Growing Hardy and Variegated Kiwi Fruit

Invite some tiny but tasty kiwi vines into your backyard garden, and enjoy the bounty for years to come.

There’s fruit, and then there’s tropical fruit. The division seems pretty simple. On one side is the familiar fare, such as apples, pears, and grapes. On the other side are bananas, pomegranates, guavas, and others. No one questions the division; we typically assume we can grow familiar fruit here in the U.S., while tropical fruit will only grow somewhere else, where warm breezes always blow.

Photo by Getty Images/GoneWithTheWindStock

But suppose you could grow a so-called “tropical fruit” right here, in your own backyard? I’m talking about the kiwi fruit — only, not the familiar fuzzy kiwi you find in grocery stores and cut-fruit arrangements. Rather, my topic of discussion is the hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) and variegated kiwi (A. kolomikta), sometimes called “arctic kiwi.” Both are vines from the same general region as the kiwifruit (A. deliciosa), growing across China, Mongolia, Korea, and even Siberia. Let’s explore what distinguishes these two types, and how you can help them thrive in your garden.

Know Your Kiwis

Photo by Getty Images/AlexeyKonovalenko

A few differences exist between the hardy kiwi, variegated kiwi, and kiwifruit. The first difference, and arguably the most important, is growing range. Hardy kiwis grow well in Zones 3 through 8, and variegated kiwis thrive in Zones 4 through 8. To be fair, even kiwifruits aren’t exactly tropical; they grow and fruit as far north as Washington, D.C., and across California into the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Zones 8 to 9). 

Another difference between kiwifruits and their hardier cousins is the size and skin of the fruit. While kiwifruits are as big as a double-yolked hen’s egg and covered in a soft, brown fuzz, hardy and variegated kiwis are small and smooth-skinned, about as big as a large grape, and able to comfortably sit on a quarter with room to spare. These small fruits are more like a berry, and have that familiar kiwi flavor, only sweeter, often with notes of melon, pineapple, or other tropical flavors, and a satisfying crunch, thanks to the tiny seeds.

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