All About Garden Grape Vine Plants
Grapes belong to the genus Vitus. Most grapes found in the grocery store or used to make wine, juice, and jelly come from variations of Vitus vinifera. They are native to Europe and Asia.
If you are from the South, you may be familiar with Muscadine grapes, Vitus rotundifolia. Native to the Americas, these thick-skinned and very sweet grapes tolerate heat and are incredibly long-lived. They make a lovely, fruit-forward wine.
Muscadines left unpruned can be seen all over the South, overtaking anything they can climb and becoming a vast tangled jungle of vines and leaves. Muscadine grapes are vigorous growers and can be used to create a visual screen in the warm months.
Grape Vine Leaves
Grape leaves from V. vinifera, bunch grapes, are used in recipes from the Mediterranean and Middle East regions and are typically rolled and stuffed with meat and rice. Leaves can be as large as six inches. Grow your own grape leaves for a culinary treat.
Muscadine grapevines typically have smaller leaves and are not used as often in cooking.
Both types of grapes are deciduous, and bunch grapes, in particular, can turn stunning colors in autumn. They grow at prolific rates and you can see growth rates of 5 + feet per year.
Grape Vine Flowers
Grape flowers are small and often go unnoticed. Most grape varieties are self-fertile and have flowers with male and female parts. They will pollinate each other but having more than one grape vine plant nearby will help with fruit set and you'll produce more fruit!
Seedless Grape Vines vs. Seeded Grapes
Most table grapes are seedless, like this popular Concord. Seedless grapes are not truly seedless; the seeds are just underdeveloped and never make the hard shell around the seed.
Muscadine varieties are usually not seedless. Read more about How to Grow Muscadine Grapes in our blog!
How to Plant Grape Vines
Planting grape vines is easy! Keep your last frost date in mind. Potted grapes should only be planted after the last frost date has passed. Bareroot plants can be planted as early as you can work the soil, typically early to mid-spring in your area.
Grape Vine Care:
Soil for Grape Vines
- Grapes can be grown on almost any soil–sandy, loamy, or even clay. Most grapes do not like their feet wet, so plant them on a slightly raised berm or ridge of soil if drainage is a problem.
- Grapes like soil to be somewhat acidic. A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is considered ideal.
- Don’t mulch around the base. Mulch lowers soil temperature, and grapes like to be warm.
How Much Sun Do Grape Plants Need?
- Grapes need full sun to thrive and ripen fruit.
- Look for a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day; 8 hours is better. More sun = more grapes for you
Grapes Hardiness Zones
- Muscadines are typically hardy only to about USDA zone 7.
- V. vinifera varieties have been developed by several breeders, including the University of Minnesota grape breeding program to be hardy as cold as zone 3.
Grape Vine Fertilizer
- Fertilize in the spring if necessary with a general-purpose fertilizer.
- Grapes are indeterminate growers, meaning they will continue to grow all season. Fertilizing in late summer will cause the plant to continue to make new growth into fall when it should be hardening off for the winter.
How Far Apart Do You Plant Grape Vines?
Many factors go into the spacing of grapevines. Keep in mind that some varieties, especially Muscadines, can grow quite large, but most are kept trained and pruned on a trellis or arbor of some kind.
Vineyards commonly leave space for machinery to travel between the rows. The home gardener can get away with tighter spacing. Grapes do need good ventilation and airflow to keep disease down.
In general, allow at least 6 feet of row space per vine for most trellising methods.
Growing Grape Vines in Pots vs. In-Ground
Grapes can successfully be grown in containers. You will need a relatively large pot; the bigger, the better. 15-20 gallons is about the right size.
Make sure your pot has adequate drainage. Your grapes will also need a sturdy trellis.
Like any container plant, a grapevine grown in a pot will need more attention to watering, as the soil in a container will dry out much more quickly than that in a garden bed. More frequent watering may also leach out plant nutrients such as nitrogen, so fertilizer may need to be applied more often.
How & When to Prune Grape Vines
Prune grape vines in the dormant season before leaves flush out. The amount of last year’s growth you leave will depend somewhat on the vine training system you will use.
Grapes produce fruit on new shoots, not old branches, so learning to prune is essential for fruit production. Check out this primer from Ohio State University Extension.
Training Grape Vines Throughout the Years
Training grapevines encourages your vine to take the form you want and is dependent on your choice of trellising system.
Grapes can be trained in a fan system, a cordon system, or trained to an arbor. The University of Missouri Extension provides an excellent publication on grape training methods.
Trellising Grape Vines
A grape vine trellising system or other support is required for growing grapes. Trellises or arbors must be well-built and sturdy and anchored firmly to the ground or a wall. The structure must support the sometimes considerable weight of the plant. Muscadines, in particular, can become quite massive.
You can make a support in the garden from a few wooden fenceposts and some steel wire. Grapes can be planted before the trellis is in place, as long as a pole is planted simultaneously with the grape to give it something to climb in year one.
Take care if installing your trellising system later so as not to disturb the grapevines’ roots.
How Fast Do Grape Vines Grow?
Grapes are prolific growers and you can see heights of 3-5 feet per year or more when grown in the correct conditions.
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