How To Grow Grapes
Learn how to grow your own grapes.
For beauty and flavor there is nothing more exciting than growing your own plump, juicy grapes. In spite of the belief that growing this tangy fruit is much too difficult for the average grower, this simply is not true. Given the proper attention, a somewhat controlled climate and correct growth procedure, anyone can grow their own grapes.
There are three types of grapes that are grown in the United States. Labrusca grapes are a descendent of the native eastern wild grape. They are known to grow well in the northern two-thirds of the country. Especially in areas east of the Rocky Mountains. The southeast has been found to be the best area to grow muscadine grapes, while the kind of grapes we usually find in fruit stores or the grocery store are the Vinifera or European grapes. These grow mainly in California and Arizona since it has been found that in other areas they are more prone to pest and disease. There are many hybrids in addition to the basic types. These tend to combine the tastiness and the winemaking qualities of the European grapes with the hardiness and resistance of the American grape. Some grapes such as the Labrusca and European grapes are self fertile, while others, such as the muscadines, are not.
It is a very simple matter to propagate grapes by rooting cuttings of dormant stems in damp sphagnum moss. Another way to propagate these plants is by layering. To layer a grape plant simply bend down a shoot and bury part of it in the soil. Always ensure that you have left a few leaves or buds at the tip uncovered. The best time for layering your grape plants is in the spring. In a short time you will notice that roots have formed along the buried portion of the plant. This will occur during the normal growing season. During the early part of the following spring cut the newly rooted portion away from the parent vine and transplant it. Be sure you make this cut before the new growth starts.
As any owner of a vineyard will attest, grapes are produced on each year's new growth with the best fruit being produced from the new shoots formed on the previous year's canes. It is easy to recognize your year old canes at pruning time. They will be the ones that are about the thickness of a pencil and will have a dark colored, more fibrous bark. For the best crop in your third year of growing, remove the blossoms and fruits from the vines the first two summers. With proper care all grapevines are long lived and may continue to produce for close to a hundred years. Although grapes have been known to yield fruit in poor soil, they do much better in fertile soils, organic, sandy soils. But be careful not to over fertilize your grape plants or they will produce masses of shoots and leaves with a very inferior fruit. Always be sure that your vines are heavily mulched or clean cultivated because the much needed nutrients are stolen by grass and weeds. To avoid injuring the shallow roots of your plants you will want to cultivate no deeper than four inches.
It is best when growing grapes to make sure organic content of the soil is high. Spring is the best time for planting your vines. If at all possible, try to plant your vines on a slope so that cold air and water will drain off. The best way to plant your vines is to space the new vines 8 to 10 feet apart in holes approximately 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Be sure to trim the roots to fit the hole before putting your canes in the ground. It is also wise to prune off all canes or branches but one. You will then want to prune that cane back to two buds. In the first year of growing your grapes, if you have started them in pots instead of putting them in the ground it is wise, in the winter when all the leaves have dropped from the vines, to take cutting from the cane that are about 3\8 in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long making sure to include two buds, and preserve them through the winter in clean, moist sawdust. Make sure to place them in a cool area or a refrigerator. Keep them there until early spring and then cover the two buds with soil or sand and expose the roots to the sun. This puts a form of callus on the root that will prevent some forms of bacterial or viral infestation of the roots.
It is very important to train your grapes on supports to keep the fruit off the ground and provide air circulation. The best way to do this is by using a sturdy wire trellis for support. You should begin training at planting time. To form a straight main stem or trunk it is best to train the vine on a stake. In the second year of growth you will begin training on the wire trellis. While there are numerous form of training grapes, the most used system is known as the four arm Kniffin.
The Kniffin can be made by using thin posts that are about 75 inches tall. Sink the posts about 24 inches apart and then using number 9 wire, fix the bottom strand about 30 inches from the ground. The top strand of wire should be attached approximately 24 to 30 inches above the bottom strand.
During the first year when you prune your vines, leave about three buds above the lower wire and two buds below it. Prune away all other buds and side shoots. Cut the trunk or main cane back a few inches above the lower wire. When you notice new shoots growing from the buds, select the straightest one above the wire to be the main leader. Tie your leader to the upper wire when it has grown long enough and train the shoots from the two lowest buds along the lower wire. These will become the next year's fruiting arms. You will then want to train two shoots along the upper wire as they develope.
Prune back the fruiting arms during the third spring to between 6 and 10 buds each. You will then want to remove other lateral canes, leaving two stubs, near the existing fruiting arms to produce next year's fruit. This same procedure should be continued each year for steady crops of fruit. With your muscadine grapes the treatment will be slightly different. You should leave three to four buds along the fruiting arms. These will need to be renewed about every four or five years.
Of the many different types of grapes the Aurora is a French- American hybrid that makes a delicate white wine and is also a good dessert grape. The scuppernong grape is the most widely grown muscadine grape and grows well in the south. The concord grape is the most famous American grape variety and is the standard for blue black grapes. The himrod grape is a hardy, seedless variety that keeps for months if refrigerated. The Catawba grape is a late ripening American red grape that was developed over a century ago and is known to keep well.