Let me ask you a question before we start. Why do you want to grow grapes? Are you after a good eating grape that you can pluck straight from the vine? Or, are you hoping to grow grapes to make wine from the juice? Or, are you hoping to cover an arbor, pergola or patio with a climbing vine that produces a fruit as well? Maybe, it’s all three.
Is it possible to have all three? Yes, but it’s no easy task and you may have to compromise on one of the choices to better appreciate one of the others. For instance, most good wine growing grapes aren’t great tasting. They’re usually very acidic and can taste tart or sour. Good table grapes, on the other hand, usually make poor wine and if you’re primarily after a climber that will cover your pergola quickly then you may need to compromise again on the other two.
The beauty of growing a grape vine is that they take only a small amount of space to grow and can still produce more than enough for your family needs. Here’s a great illustration of what a grape vine can produce for you,
If you want an example of how useful a vine can be, visit the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Bartholdi Park at Independence Avenue and First Street SW. On a 5-by-12-foot arbor, gardener Robert Pritchard has grown a single plant of the Mars variety. It covered the arbor after two years, he said, and now, after eight seasons, sports a handsome, silver flaking trunk.
How Do You Plant and Grow a Grape Vine?
If you’ve picked up a potted vine from a nursery or from a friend’s collection then it’s a simple process but may require some physical labour. Here are the steps involved;
- Find an appropriate site to plant your vine. Grape vines appreciate full-sun and a loamy, even gravelly, rich soil.
- Construct a support that will be able to hold the weight of a mature vine and it’s fruit in season. This may be a trellis growing alongside a wall or self-standing as you would see in a vineyard. You may decide to grow it over an arbor or even a pergola. Whatever the structure, it’s important that it will last the distance of supporting the vine for many years.
- Once you’ve found the site and you have an appropriate structure in place it’s time to plant the vine. This is no different to planting many plants but you may like to further enrich the soil with more compost and slow-release fertilisers.
- Grapes rely heavily on water so ensure that some reticulation is available or keep the water up to the vine especially when you’ve first planted it and also while it’s fruiting.
How Do You Prune a Grape Vine?
Once your grape vine is under way, it’s time to think about pruning it. Firstly, to keep it under control and secondly so that you may produce the maximum amount of good quality fruit.
The best time to prune is mid-winter when the sap is still low and all the canes have hardened.
There are many pruning methods but the best for home gardeners are Spur Pruning and the Four-Armed Kniffin system which are both explained in depth here [link since removed].
How Do You Propagate a Grape Vine?
Propagating grape vines is very easy. As you are pruning your vine in the middle of winter cut some of the hardwood canes in lengths that include 2 bud nodes (one at either end). It is a good technique for remembering which way is up and which down by cutting the vine below a base node (the one closest to the trunk) horizontally and the cut above the second node (the one closest to the tip of the vine cane) at an angle.
In a 200mm pot, or you can plant directly into soil in a sheltered spot, place a few canes in some good quality potting mix. Water well and then cover with some plastic and wait for the top bud to burst open. Once this has happened you might need to wait a month or two before planting each cane out in its own pot.
They should have grown their own root ball by this stage and showing signs of vigorous vine growth.
Photo source: Allie_Caulfield