Golden kiwifruit (A. chinensis) and fuzzy kiwifruit (A. deliciosa) are known to require distinct climatic conditions for successful production (Ferguson, 1991; Norton, 1994). For optimal production, a long growing season of 225 to 240 d without frost is required (Norton, 1994). Limited cold tolerance is generally considered the greatest barrier to production. Although vines can be severely damaged or killed by temperatures of −12.2 °C or lower (Norton, 1994), kiwifruit also have a specific requirement for winter chilling to overcome rest and produce a sufficient crop (Snelgar et al., 1997), with standard cultivars such as Hayward requiring as much as 1150 chill units (Caldwell, 1989). Studies by Caldwell (1989) and Dozier et al. (1992) reported that sites such as South Carolina in the southeastern United States that receive adequate chilling were also subject to serious, damaging freezes. Although new growth may emerge from damaged portions of the plant (Testolin and Messina, 1987), frequent severe injury to plants would limit the development of commercial production (Chat, 1995; Dozier et al., 1992), because flowers and fruit are produced on the previous year’s canes (Brundell, 1975).
Although little information is available regarding cold tolerance of golden kiwifruit relative to fuzzy kiwifruit, they have unique (although often times overlapping) native ranges (Huang, 2016). Considering the broad geographic distribution and highly heterozygous nature of both species, it would be expected that relative cold tolerance between these species would vary considerably by cultivar. Kiwifruit are functionally dioecious, with segregation ratios for sex among seedlings reportedly expected to have a 1:1 ratio (Huang, 2016).
As a temperate or warm subtropical plant, kiwifruit is able to tolerate substantial cold, provided that they are conditioned by gradually declining temperatures (Sale and Lyford, 1990). Lu and Reiger (1990) reported that decreasing photoperiod combined with cool, nonfreezing temperatures are most conducive to acclimation, whereas mild temperatures leading up to hard and early autumn frost present the greatest risk for damage to the nonacclimated vines (Sale and Lyford, 1990). However, temperatures between −2.8 and −6.0 °C can cause injury to canes and even trunks, in the absence of acclimation (Blanchet, 1985; Hewett and Young, 1981; Norton, 1994), with young vines reportedly killed to the ground by autumn temperatures as warm as −3 °C (Bullard, 1987; Krewer et al., 1986; Lu and Reiger, 1990). Such trunk damage is commonly accompanied by the development of vertical cracking of bark or “trunk-splitting” (Dozier et al., 1992; Gremminger et al., 1982; Massai et al., 1991; Sale and Lyford, 1990), which is typically restricted to the lower 10 to 15 cm above ground level (Dozier et al., 1992; Sale and Lyford, 1990).
The degree of damage sustained is greatly influenced by amount of acclimation the plant has received (Lawes et al., 1995; Lu and Reiger, 1990), the stage of development (Hewett and Young, 1981; Pyke et al., 1986), the intensity and duration of the frost (Pyke et al., 1986; Testolin and Messina, 1987), plant age (Pyke et al., 1986), the genetic limits of the cultivar (Dozier et al., 1992; Pyke et al., 1986), and even method of propagation (Massai et al., 1991). Although controlled environment-based experiments and associated assays offer the advantage of repeatability, field-based studies are considered most accurate and reliable (Li, 1984). The objective of this study was to study the response of young kiwifruit plants to an unusually early and hard autumn frost and assess the effects of species, cultivar, and propagation method.
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