Question from Elizabeth in South Carolina (Zone 8).
Humid Cool Temperate Climate (hot Summers, cool to light cold Winters).

I rescued a Muscadine (not really my favorite, but it was an experiment) and I bought a black table grape suited for this area last winter. I put both in pots as I wasn’t sure where or what I was going to do with them. The black grape has taken off. It’s center is still woody with no vertical growth, but there are two lateral shoots: one about five feet the other maybe nine feet. I’ve finally figured out a spot to put them in, and now I’m stuck. A few issues:

  • pruning – I’ve read you shouldn’t prune the first year. So far so good. Do I wait until after next year to do this or after this winter?
  • height – As I planted in pots, once I place them in the ground the lateral shoots will be quite near the ground….not ideal from what I’ve read up on. Not sure what to do….
  • vertical growth – Does one of the lateral shoots become the vertical growth? What encourages it to grow vertically up the support to then allow lateral shoots to grow out? Does this make sense?

 

My Answer:
Pruning grapes: You are mostly right. The vast majority of growers do not prune the first year, but some growers with a lot of experience will prune their first year. I wouldn’t prune the first year. If you (or I) had that much experience, than you wouldn’t be reading this!

Height and vertical growth: Don’t worry. It’s all about training the vine as I explain in the next section.

Grape_Vine01

Click on the image for a brief, illustration guide to yearly pruning of grape vines.

Training Grape Vines (a terribly brief intro in just a few sentences): You will not get any vertical growth from the stump. That woody core will stay short and lumpy forever. All the vertical growth will come from the cane you select to be your main trunk. Over time, this cane will become thick and woody itself. Side shoots (cordons) will eventually grow from it and give you the lateral growth. This training will take a few years to get into full growth and production. Here is a nice page that explains it a bit more with photos, but I will repost one image: http://grapegrowingguide.com/grape-pruning.html

 

Turkey_Roof03

Grape vines growing over a pergola on a rooftop in Gaziantep, Turkey (about 100 miles from where I used to live!)

Permaculture Twist: You didn’t think I would skip this? You can plant the grape vine in a traditional Vertical Positioning System, or you can use the grape vine’s innate characteristics for you to perform additional functions than food production:

  • Grape vines are, in fact, vines. They are good climbers.
  • They grow fast and far each season.
  • They are deciduous. Leaf growth/drop can give you seasonal shade and privacy.
  • They attract good and bad insects.
  • They produce tasty fruit that people and birds enjoy. Netting may be needed.
  • They have edible leaves.
  • They have vines that should be pruned each year to maximize quality production the next year, and these vines get a bit woody.
  • Grape vines have a high need for nutrients to sustain production.
  • These are just a few characteristics off the top of my head. I am sure there are a ton more.
Turkey_Roof01

A rooftop in the Turkish town where I used to live. You can just see the main grape vine trunk growing up the side of the house at the closest corner to the roof.

So instead of the traditional row of vines, what about:

  • Growing grape vines along a fence to provide privacy for an outdoor living space. You will only be out there when the vine is growing anyway (seasonal… Spring through Autumn).
  • Growing grape vines over a pergola or trellis system to cover an outdoor living space. This provides seasonal shade and cooling for that space and easy harvesting of grapes. I saw this numerous times in living in Turkey. Many people had blocky, flat roofed homes. The entire roof had a trellis system. The grape vine ran from the ground, up two stories, and then spread over the entire roof for the growing season. This cooled the house, provided a comfortable and private living area on the roof, and provided food in the form of grapes and leaves, while also providing stick fuel for cooking at the end of the growing season. The trunk was two stories high and probably took a few years to develop, but so worth it! Other homes had the grape vines growing in large tubs on the roof itself.
  • My favorite technique for a few grapes vines is for people who have chickens and seasonal Japanese Beetles… pretty common in South Carolina from what I recall. Grow the grape vine over the chicken coop! The vine provides seasonal shade to cool the birds in the hot summers. This reduces heat stress which also increases health and disease/pest resistance in the birds. This reduces watering requirements for the birds. Chickens like to eat any grapes that may fall. They also enjoy the occasional grape leaf. Japanese Beetles seem to enjoy grape leaves as well. They have a “tuck and roll” technique of evading predators when they get frightened… very difficult to control in a classic row crop. But, when growing over a chicken run… just shake the vines once or twice a day, and the chickens will be singing, “It’s raining food!” This reduces (not a lot) the feed bill for the birds. It manages a grape pest with no chemicals and requires only a few seconds per day. It is also entertaining! Finally, the grape vine roots will be growing under the chicken run soil, high in nitrogen. This reduces, and possibly eliminates, the need for fertilizing the grape vines. This is an ideal Permaculture system!

Good luck! Send photos if you can!

Turkey_Roof02

Grape vines growing up a wall in the city of Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. I was fortunate to visit this area many times while I lived in Turkey.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://dustygedge.co.uk/roadblog/wp-content/gallery/gazantiep-city-vegetation/shade_grape_vines_2-3.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-FAO86LJ6Xn4/Tn71JD2pWlI/AAAAAAAAAYg/BCUmmWsP19g/s1600/P1000735.JPG
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-vsaULu4rvPU/Thsl1QyO5KI/AAAAAAAAAD8/jZYxTDSoZ-w/s400/P1000197.JPG
  • http://globeattractions.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/grape-vine-bunch-brush-leaves-berries-nature.jpg