For some reason, despite the fact that grapes will grow in most regions of the US, they aren’t something that often features in people’s gardens. Though they can be used to make jams, wine, juice, jelly, and raisins, few of us can name a friend with a grapevine growing over the patio or along the fence. But, that could and should change.
Grapes are not only easy to grow, but they are also a perennial source of food. Once established, they’ll provide nourishment for decades. In fact, keen grape growers can enjoy both the berries and the leaves, as is done in many Mediterranean areas. That’s two crops for the price of one. The other great thing about grapes is that, compared to many other crops, the deciduous vines can be used to produce a shady patio in summer then trimmed back to let more sun in during the winter.
In other words, for the home gardener, grapes ought to be on this year’s list.
The time to plant grapevines is in early spring. The trick to planting them is choosing the correct variety for the climate. Some species are more cold-hardy (American), others (the Europeans) prefer warmth and aridity. Native Muscadine like the hot and humid American South.
After choosing the correct variety for the region, growers need to plant bare-root vines, pruned back to one stem with a couple of buds, in early spring. The roots should be soaked in water for a couple of hours before being put into the ground.
The planting hole should be about a cubic foot, with a few inches of topsoil put at the bottom, and the remaining soil should be used to fill the hole but not tamped down. This will help to ensure that the area is well-drained. Vines should be about 6-8 feet apart for American and European grapes and about double that for Muscadine.
Grapes like full sun, six to eight hours a day. They like loose, draining soil but aren’t too reliant on abundant fertility. Mulch at the ground level will help to distribute moisture well.
Caring for Grapevines
grapevines need a trellis to keep them moving vertically so that there is plenty of air circulation around the plant. The leaves can be prone to mildew issues if they are clumped and crumped together. Training vines in early summer will be a daily activity.
Pruning is the name of the game with grapevines. The canes only produce fruit once, so much of the plant — up to 90 percent — should be removed each year before March or April. It will return with vigor and bunches over the summer.
In the first couple of years, the plants should not be allowed to produce fruit such that their roots will establish well. All buds should be cut and only the strongest two or three canes should be allowed to remain.
Newer wood is the best producer of fruit, so pruning – what many find scariest about cultivating grapes — is vital to growing them. But, it’s not really that difficult, and it’s almost impossible to kill a grapevine via over-pruning.
Before new buds begin to plump, either in early winter or very early spring, vines need to be pruned. Basically, the method is to cut each cane back to just a couple of buds. Beyond that, it’s good practice to consistently prune dead or diseased stems as they appear in season.
More often than not, beginning grape growers don’t prune enough, so don’t be afraid to get after the vines. Each little bud will produce several new sprouts that’ll spread out over the growing season.
Harvesting from Grapevines
Each grape has its own signs of readiness. This happens from late summer to mid-fall. Typically, the grapes change color from green to red, blue or white, and the pale coating on the grape stands out more. They also become slightly softer to the touch. Mostly, though, grapes are ready for harvesting when they taste like it. They should not be harvested until completely ripe as they won’t continue to ripen after being picked. Clusters should be removed with shears.
Grapes can be stored for up to two months at around 32 degrees and in heavy humidity. They, of course, can also be preserved via jelly, juice, or wine, all of which provide a nice treat. These vines are a great addition to the garden and fun project for gardeners.
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