Training and Pruning Grapes

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Training and Pruning Grapes

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Bunchgrapes_lowres.jpg (170x234 -- 7673 bytes)This section covers the popular cordon methods of pruning grapes.

Training methods include the European head pruning method for limited space or for dealing with an overgrown or neglected vine.

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Training and Pruning Grapes

Arbor Pruning and Training

An arbor is the best way to train grapes for home gardening.  A grape arbor can be a family project -its construction, planting of the grape vines, pruning, harvesting and of course, eating the fruit.

grape2.jpeg (200x246 -- 8778 bytes)At planting, grapes should be pruned back to two buds. Do not prune muscadines. As the vine begins to grow, select the strongest cane and train it up the arbor post, figure 2. All side canes should be tipped to simulate the trunk. During the second and third year, allow one trunk to develop, with all the side canes pruned off as they develop. A single cane should be selected to grow across the arbor to form the cordon.

Grapes can be grown even in very little space. One vine could be used in a cubic yard of soil with a small amount of direct sunlight. A standard arbor as illustrated here could be established in an 8' x 8' area. Larger arbors could be developed as desired.  Grapes and muscadines can be grown on an unpruned natural arbor or a well pruned maintained arbor. Each could be trellised onto the type of structure illustrated in figures 3, 4 and 5.

grape3.jpeg (300x240 -- 11712 bytes)The natural arbor is permitted to grow randomly, forming a thick mass of canes. There is very little upkeep and the vines produce a dense shade. Since the vines are not pruned annually, there would be significantly fewer grapes produced.

The maintained arbor is covered by vines which are pruned to a two-bud spur-type cordon, figures 3, 4 and 5. Prune vines in February or March to a single cordon. Each spur should be pruned to contain two or three buds. Figures 3, 4 and 5 show three mature vines pruned to a cordon system. Grapes should be pruned in this manner every year in February or March. Muscadines should be pruned in November or December to reduce bleeding.

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First Year
Build a simple, strong trellis or arbor with one or two wires between posts. This is called a cordon trellis. During training, the trunk(s) and fruiting canes will be attached to the trellis wire with a loop of small rope. If only one wire of the trellis is used to support the fruiting canes, the lower wire may be used to hold a drip irrigation line. Be sure to brace the end posts so that the trellis can bear the weight of fully mature vines loaded with fruit and buffeted by wind. A good brace may be made by placing a strong loop of wire around the post and through a post anchor installed in the ground, and then twisting the wire around itself it in the center. During the first growing season, the vines should be allowed to produce as much growth as they can without being trained to the trellis.

Second Year
The first winter after planting, cut the vine back to one or two healthy canes which arise below (for non-grafted vines) or slightly above (for grafted vines) the ground. If two canes are left and one dies, then the entire plant is not lost. These canes will become the trunks. Cut them back to three or four buds. Hang a durable string from the top wire of the cordon down toward the plant. Use two strings about six inches apart, if you are going to train two trunks. As new growth begins, it will be trained up these strings to the wire. All canes which are pruned off need to be removed from the vineyard to help prevent disease and insect problems.

During the following growing season, allow only the strongest shoot from each trunk to grow. Remove other shoots about once a month. Also remove any flowers or fruit so that the young vine will not be weakened. Train the trunks up the strings until they reach the top wire. If there are two trunks, train one in each direction along the wire, tying them loosely with cotton or hemp string. If there is only one trunk, pinch the end of the shoot and allow it to form two branches to train onto the wire. The shoots trained on the wire are called the fruiting canes.

Third Year
During the winter, remove all the lateral growth from the trunk and the fruiting canes with hand pruners. The next growing season, allow the vine to grow as much as it can. The vines may be allowed to bear a small amount of fruit this year, if they are strong enough. If you plan to grow fruit this year, you should leave some renewal spurs at pruning time, as described below.

Fourth Year
During the winter, cut off all the canes except the fruiting canes and two others which originate very near where the trunk meets the wire. These two canes, or renewal spurs, will form the new fruiting canes during the following year. Cut them back to three or four buds each. During the summer, train the main shoot from each of these along the trellis wire and tie them loosely in place. The vines should be in full production this summer.

Fifth and Following Years
During the winter, remove the old fruiting canes. Cut back all the lateral growth on the new fruiting canes to two or three buds. These spurs will bear fruit the following year. Also remove all the other canes, except for two new renewal spurs. If the vine is weak, leave fewer buds. If the vine is vigorous and produced a good crop, more buds may be left. This part of the art of pruning comes with experience.

Alternate Head Pruning Method

headprune2.jpg (176x250 -- 8298 bytes) This one is trained like a tree - a European method to get lots of grapes in a small area.  You could go this route from the start - to have them be productive in a limited amount of space
. You can also use the heading back method to tame an overgrown neglected vine and reroute it into the cordon method described above.  

  • in the winter, remove all but 3-6 of the best canes, keeping the ones that are evenly placed around the top of the trunk
  • then cut those canes back to 2-4 buds each
  • most of the buds will become fruiting spurs next year, but some will grow into new canes
  • each year select a few new canes that grew from the spurs or that have appeared directly from the trunk and repeat the cutting back to 2-4 buds process
  • as the vine gets older, you can gradually allow more spurs to develop

For an overgrown vine that you would like to train into the cordon method, do the heading back as described above, but go for a flattened form of head pruning.   Keep more main canes, at least 6, that are on the same plane, and the ones that will lie flattest against the supports - so that the remaining smaller canes and spurs you leave on it are heading outwards from the main trunk.   Select canes that would be the best to tie to the new horizontal supports you put in place, choosing the most pliable, straightest, untangled canes to train out horizontally from this basic form.  Prune back to at least 4 buds on each cane to help ensure the vine survives this drastic pruning.

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