Grow grapes, and you will enjoy the wonderful joy of actually picking a fresh grape off the vine, popping it in your mouth and biting into it. When you bite down on a fresh grape and taste the sweet, delicious juice, you will get hooked. Not just that, but when the grapes are ready, you will notice that they are ready to serve as well. You will be amazed at just how many people will ask if you know how to grow grapes.
It is also fun to learn about the different grapes, the kinds that you should grow, and how much of each one of them you should have on your vine. Growing grapes can actually become a hobby (and even a business), depending on how much you want to learn.
The science of grape growing is called viticulture, and it’s been practiced for thousands of years since human civilization began; however, very few of the grapes produced in the world actually come from home-grown origins. But can you grow grapes in your own garden or backyard? The answer is yes! Grapes can certainly be grown in the home garden, provided their suitable growing conditions are met. As long as the climate does not get freezing winters (within USDA zones 4-10), it should be good to go.
Types of Grapes
There are many varieties of grapes in the world today, but the 3 main varieties are:
- The cold hardy American grapes (Vitis labrusca) – Suitable for zones 4-7
- Mediterranean-native European grapes (Vitis vinifera) – Suitable for zones 7-10
- American Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) – Suitable for zones 7-9
American grapes are usually table grapes, while European and Muscadine grapes are often grown for wine, although many cultivars also make nice table grapes. While the different types of grapes do have their own special growing requirements, for the sake of simplicity, we will be mostly referring to the hardy and popular common European grape (Vitis vinifera), of which numerous cultivars have been created over the years – when we talk about planting and growing grapes here.
Choosing the Location
Grapes are actually just perennial vines, and like all vines, they grow vigorously until their vines become so thick they look like bushes or small trees. Thus, many people assume grapes to be trees, but they are just – vines. And like all vines, they need something to latch onto, especially when they are young. So first things first, prepare a long term support trellis/arbor/lattice for your grapevines-to-be.
The location where you choose to grow your grapes needs to be “long term”, because grapes are long-lived vines and usually only bear fruit after several years from planting. So, the chosen location must be a permanent one. It’s best to grow grapes in a sunny, open location with well drained, fertile soil. If you are planting more than one grapevine, give about 8 feet of space between each vine. The recommended soil pH for grapes should be pH 5-7. Although the soil should be of sufficient fertility, grapes don’t really like soil that is too rich.
Grapes are best grown from cuttings. You can buy such cuttings online, from the local nursery, or cut them yourselves from existing live grapevines. They will usually come as bare-root vines. Soak these in water for 1-3 hours prior to planting in order to rehydrate them. If the cuttings are taken from an existing plant, take them from plants that have already been pruned and take multiple cuttings to make up for any that will just fail to grow. The cuttings should be at least 3-4 nodes long (each node is where the leaves attach to the stem). Cut off the bottom end of your cutting at a point about an inch away from a node, at a 45° angle.
In mild climates of zone 7 or more, you can even plant your grapevines in early winter. Otherwise, it is best to delay till early spring after the last frosts have passed. Dig your planting hole about 1 feet deep and 1.5 feet wide. Set your cuttings about 6 inches away from each other. After planting, cover back the hole with soil, but keep it loose and aerated. Water thoroughly immediately after planting, and then only sparingly for the next week. Avoid fertilizing during the first year. During the second year, it is time to prune the plant (refer to the pruning section below).
If you choose to grow grapes from seeds, use seeds from a nursery and whose varieties are agreeable with your climate zone. Bear in mind that grapes grown from seed may take years to bear fruit, because you are starting them from scratch. Soak the seeds overnight before stratifying them by putting them in a closed container filled with damp peat moss and refrigerating the container for 3 months at around 36°F/2.22°C. Once the seeds are stratified, plant them in moist seed-starting mix while keeping them under grow lights for about 16 hours each day.
Seeds should sprout within 2 weeks or more, and can then be transplanted to small pots when they have developed 2 sets of leaves. When the plants have developed 8 sets of leaves or more, you can slowly transfer them outdoors to a spot in the garden with partial shade and acclimatize them gradually. After the last frosts in spring, it is now safe to plant them in a permanent location as described above.
Pruning is an essential part of grapevine care and maintenance. While plants can bear fruit in their first year, young vines will not have the strength to support the fruits that develop. It’s recommended to prune back on the fruits and vines by as much as 80-90% to ensure much more robust growth in the future.
Most of the new sprouts coming out from the ground in the first year can also be pruned away, leaving only several of the strongest to become the grapevine’s main canes.
What tools do you need for pruning? Use:
- Pruning saws (for canes > 1 inches thick)
- Loppers (for canes > 0.5 inches thick)
- Shears/secateurs (for canes < 0.5 inches thick)
From the second year, start “training” the canes so that they grow in just two parallel lines along the trellis structure by pruning away most of the spurs, leaving only the main trunk and major canes. After the third year, you should have a strong and productive grapevine. But remember, grapevines should always be pruned at least twice a year for maintenance, once during the dormant period in winter-early spring, and the other during summer.
Pests and Diseases
Grapevines normally do not get diseases, but powdery mildew can be a problem. This can be controlled by ensuring good air circulation around the vines. Anthracnose, a type of leaf spot disease, can also affect the leaves. Regularly monitor the grapevine leaves for any developing small black spots and remove them promptly.
Birds and small wildlife may also prey on grapes, but if this happens, try placing netting around your grapevines. Grapevine beetle is another pest of grapes; regular inspection of your grapes and manually removing them besides spraying the vines with organic pesticide is the only safe method of controlling them.
While pestilences and pests can become a problem in vineyards, this is reduced for grapes grown in the common backyard, due to the presence of other plants that collectively afford a certain measure of group protection. This is the basis for companion planting.
So what are the good plants to plant near grapes? Good companion plants for grapes include:
Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor
Growing grapes can be very rewarding. You will be able to get all of the pleasure that you want from growing your own grape vines for a fraction of what it would cost to buy grapes at the store.
Grapes can be eaten just like any other food, either by eating them or pressing them and extracting the juice. They are best eaten when they are plucked from the vine after they have been harvested. You can also make your own home-made raisins by putting them into a dehydrator for a day or two. There are literally so many things you can do with your grape harvest!
So if you are wondering how to grow vines, start now and start growing them. You will soon find out that you do not need any expensive machinery to make this process possible. The rewards are wonderful.
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