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Grapes are hardy plants. They grow in many different parts of the world, even in the hot, humid Asian tropics where I live. I remember seeing a vine just growing out of a huge container in my parents’ front yard when I was small. However, its fruits were small, green, and sour. It was probably the kind used for wine-making.
The 3 Main Groups Of Grapes
In the U.S., many varieties of grapes thrive beautifully. They’re classified into 3 main groups: American, European, and Muscadine. American grapes are cold-hardy and thrive for a short season in areas like the Northeastern states. European types, usually used for wines, grow for long seasons in dry, sunny, Mediterranean-type regions like California or the USDA Zone 7 states. (There are many hybrids between these 2 types). Thick-skinned Muscadines are a vigorous, native variety, adapting well to the heat and humidity of the South.
Advantages To Growing Grapes
Grapes would be a good addition to any garden. They have lots of uses, from jams to juices, desserts to cereal toppings, or you can just eat them straight off the vine. You could try your hand at wine-making, or you could dry them into raisins. Not only are they rich in essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re also loaded with antioxidants like resveratrol, which is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Grapevines can provide a leafy green shade on your patio during the summer, or a nice screen from the neighbors on your fence. Growing them organically isn’t difficult. Nonetheless, it does take patience and some level of commitment, says one winery owner in California. But since they are vigorous growers and can thrive for as long as 30 years with proper care and attention, grapevines can provide you and your children with decades of nutritious and delicious satisfaction. They’re also prolific — some varieties can yield up to 15 pounds of fruit per vine. So, 2 vines would be enough to support a household of grape-lovers.
Should you decide to move forward with this idea, you will have to consider several factors that we will discuss in the following list of easy steps to growing grapes.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #1: Location
As mentioned above, the local climate will determine which varieties would grow best in your area. Grapes vary in flavor, color, size, and texture. Some are sweet and ideal for the table, while others are best suited for jellies, juices, and wines. Your local agricultural extension office can recommend the exact variety for your region, and whether it’ll be good for table or wine.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #2: Sun
Grapes require full sun. If you don’t have a spot in your yard that’s sunny all day, find a place where it can at least receive the morning sun. In northern areas, find a south-facing patch where it can enjoy as much of the summer sun as it can.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #3: Air Flow
Good air circulation helps to prevent fungi from attacking your vine. Find an area away from trees, tall brush, or buildings, as these will block breezes from blowing into your vine.
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Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #4: Water And Drainage
A growing vine needs about an inch of rain per week. If your location doesn’t get much rainfall, you’d have to water it. However, keep in mind that a vine doesn’t like getting its roots soaked, either. A gently sloping or hilly terrain would provide perfect drainage. You may set up a drip irrigation system at the base of your vine so it can get small amounts of water on a regular basis, especially during droughts.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #5: Soil
Ideally, your soil should be deep, loose, well-drained, and free from weeds and grass. Soil that’s slightly sandy or loamy with a pH just above 7 is best. Mulch it with aged compost. Do not fertilize unless you have problem soil, as grapevines don’t require high fertility. As it grows, check if it looks vigorous and healthy and if the leaves are dark green. If not, apply a nitrogen fertilizer.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #6: Pests
Insects and diseases that afflict grapes vary from one region to another. Warm, humid weather in the East can attract mildew and fungus. Mild winters and cool, wet springs in the Pacific Northwest can cause powdery mildew. In California, the phylloxera is a common pest that attacks the roots, and Pierce’s disease can scorch the leaves and canes. Other potential enemies are aphids, mites, and Japanese beetles. Find a variety that has a high resistance to disease so you can minimize problems in the future. For insects, you could spray organic insecticide on aphids and mites. (Ladybugs are a natural consumer of aphids, too, and won’t hurt your vine). You may also just handpick beetles off the leaves and prevent birds from pecking on fruits with an over-head netting.
Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #7: Training
Before planting, set up a structural support system to train your grapes. You can grow vines on a trellis, overhead arbor, or on an iron, PVC, or wooden post with a wire fence or a wooden lattice. Young plants often need to be coaxed to grow upwards, which would also help to cut the risk of disease. At planting time, prune the top of a bare-root grapevine back to two or three buds. Trim off any broken roots or excessive ones longer than 6 inches. You may allow the vine to grow unchecked in the first year.
During its first winter, select the 2 strongest, longest canes and remove all other growth. The buds along the canes will produce several shoots that will grow leaves and flowers. In the second year, prune back all canes. Leave a couple of buds on each of the arms. As flower clusters begin to form, remove them as well. Vines should not be allowed to bear fruit in the first 2 years as the weight could damage them. They need to establish their root systems initially before they can support the extra weight.
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Easy Steps To Growing Grapes – #8: Regular Care
The secret to growing very productive grapes is good pruning. It’s probably the most important and demanding task you’ll have to perform in caring for your vines. Most home gardeners don’t prune grapes enough, resulting in lots of vine growth and very little fruiting. Prune yearly when the vines are dormant, around late winter or early spring. Keep a few vines that grew last year, then cut everything else off.
Note that fruit is produced from the current season’s growth, which in turn grew from the previous season’s wood. So, don’t be afraid to remove up to 90 percent of last season’s growth – your grapes will grow better because of it. Heavy pruning produces the best quality fruit, while light pruning results in large yields of poor quality. Also, if you want to produce bigger fruits, cut off every third bunch the moment they form so that more energy goes into developing the remaining fruits.
The key to growing grapes successfully is choosing vines that will flourish in your climate. Make sure you buy your vine or cuttings from a reputable nursery. Look for healthy, 1-year-old plants with an even root distribution and symmetrical canes. Try to make sure they’re virus-free stock, and find out if you will need more than one plant for pollination. Most varieties are self-fertile, though.
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In mild winter areas (USDA Zone 7 and warmer), you can plant your grapevines in late fall or early winter. In colder regions, wait until late winter or early spring when most bare-root varieties are available.
You can expect to harvest good, edible fruits in the third or fourth year, around late summer or early fall. Test their ripeness by picking from different areas and tasting them. Color and size aren’t good indicators of ripeness, so harvest only when they’re as sweet as you’d want them to be. Grapes don’t ripen any further after picking.
You can eat them fresh, store them up to a week in the refrigerator, 6 weeks in the cellar, or freeze them in zipper bags for use later in smoothies and desserts. My kids relish sweet, frozen grapes like popsicles in the summer! I’m sure yours would, too.
You may also enjoy reading an additional Off The Grid News article: Growing Glorious Grapes
What grape-growing tips do you have? Tell us in the comments section below.