How to grow Actinidia chinensis -

Commonly known as the 'Chinese gooseberry' or 'Kiwi Fruit', Actinidia chinensis a woody vine grown for its hairy, edible fruits. It was first discovered for western science by English botanist Charles Maries (1851-1902), who was collecting for Veitch nurseries. However it was Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune (1812–1880), who brought Actinidia chinensis to the attention of western science when he sent Herbarium specimens (pressed and mounted) to the Royal Horticultural Society. That being said, it wasn't until E.H. Wilson sent viable seeds collected in Hupeh to Veitch nurseries in 1900 that the Chinese gooseberry finally made it into cultivation.

Actinidia chinensis illustration
It was named by French Jules Émile Planchon (1823–1888), who published its description in the London journal of botany in 1847.

Native to the northern Yangtze river valley, Actinidia chinensis is a vigorous species which under favourable conditions can grow upto 9 metres in height. The large, heart-shaped leaves are 15-23 cm long and up to 20 cm wide while the shoots are covered in a short, dense, red-coloured hair. Be aware that these young shoots are extremely vulnerable to frost damage may require protection in place from early spring.

The blooms are creamy-white in colour turning to buff-yellow as they age. Each flower is approximately 4 cm across, fragrant and produced in axillary clusters in late summer. The edible fruits emerge green, turning to brown as they mature. When ripe, each fruit is approximately 4-5 cm long and resembles a large gooseberry and with a similar flavour - hence the common name. Actinidia chinensis is a dioecious species, meaning that male and female reproductive structures appear on separate plants.

Actinidia chinensis flowers
Actinidia chinensis will require a sheltered sunny position, preferably against a south or west-facing wall. In milder, more mediterranean climates they can be grown out in the open. They will grow best in a fertile, well-drained slightly acid soil, which has been previously enriched with organic matter. Plant Actinidia chinensis 3-4.5 metres apart, but remember that both sexes will be required to produce fruit. Only one male plant is need for several females so long as they are in close proximity. They will start to produce fruit three to four years after planting.

Water well during the growing season and apply a mulch or well-rotted farm manure or garden compost in the spring. Avoid touching the base of the stem with the mulch.

Actinidia chinensis received the Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1907.

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