Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tips For Planting Grapes

Planting grapes offers the gardener so much more than the simple pleasures of gardening and digging in the dirt. Grape vines can live for over a thousand years so once you have established your plants you are potentially leaving a legacy for generations to come.

If you are planting to grow table grapes, after a couple of years you will begin to enjoy a bountiful harvest and if you are planting your grapes for wine making you will have many hours of tinkering with a fun hobby ahead of you.

Location is a key factor when you plant your grapes. Sunshine helps the grapes concentrate the sugar and bring sweetness to the grapes, so a sunny location is ideal. The sugar is vital to the winemaking process so the more sunshine the better. Table grapes can tolerate partial shade and do not need such high concentrations of sugar.

Don't Over Fertilize

Unlike most plants, grapes can thrive in nutrient depleted soil. There is no need to enrich the soil with compost as you would for tomatoes or flowering plants, however, extremely poor soil can benefit from the addition of some fertilizer. A good test is whether weeds are growing in the dirt. As long as weeds are thriving it is a good place for planting your grapes. If you have invested a lot in your grape plants, having the soil professional tested can pay dividends.

Plan Before You Plant

Before you plant, take the time to do a little planning. Grouping plants by variety, if you are planting more than one type of grape, will make it easier to maintain the grapes in terms of pruning since different varieties will grow at different rates, be susceptible to different insect pests and diseases, and may require different spacing. European vines grow low to the ground with the fruit at the top whereas hybrids grow tall with fruit clusters bunched at the bottom of the vine, so trellis requirements can be different too. You will also want to try and maximize the sunshine along the whole row of vines, so that none is too much in the shade or more in the sun than the rest.

Pruning Is Important

Because of the way grapes grow, pruning is an essential maintenance task during the growing season as well as during the dormant season. When properly pruned, your grape vines will have one thick stem and two primary branches trained along the trellis. Each year new shoots, or canes, will support the development of grape clusters. New shoots must be clipped constantly to maintain the integrity of the grape vine growing structure.

Grape production will begin in the first year or two of planting. By the third year after you plant your vines, the grape clusters should be developing nicely on your young vines.

Allow the Grapes to Ripen Naturally

Grapes do best when fully ripened on the vine. A taste test is an easy way to tell if the grapes are sweet. If you want to be precise you can test the specific gravity of the grapes with a hydrometer. You can purchase a hydrometer at your local wine making store. A specific gravity of 1.1 indicates a fully ripened berry with sufficiently concentrated sugar for great wine.

Planting and harvesting your grapes will bring you much pleasure for many years and investing a little extra time to get the grapes settled in the first two to three years will bring you many rewards in the future.

Mark Pollack is a grape growing expert. For more great tips on grape planting and wine making visit

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