Planting & Pruning Grape Vines
Best Soil for GrapesA traditional organic gardening technique for improving soil is to plant cover crops. Although grapes do not want ultra-rich soil, they will perform better in soil that has had cover crops grown and turned in before the grapes are planted. Cover crops to prepare soil for planting grapes Use one of our legume and oat blends to fix nitrogen in the soil. Our Legume Oat Mix #1 is a good option. On our Cover Crop page you will find a Cover Crop Solution Finder in the left sidebar; look there for the "Fixes Nitrogen" cover crops (over 50 and counting!). Cover crops for vineyard paths Add another cover crop in the paths between the rows. Select a cover crop that fixes nitrogen, does not creep toward the grapes, and is easy to mow. Using a cover crop on your paths will not only improve general soil vitality, it will keep mud down in your vineyard. Again, choose from the "Fixes Nitrogen" cover cops. A perennial like our Dryland Clover Mix will grow on fall and winter paths, then die back before the grape harvest time, reappearing with the fall rains.
Planting GrapesIn our video on growing grapes, Tricia plants new grape vines in full sun. Follow her directions, and those in our Grapes Planting & Growing Guide, to dig the right size hole and spread the roots properly. Resist the impulse to "baby" your grapes by adding fertilizer at planting time. After all, you want grapes, not a crop of lush leaves.
Training GrapesTricia uses the bilateral cordon style of training her grapes on a two-wire trellis. Cordon means a permanent branch supported by wire. She uses bamboo as a guide for a straight trunk, then encourages two buds on each side of the trunk to grow out as her side branches. There are many styles for training grapes and the University of Missouri Extension has a detailed, illustrated list of your options.
The most important thing you can do for your grape crop is dormant pruning in the winter. Pruning grapes leads to good crops. For an overview of grape pruning, watch Tricia as she prunes grapes in our video. There are many pruning styles for grapes, but the most popular with home gardeners are the cane style and the spur style. Oregon State University Extension has a quick introduction to these two pruning styles. We suggest pruning methods in the product descriptions of all our grape vines. A general rule is to prune table grapes with the cane style. Spur pruning is only effective with grape cultivars that have buds near the base of their canes. Cane and spur pruning have the same goal: to remove most of the old, non-fruiting wood on the vine.
In cane pruning you select young canes as the foundation for your grapes. Prune away the older, peeling canes. Select several young canes on each side of the vine's trunk and wind these canes along the wires or other supports of your trellising system. Leave spurs with two buds near the top of the trunk so that they will grow canes for the following year. Cane pruned varieties are used to trained to a head, that is the top of the trunk, rather than cordons.
In spur pruning you cut canes to spurs that eventually create short stubby parts of the vine, called arms, as the foundation for your grapes. In dormant pruning you will need to cut the canes to a spur with 2 or 3 buds. Ideally spurs should be spaced every 6 inches along the cordons of the vine. For more information on wine grapes we recommend a comprehensive book on vineyards, From Vines to Wines, which advises you on everything from site selection to the actual winemaking. If you have table grapes, use the 20 pages on grapes in one of our favorite books, The Fruit Gardener's Bible. The University of California has a helpful site, Growing Grapes in your Backyard. Summer will surely come along, so be sure to watch our video and read our article about summer pruning of grape vines. Make your garden complete with grape vines!