Grapevines can be a blessing. They can also be a scary endeavor to someone like me who has never trimmed grapevines. So as I set out to learn how to do this, I will be researching it with you. We were gifted our vines and so they have become a mass of tangled ugliness. This last year the grapevines hardly grew any grapes. What do I do?
First of all, I’ve learned that I should approach this experience with wonder and a learning process. I shouldn’t be afraid to cut, since 90% of last year’s growth will need to be trimmed. And second, vines and grapevines are forgiving and vigorous. They need to be trimmed to grow grapes.
You can cut them in February, March, or even April since you don’t want a hard freeze to come along and damage the canes and buds. I imagine that is what we will do, as the weather is so unforeseen these days.
If You’re Starting With a Young Plant
When you bring a new grapevine home from the store, it will have shoots growing every which way and a good root system. You will need to prune it. I know, I know. It’s just a baby plant, but if you want it to grow grapes you must. Prune it back to one leader shoot and 3 buds, at the time of planting. After planting it will grow many green shoots. When this happens, and they become 8-12″ long, trim it back again. Stake up at the top and bottom of the main leader shoot.
Continue to keep tying up the main shoot throughout the summer, this will prevent it from breaking in the wind. This will be the main trunk and you want it as straight as possible. Well-tended vines can produce 25-30 years. While some varieties, disease resistance, and pruning can cause grapevines to live for 100’s of years. Even so, they won’t be very vigorous in producing grapes.
First Dormant Cutting of a Grapevine
If your vine is strung on a wire, it should have reached 30″ or more during the last season’s growth. If for some reason is did not, cut it back to 3 buds again. I know, this seems cruel and you may even be frustrated. Repeat the previous seasons treatment. This is necessary for a sound trunk, even though it is crazy and madening. This probably won’t happen because most plants are vigorous.
What if I Have An Established Vine?
Ours is an established one alright. It’s at least been here since I moved into the house a year and a half ago. We haven’t touched it.
It’s inside our chicken coop, so we kind of thought we’d let them eat the grapes. Especially since neither of us eats them. My more recent idea was to learn to prune them and to root them. The first idea was so that the chickens would have more to eat that wouldn’t cost us anything. The second idea was to sell the rooted ones to make some money! Yes!
There are many common pruning methods. It all depends on the region the grapevines are grown in and terroir. We are not wine producers so I imagine we will not be as specific as one who does. We do, however, have our grapevines growing on a pergola of sorts. The term terroir is a French word that means the environment. This term is mostly used by wine growers.
We will be going over the Pergola method since that what is recommended for our area. We live in a more warm environment.
First, what you will need to get started:
- Safety Glasses (to protect your eyes from twigs
- garden gloves
- pruners of choice
- Look over the whole grapevine. Try to find two canes that look well-established. Trim back all of the dead.
2). If it’s small or weak, prune it out. If it is too far out from the trunk prune it. This will help with all the confusion of craziness.
3). Cut off suckers completely. Don’t leave any sprouts below the graft. These will not produce any fruit.
4) Try to leave an alternative cane until last in case you break one.
Shoot Thinning and Training
If you happen to have deep soil and high nitrogen, then you may have no problem with the vigorous growth of your grapevines. But this may also cause issues with too many shoots. Even if you don’t have too much overgrowth of your grapevine you may still need to prune back areas where there is no fruiting happening or where there are areas that are too closely spaced. There is a term called canopy management where you try to maintain a balance between productivity and amount of leaf and shoot growth.
See if you have 14-16 well-exposed leaves for each shoot. This will help each leaf to get the right amount of photosynthesis. Once you thin your grapevines in the early stages, this eliminates shoots that are unproductive and provides light and space for the ones that aren’t so productive.
Trimming back the shoots in June is also important, or as soon as clusters of grapes can be seen. If you notice shoots that are closer than 3-4″ apart, then you can remove them by hand, even if you don’t have a tool with you.
Training the shoots to grow along the wire should be done early in their growth process. This will prevent the shoots from accidentally falling downward toward the ground and or breaking off in the wind. You can use plastic grape clips or Max Tapener (used for tying up tomato plants). Sometimes a shoot will grow where the leaf joins the main shoot, these side shoots need to be pruned.
Before your harvest, you can prune back the leaves on the underside of the grapes, so the grapes can receive sunlight all around them. If you have time to do this, the grapes will ripen faster and help prevent disease infection. I probably won’t be doing this, as my chickens are the only ones who eat the grapes. Ha ha!
This is the part I have been waiting to get to! We already have a PVC pipe arbor that our grapevines are growing on. I would even say that our design is more like a trellis than an arbor. A true arbor allows shade and light to filter through so that more fruit can come about as well as shade. This arbor can become completely covered in two years. Which is what ours has become.
We will be going out to prune back more of the overgrowth around the top of our PVC structure. The process is similar, where you allow the permanent trunk to grow over the arbor, and spurs or short laterals are where you select new fruiting canes from this each year. We also have wires going across the PVC structure. We will have to go in and cut about half of our overgrowth back. Let’s be honest, it’s a jungle!
Tips and Tricks:
- Look over your grapevine well before starting
- Pick out a couple of well-placed canes
- Cut out wood that is not suitable or old wood, look for canes that are small and weak, or too far out from the main trunk. After this, it will be a lot less confusing.
- Leave at least one alternative cane until the end, just in case you break one (this would probably be me.)
- Before typing off any canes, bend gently. If there are canes that do not go where you want them to go, they may be persuaded to be trained by cracking them gently. This can be done by holding the cane in both hands and applying pressure at the point where you want to change direction, until you hear the fibers crack.
Do you have a grapevine on your property or homestead? Have you kept up with all the pruning? Do you have any trick or tips for Our Eden community? Let us know in the comments below!