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Growing Grapes

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Bush Berries
Training and Pruning Grapes


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Companion Planting
Grapes and Berries
Pepper Paradise
Attracting Pollinators
Tomato Fever
Summer Chores
Saving Seeds
Harvesting Tips

Red seedless grapes are becoming more availableGrapes are an excellent fruit for fresh use or processing into jam, jelly, juice, pie, or wine. In addition, grapevines can be ornamental and valuable as shade or screen plants in the home landscape when trained on a trellis or arbor. Well-grown grapevines of cultivars such as Concord can produce up to 20 pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year. 

Once established, well-tended grapevines can be productive for 40 years or more. Home fruit gardeners can be successful if they select the right cultivars, maintain a good fertility and pest management program, and properly prune grapevines annually.

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A wide variety of grapes can be grown in zone 5 and above.  Here are the most commonly available ones for home garden use.

Variety Ripening Season Color Principal Use Winter Hardiness
Baco Noir middle blue wine fair
Cabernet Sauvignon late black wine good
Canadice early red table good
Catawba late red wine good
Cayuga White middle white wine good
Challenger middle red table fair
Chambourcin late blue wine poor
Chancellor early middle red wine good
Chardonnay middle white wine good
Chenin Blanc late green wine fair
Concord Seedless late middle blue table, juice good
Cynthiana very late blue wine good
De Chaunac middle blue wine good
Einset middle red table fair
Marechal Foch very early blue wine very good
Mars early blue table medium
Niagara late middle white wine, juice good
Riesling middle white wine fair
Reliance early red table good
Sauvignon Blanc middle green wine fair
Saturn middle red table fair
Vanessa middle red table good
Venus very early blue table fair
Villard Noir late middle blue wine fair
Vidal Blanc late white wine good
Vignoles late white wine good
Carlos* middle bronze table, wine fair
Cowart* late blue wine, table fair
Dixie Red* middle red table, wine fair
Scuppernong*(‡) late bronze table, wine fair
*Muscadine grapes. ‡ = has female flowers only. The other varieties listed have both male and female flowers.

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Planting Grapes

Grapes need full sunlight and high temperatures to ripen, so plant on southern slopes, the south side of windbreaks, or the south sides of buildings. Avoid northern slopes and low ground since these will be cooler throughout the growing season, delaying ripening of the fruit. Choose deep, well-drained soils to avoid standing water in the spring and encourage early growth.

Plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Use healthy plants with well-developed root systems. Space the plants six to eight feet apart. Before planting the vine, remove all canes except the most vigorous one. Trim off any broken or excessively long roots.  If planting bare-root specimens, soak the roots in water for at least 2 hours before planting.

How to plant grape bare root grapesDig a hole large enough so you can spread the root system out without bending the roots. Plant vines at the same depth as in the nursery. Do not plant too deeply. Spread the roots and cover them completely with soil. After planting, shorten the remaining cane to two strong buds. Each bud will develop into a cane. 

During the first year, the vines are normally tied to a stake to keep them off the ground, prevent damage, and make spraying more effective. If the season of planting is dry, supplemental watering is also necessary to keep the vines growing. It is important to get as much first-year growth as possible.

Although vines often are allowed to grow at random, sprawling over the ground during the first season, it's best to train the stronger of the two canes that develop from the plant to a strong stake, five to six feet tall. Remove any suckers growing from the base of the canes. Remove the weaker cane in March. If neither cane is three feet long, cut the plant back to two buds again the second year.

Apply nitrogen two weeks after planting at a rate of 10 lb of 10-6-4/100 ft of row. Reapply the same rate annually in early spring, right before growth starts. Fertilizer can be applied to a single plant at a rate of 1 lb/plant. Have the soil tested every three to five years. Do not apply fertilizers containing herbicides (such as some lawn fertilizers) in or near the grapes. Four to six inches of mulch may be Plant grapes in elevated container filled with potting soil if you have heavy clayapplied to help control weeds and conserve soil moistures.

Young grape vines should be planted on well-drained sandy loam soil in February or March. If a heavy clay is the only type available, a 6-inch elevated container can be constructed and filled with commercial potting soil - see figure 1. Ultra large juice cans with both top and bottom removed will work well for this. With the roots eventually growing into the existing clay soil, the potting soil will give the vine a strong, early start.

When planting is finished, uncork some wine and invite everyone for a toast to your future vintages!

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Use shears to cut the cluster away from the stem while you support it with your handThe first harvest of grapes is usually after two or three years of growth, depending on the vigor of the vines. Pick fruit when they are fully ripe, but not falling off the vine. Varieties vary in their color development at ripeness. They may be green, pink, red, bronze, purple, or black when ripe. Maturing grape berries enlarge, soften, and develop a sugar content of 13 to 22 percent. If the grapes are to be used for wine, they should be picked whenever they reach the sugar content you want. Table grapes are usually picked when they taste sweet. In either case, a “taste test” is the best indicator of when to pick. 

Harvest fruit during the cooler part of the day by cutting the bunches from the vine with pruners or hand shears. Muscadine grapes are picked individually like other berries. Plan to refrigerate the grapes soon after harvest. They will usually remain in good condition for three to 10 days.

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Hoeing aids in weed and grass control, which is very important in grape care. Chemical herbicides may be used as an aid in weed management, but for most garden plantings their use is not recommended because the grape plants are easily damaged. Mulching with about four inches of straw, sawdust, or pine bark helps control weeds and conserves water. However, mulch may become a home for mice and voles in the winter. To help discourage the mice from feeding on the bark of the vines, pull the mulch back about six inches from the vine trunks.

Grapes are susceptible to many diseases and insects. The most notable animal pests are phylloxera, grape leafroller, climbing cutworm, and nematodes. Borers, flea beetles, grape berry moth, various caterpillars, gall-making insects, aphids, mealybugs, and Japanese beetles may be occasional pests. Mites, thrips, leafhoppers, and treehoppers may be important pests because they can transmit diseases, especially viruses, from one vine to another.

Phylloxera, a root louse, is managed by grafting susceptible varieties of grapes onto resistant rootstocks, or by planting resistant varieties. There are many chemical control options for other insect pests. However, homeowners may want to use alternative methods of pest control, including the planting of resistant varieties (where available), using soaps for aphid and spider mite control, specific Bacillus thuringiensis preparations for caterpillars, sticky traps for beetles, pheromone ties for grape berry moth, and planting marigolds the year before grapes for nematode control. For more information, see the Insect Problems article.

There are several diseases of importance to grape growers. Most of the diseases can be treated with fungicides labelled for that purpose. Important fungal grapevine diseases include powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot. These diseases usually require several sprays to get adequate control. Grapevines can acquire crown gall disease—a bacterial infection which causes an enlarged area at a wound site or near the base of the trunk, sometimes girdling the vine. This disease is sometimes treatable by pruning out the infected area. Good sanitation practices during pruning help prevent its spread, but will not stop it. Infected plants may need to be completely removed. Diseases may be identified by your county extension agent or the nursery from which you purchased the vines. For more information on fungi, see the Fungus Problems article.

The most important consideration is to obtain healthy and disease-free plants. Grapevines often show very few visible symptoms of virus disease, but infected plants do poorly and produce little fruit. Therefore, it is important to obtain certified plants from virus-free stock. Choosing virus resistant varieties also may help. Most nurseries have certified disease-free plants available.

A very common disease of grape plants is herbicide injury. Although weed control is important in grape beds, herbicides must be used with care to prevent injury to the grape plants. Hand weeding, where practical, is a good idea.

Relative Disease Susceptibility of the Most Common Grape Cultivars
Principal Cultivar Black Rot Downy Mildew Powdery Mildew Botrytis
Canadice *** ** * **
Steuben ** * * *
Delaware ** ***(1) ** *
Concord *** * ** *
Reliance *** *** ** *
Niagara *** *** ** *
Cayuga White * ** * *
Catawba *** *** ** *
French-American Hybrid
DeChaunac * ** ** *
Seyval Blanc ** ** *** ***
Vidal Blanc * ** *** *
Key to ratings: * = slightly susceptible or sensitive; ** = moderately susceptible or sensitive; *** = highly susceptible or sensitive; (1) = berries not susceptible.

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