But you might notice them sold in specialty markets as "baby kiwis."
Where Do Hardy Kiwis Grow?
The short answer is, just about everywhere. Since hardy kiwis are cold tolerant but don't require much winter chill to set fruit, most have a wide growing range -- from Florida to Massachusetts and San Diego to Vancouver -- anywhere temperatures stay above -25° F (zone 4). In colder parts of this range, plants need protection during occasional false springs, when a brief warm period induces leaves and shoots to sprout, only to be set back in the cold snap that follows. When that happens, the year's crop will be pretty much wiped out.
If you live where winter temperatures dip below -25° F (zone 3 and colder parts of zone 4), you have two options. You can either grow the hardiest of the hardy kiwis, (A. kolomikta) 'Arctic Beauty', or grow any of the hardy species in 15-gallon pots in a greenhouse. Greenhouse-grown plants should fruit as long as they receive at least 100 hours below 45° F during the dormant season. Hardy kiwis require considerable amounts of water during the growing season, so they may not be well suited to drought-prone areas.