By: Russell Stafford
Hardy fruiting vines bring together two of the hottest trends in horticulture: edible landscaping and vertical gardening. They are the perfect choice for grow-it-yourself gardeners with limited square footage and a tasty way to clothe a pergola or trellis or provide rapid aerial cover.
Although many hardy fruiting vines will ramble for 30 feet or more if left untamed, with proper training they will fit (and fruit) quite nicely on a 10-by-10-foot trellis. A few even make excellent subjects for large containers. If you’re looking to add something vertical and edible to your garden, consider one of the following winter-hardy vines, all of which thrive in full sun and humus-rich soil. They also benefit from a spring top-dressing of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Garden Manure Blend.
Native to the Southeast United States, this hardy passionflower brings a tropical look to the edible garden. A suckering, herbaceous vine, it returns from the ground in spring and rapidly climbs to 20 feet or more via coiling, clasping tendrils. Large, showy, lavender-blue flowers appear in summer. Each bloom is fringed with frilly, thread-like segments that surround a central array of large, club-shaped pistils and anthers. Pale-green, egg-shaped fruits with gloppy, tart-flavored flesh ripen in late summer and early fall. They are best used to make tasty jam or jelly.
Maypop needs a long growing season to fully ripen its fruits. It thus requires a warm microclimate or other coddling to bring it to harvest in the northern fringes of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10). Where the growing season is impossibly short, grow it in a large container (as described below for Actinidia kolomikta). Move the container from winter protection to a warm sunny frost-free location in April, and place it outside in full sun after the final frost date.
Time was when tasty table grapes (Vitis spp.) were a near-impossibility in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest United States. No longer. Beyond old-fashioned ‘Concord’ grapes (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9), numerous outstanding hardy varieties have entered horticulture in the past few decades, including ‘Swenson Red’, whose seeded fruits are large and sweet with hints of strawberry; and ‘Somerset Seedless’, which bears small, juicy, flavorful grapes that ripen orange-red in late summer. Both are reliably hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.
For optimum production (and compact growth), allow your grape vine to develop only one or two main stems, pruning out any other shoots that develop from the base. Remove all weak, congested, or out-of-bounds side-growth that develops from these main stems, leaving only a well-spaced framework of branches. This maximizes the space, light, and energy available for flowers and fruits, which are borne on the previous year’s growth on short spurs known as “canes”.
Believe it or not, several close relatives of the familiar, but frost tender, supermarket kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) produce delicious fruits of their own on twining vines that are hardy up to USDA Hardiness Zone 4. The most widely cultivated of these is hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), a rambunctious climber that rapidly ascends to 30 feet or more. The vines are dioecious, meaning vines may be male or female. Female vines produce eye-catching clusters of dime-sized, saucer-shaped white flowers open in spring, followed by inch-long fruits that resemble miniature, smooth-skinned tropical kiwis that are good for fresh eating. A pollenizing male companion is required for fruit set, except in the case of self-fruitful cultivars such as ‘Issai’. Hardy kiwi requires either ample room in which to romp, or frequent pruning to keep it in bounds. Its architecture and pruning regimen is similar to that of grapes, with flowers and fruits occurring on the previous year’s growth.
A better behaved but equally hardy cousin of hardy kiwi is variegated-leaf hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which is usually represented in gardens by ornamental male cultivars such as ‘Arctic Beauty’, whose leaves are showily daubed with splashes of pink and silver variegation. Female selections are drabber in leaf, but compensate by producing a late-summer crop of tasty, spherical, pale-orange fruits (provided a male pollenizer is nearby). All Actinidia kolomikta cultivars can be grown in large containers, creating all sorts of portable garden possibilities. A coarse potting mix such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix works best. In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and below, move containerized actinidias to a cold frame or other protected location for the winter.
Showy, edible, pale-orange fruits and silver-variegated leaves (on male plants) are also among the horticulturally significant features of a third hardy kiwi vine, silver kiwi vine (Actinidia polygama). It ranks somewhere between the above two species in vigor. The exterior of the fruit resembles that of standard kiwi, but the inner flesh is orange.
Impossibly invasive (and widely banned) in milder sectors of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9), this vigorous , semi-evergreen vine is well worth growing in colder regions such as the American Northeast and Midwest. Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) will rapidly ascend to 20 feet or more if left unpruned, the twining stems with elegant, hand-shaped leaves are laced with clusters of small, delightfully fragrant, maroon-purple flowers in spring. White-flowered cultivars (e.g., ‘Shiro Bana’) are also available. Large, sausage-shaped fruits expand in summer, deepening to purple as they mature. Fully ripened fruits split open to reveal the seedy, gelatinous flesh, which has a melon- or guava-like flavor when ripe. Plant two or more cultivars for a good crop.
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