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Kiwifruit in California

Kiwifruit growing at Kearney Agricultural Center. University of California
Kiwifruit growing at Kearney Agricultural Center. University of California
The kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) is a perennial, deciduous, woody vine native to south China. Kiwifruit was initially exported as “Chinese gooseberry” from China in the 1800’s. Commercial production and export was initiated in New Zealand in the 1950s (Earp 1990) and in California in the late 1960s (California Kiwifruit Commission). California leads the nation in kiwifruit production. In 2013, 30100 tons of fruit were harvested from the 3,700 commercial acres in the state. This crop was valued at  $32,595,000 (USDA 2014). The dominant cultivar, Hayward, is primarily grown in the northern Sacramento Valley in Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties. Kiwifruit is also grown in the southern San Joaquin Valley in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties (LaRue 1994).

Kiwifruit is dioecious with separate female and male plants. Traditionally eight females were  planted for every male individual (Reil 1994), however a five to one ratio is more commonly used now (J Hasey, pers comm) to increase pollination. The characteristic green flesh of kiwifruit results from high levels of chlorophyll within the fruit. There are also yellow flesh cultivars commercially available, although they are not commonly grown in California.

Growth Habit & Management

Kiwifruit has a distinct growth form from other commercial perennial fruit and nut crops commonly grown in California. As a result of this distinct growth form orchard establishment and management of kiwifruit differs from general training and pruning practices used in other fruit and nut crops. In commercial production the plant is pruned and trained to a single trunk, supported on a trellis. Two vigorous canes are allowed to grow in opposite directions down a central wire to form the two main arms called cordons. Fruiting canes originate from nodes along each cordon and develop flowers which produce fruit the following year (Hasey 1994). Annual pruning of fruiting canes maintains strong replacement cane growth ensuring good fruit production (Beutel 1994). Each cane has a distal coiling portion that growers anchor to the trellis because, unlike other vines, kiwifruit do not have tendrils. Plants require winter chill, adequate summer irrigation, and protection from wind. Fruit is harvested in the fall and stores well, extending the availability of California kiwifruit to consumers from October through May (Beutel 1990).