Grow kiwifruit; yes, even in Toronto

The grapelike fruit of the hardy kiwi Actinidia arguta ‘Ananasnaya’ at UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver

If you aren’t a fan of the fuzzy skin on kiwifruit, you’re in luck. Not only are there smooth-skinned species, but they’re hardy in our climate. The one above was photographed in B.C. However, Actinidia arguta is available from at least two Ontario nurseries, and is showing up more frequently on Ontario 100-mile menus.

A. arguta doesn’t grow as large as the commercial varieties appropriately named Actinidia deliciosa. They’re more the size of large grapes or gooseberries. I’m told, though, that they are quite tasty. There are a number of cultivars in addition to ‘Ananasnaya’ which gets its name from its pineappley flavour.

The developing fruit of Actinidia deliciosa; the kind you see in supermarkets

In fact, the decorative kiwi vine A. kolomitka ‘Arctic Beauty’ – usually grown for its unusual pink and white foliage variegation – will make fruit that’s edible, if you have both male and female plants. Both are required for pollination. Only one kiwifruit is self-pollinating, A. arguta ‘Issai’. All the rest require at least one male of the species. If you had room – and you’d need it; the vines can grow to 40′ (12.2 m) – you could plant an absolute harem of females. Local commercial growers are becoming more common.

The pretty flowers of A. deliciosa – which are showier than those of the hardy kiwifruit

If you’re interested in trying these fruits for yourself, there’s a growing (no pun!) number of resources. Cornell University offers this fact sheet, including the enticing statement that a single mature kiwi vine can produce 50-100 lbs (22.7-45.4 kg) of fruit in a year. That’s quite the harvest! There’s also this excellent article on hardy kiwis by Nan Sterman, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently in Seattle.

And for a little on the history of the kiwifruit, from New Zealand’s Zespri, the world’s largest producer of this fuzzy green – and yellow – fruit, check out this link.

The food garden at UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver, where these shots were taken

[Ed: In response to some reader questions, I’ve asked a Toronto friend to chime in on her experience growing hardy kiwis in our Canadian Zone 6/USDA Zone 5 area. Here’s what Susan wrote:

I do have a kiwi vine–probably Actinidia arguta ‘Issai’–I bought it many years ago at Loblaws.

My experience is that it definitely is a twiner and a spreader–it grows on an arbour in my yard–and I usually need to cut it back at least 2 or 3 times each growing season. Its branches seem to grow quite rapidly entangling themselves (if I’m not vigilant or too lazy at the time) onto the birch branches. So it’s certainly easy to grow.

I’ve had fruit most years (although not so much last season, 2015)–tiny grape-size fruits that don’t need to be peeled when eaten–they usually ripen in the early fall (September). Keeping the long whip-like branches cut back probably helps with fruit production as long as they’re not cut back too much.

Personally, I do like the plant–nice glossy foliage, reddish stems–will easily cover an arbour or strong trellis–an easy-peasy plant–as long as you keep it in check when needed or desired.

Has never suckered for me–but my wisteria?!!! It has even suckered all the way under our fairly large deck–amazing.

Thanks, Susan! Hope that helps our readers. Helen, 19/03/2016]


  1. Shirley, I believe it! Some kiwis are super-hardy, 'Arctic Beauty' being one of the hardiest. Do you grow any yourself?

    Toronto's winter problem isn't usually the degree of cold, but the stressful freeze-thaw-freeze cycle. Especially as you get closer to the warming effect of Lake Ontario and the urban heat sink, our snow cover doesn't always stay through winter, which means that people in colder zones can sometimes succeed where we fail in overwintering plants.

  2. aloha,

    thats fantastic they can fruit there, the flowers are also showy and beautiful aren't they 🙂

    i also loved your post previous on the black garden, what a gem.

  3. Can Arctic Kiwis grow in zone 2b as well? i live in northern ontario and the winters here are pretty harsh.

    1. My best guess is that it would be very iffy. The Cornell fact sheet says the hardiest kiwis are rated for Zone 3 — but remember, those are USDA zones. If you're using Canadian zone ratings, then subtract one zone (you'd be USDA Zone 1b). However, if you're already using the US zoning system, then you'd be borderline. Do you have a very sheltered spot? Or perhaps a greenhouse? If you can afford the possible loss of the plant, then it's often worthwhile to try to cheat zone hardiness. Good snowcover can make a big difference when it comes to overwintering plants. You might be able to lay the vine down on the ground and mulch it for winter protection.

  4. I am looking very hard at planting some of the Actric Beauty vines to grow up to our elevated deck. Problem is finding a place to get them. Is there anyone out there that can send me in the right direction to get both the males and females in or around Winnipeg? Or any greenhouses that are willing to ship?

  5. I am looking for a little advise. I live in Ingersoll Ontario and have a kiwi but no idea what type. Its been planted for 3-4 years and the past 2 years the tiny fruit fall off just after initial development. I try to keep watered and cover with compost in the springtime. The roots are fairly shaded and the wines get full sun.
    Anyone had this problem?

  6. Hi can you tell me how to distinguish between a male and a female plant.
    I live in the Niagara region and have a couple of cuttings started but forgot to mark which plant they came from.

    1. Hi, Debbie — I don't have an answer for you, but I'd be interested in knowing whether you figured out which was which. I suspect it's difficult until the flowers emerge. However, the males of Actinidia kolomikta can have fabulous white, red/pink and green foliage.

  7. Glad I found this article! I am looking for a plant to espalier across the front of our pool area in the back yard – traditionally I have steered clear of vines due to their tendency to stray. Are Kiwis spreaders? Will they take over the back yard? I can trim back growth, but roots popping up new starts is a definite concern to me.

    1. littleboatiris, I've asked a Toronto friend who grows kiwifruit to offer her experience with this vine, and have updated the blog with her reply. Thanks for dropping in!

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