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Grape Growing Basics

This page contains a general overview of grape growing. If you would like more specific information please visit GrapeSeek!

Getting Started
The first consideration before planting grapevines is to determine exactly what you would like to accomplish. Do you want to make wine, jelly, jam or juice, or do you want to create something decorative to cover an old fence or side of a barn, etc... When you have the answer to this question, you can then ask a local nursery for a type of grapevine which will accomplish your needs. (Or ask Grapeguru)

If you are growing grapes for the fruit, it is essential that the vine receive as much sun as possible. The soil at your site is not as important as the amount of sun the vines receive. Grapes grow in just about any soil and produce fine wines in areas where there is almost no soil at all. Your soil should not have to be altered in any way except if it is too hard packed or has no drainage. Ensure good drainage or forget about trying to grow grapes.

When to plant
There are varying opinions about the best time to plant. A good rule of thumb is to contact a local nursery and ask when they ship vines for planting in your area. Bare rooted varieties are always planted while the vine is still dormant. I have always had best results by planting in late fall. If planting in spring, the earlier you plant, the better chance your plants will have for survival. When planting potted vines, you can put them in the ground any time that the soil can be worked.

How to plant
When planting bare rooted vines, it is best to prune damaged roots or roots that are too long. The planting hole should be large enough to accommodate the roots when they are hanging freely. Ensure that you do not add manure or other decomposing material in the hole when you plant. Grapes do not appreciate rotting matter too close to their roots. Prune the tops of your plant at this time by choosing the best cane and eliminating all others. Leave 2 to 4 buds on this shoot. These buds will develop into new canes the following summer, and may produce a few clusters of grapes low on the vine.

Caring for your new vine
The first month or so after planting is probably the only time you should ever water your grapevines. This is a crucial time for the vine and the roots should not be allowed to dry out. In the first summer of growth, it is important to refrain from pruning any leaves. The leaves and roots correlate with each other, that is to say that the more leaves you see above ground, the more roots the vine has under ground. The more roots the vine is able to produce, the better its chances of survival, and the more vigorous the vine will be. In early spring, you can fertilize the vine, and again about a month later. Do not fertilize after mid summer, because this will prevent the vine from entering into dormancy at the proper time, and may damage the vine.

The first autumn
At this time you should be really enjoying your one or two clusters of grapes if your vine produced any at all and if the birds, downy mildew, powdery mildew, the deer, etc... did not get them first! I'll soon have information here about how to ensure that these pests, diseases and critters do not get the grapes before you do.

Pruning your vines
Pruning should only be done in winter or when the vines are fully dormant. Some people prune in early spring, but this causes the vines to "bleed". This bleeding or flow of sap from the cut branches does not harm the vines, but it is not pleasant to behold for some vintners, such as myself. If you decide to prune in the fall, it can cause more of the grapevine to die back in winter, and only for this reason is it not recommended. It is not pruning time yet, and I will shortly have a full description of pruning, along with illustrations to help you prune your vines. In the meantime you can visit the University of Missouri's pruning site for everything about pruning.

More viticultural information to follow shortly...

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