Growing grape vines has become a popular hobby in recent years, both for making homemade wine or simply enjoying the fruit. Plus, grape vines look really cool! But they can quickly become a mess if you don’t train them to grow appropriately. Here’s everything you need to know.
Build a support structure. You can train grapes to grow on just about any support structure you can imagine, such as a trellis or even along a fence. One of the most popular and simple methods involves a series of posts connected by wire, called the high cordon system. Eight-foot posts (buried two feet deep) should be spaced seven to eight feet apart in rows, and connected by wire.
The first year. The first year of growing grape vines is all about establishing healthy plants. Simply tie your new plants to stakes to get them started. When new shoots turn into woody canes as thick as pencils, you can begin training their growth. Tie them to the wire as they grow, encouraging them to climb upward. This part of the process is really quite simple, but requires regular maintenance.
Pruning your grape vines. Once your grape vines reach three years old, it’s time to begin pruning them in the winter.
You can prune grape vines any time after they go dormant, into late February. Later pruning in the dormant season (after New Year’s Day) can reduce incidence of disease. The goal with grape vine pruning can sound severe: You want to remove 85 to 90 percent of all year-old wood.
Start by removing all suckers and cane growth, except for year-old fruiting canes. Old canes are gray and shaggy, whereas newer canes are smooth and reddish to bronze in color.
Cut back fruiting canes so that 15 buds remain. You want to end up with 50 to 80 buds per plant. Cut some canes back to renewal spurs, evenly spaced along the wire to ensure balanced growth. Suitable canes for this type of pruning will be at least the diameter of a pencil at the cut end.
And if you worry you’ve gone overboard with your pruning, just continue watering your grape vines during dry weather and fertilize them as usual. You really can’t over-prune grapes! Have no fear; they will return in full force next year.