Actinidia deliciosa – the Chinese Gooseberry – is a hardy climber which, in the right conditions, with the correct plants chosen, can also produce an edible crop of Kiwi fruit.
Fruit production should not however be the main reason for buying these vigorous climbing plants – rather as an added attraction if you are lucky!
If you decide that you want to try for fruit, you will need both male and female plants for they bear male or female flowers on different plants (dioecious). Plants having both male and female flowers (monoecious ) are available, but are generally not the good performers that the single sex plants are!
Kiwi Fruit plants are ideal for growing on strong structures such as a robust pergola or well supported trellis framework. It is not one for the flimsy trellis panels so often wrongly bought for growing climbers such as the Actinidia vine. Given the right conditions, Actinidia deliciosa can grow to an overall length of 10 metres or so. Training and pruning are necessary, unless you have a spare run of strong fencing where you are happy to allow it to grow unchecked.
Chinese Gooseberry is a deciduous climber with attractive pale green roundish leaves which give pleasant, rather than dense shade, with the younger, current growth stems tinged red. As with the fruit - if you are lucky enough – the stems have a covering of furry hairs.
Small clusters of creamy white flowers are produced, which fade to pale yellow eventually. The flowering time is early summer – allowing time for the prized kiwi fruit to mature before the frosts. The flowers are borne on the growths or stems which are made in the previous year rather than the new red shoots, so care has to be taken with pruning correctly. I am assured that flower have a slight fragrance. Maybe I had a cold when I say them!
Image © George Ball - for which, thanks!
Actinidia deliciosa flowers are open wide – providing an easy access landing area for flying insects for pollination. The pollen is also carried in the wind, so the open flowers are well prepared to take in anything that wafts their way.
They climb by way of twining new stems off a robust main stem framework. The main stems often require training to the support and tying in. This allows the attractive new growths to meander and clamber along or up a framework. An alternative method is to allow them to ramble up through trees such as Birch or Robinia, where they will do no harm and add an extra dimension (and talking point) to the garden.
Actinidia are best grown in a sunny non-exposed situation and are perfect for gracing the tops of pergolas or strong fences, where they can bask in any available sunshine. This is a ‘must’ if you are after the fruit.
A well drained – but moist – area is preferable, though they are quite amenable to most situations other than wet positions through the winter.
I have seen these growing on the chalk soils of Kent, but they are happier when growing in either neutral ph or slightly acidic soils. A good layer of organic mulch each autumn or spring will help to keep the soil in the right condition.
Never encountered, so another good reason for growing on pergola for they will not drip honeydew from hordes of aphids – such as most honeysuckle.
Seed propagation is possible, but best if the seed is kept in a fridge for a few months, then sown in early spring. Quite easy to germinate. Bought Kiwi fruit can be a source of seed, but the seed will have to be dried before placing in fridge in plastic bag. How you then decide upon the sex of your new seedlings is for another article!
Cuttings are the most reliable way to ensure either male or female plants – providing of course that you are fully aware of the sex of the plant from which the cutting material has been taken. If you are lucky enough to have male and female, then make sure that you label the cuttings accordingly as there is no way of knowing with a young rooted cutting,
I suspect – just a hunch – that this group will propagate well from any of the different forms of layer propagation.
Vines are best kept in shape by allowing to grow on a main framework, and then the new lateral shoots to be cut back after flowering – or in late winter or early spring. Cut back to within 8in of the main frame – leaving masses of spurs which will provide the flowers next year.