Growing grapes at home is a fulfilling and delicious endeavor, but it’s not the easiest of tasks! The most important element to growing grape vines is intentional and informed grape vine care for an extended period of time—you must be ready for a long-term commitment! Healthy grape vines that are planted, trained, pruned, and nurtured in the right way can continue to produce juicy grapes for decades after about a three-year settlement period.
Excited to get started with your grape-growing adventure? Then read on to learn all about grape vine care.
Planting Grape Vines
The first step towards proper grape vine care is to conduct a soil test to see what your earth’s pH situation is way before you plan on planting your grape vines. The pH level should be between 5.0 and 6.5, depending on the grape variety. If it is not within that range, use soil amendments to bring it back within that range. Whether or not the pH is correct, it is also advised that you add plenty of organic matter during the autumn before your planting season to properly prep the soil.
The location of the soil you’ve just tested should receive full sunlight, because grape vines are warm-loving plants and require sunlight to produce the sugar we love so much in grapes.
Next, you will choose the right grape variety that will thrive best in your geographic location, keeping in mind the pH level of your soil. Staff at nurseries or other local experts should be able to point you to the right variety. Once you’ve decided on a variety, you will order bare root dormant grape plants (also called rooted cuttings) to arrive early in the spring.
You’ll want to plant the bare roots as soon as possible once receiving them. If you can’t plant them immediately, keep them moist and in your refrigerator. Right before planting them, you you can rehydrate the bare roots by soaking them in water for eight to 12 hours. If any of the roots seem broken or damaged, feel free to cut them off.
Next, come early spring (after the last winter frost) dig a large and deep hole in order to bury the bare roots beneath about five inches of soil, and so that the roots have plenty of room to grow. If you’re planting more than one bare root, plant them at least eight feet away from each other to practice propper grape vine care. If you live in a mild climate, consider planting the rows of grape vines with a north-south orientation, which helps maximize how much sunlight they receive. If instead you live in a very hot climate, a northeast-southeast orientation will help avoid sunburns.
Keep in mind that grape vines are prone to become infected with fungal diseases, for which the best prevention is air circulation. For this reason, it is encouraged to plant grape vines on sloped ground.
Supporting Grape Vines
As you know, grape vines need significant support systems, but luckily you don’t need to immediately decide what support and training system to go with. For now, all you need for early grape vine care is to plant a stake that will stand about five feet above the soil to function as the backbone of your young grapevine. You should brace the first canes that grow from the rootstock against the stake by tying them loosely with twine or a soft rope.
Watering Grape Vines
During the first year of life of your grape vines, you should water them around one inch a week to help establish its roots. Direct the water into the soil at the base of the plant (as opposed to splashing it on the foliage) and be careful not to water too much. After the first year, the grape vines won’t need much watering.
Fertilizing Grape Vines
The amount of fertilizer that grapes depends on several different factors, and thus it’s difficult to provide accurate advice. In general, you should only apply 10-10-10 fertilizer if and when it seems like your grape vines need it, in early spring. Resist the instinct to over fertilize, because this will cause your grapes to grow more foliage than produce fruit.
Check out our top five grape vine fertilizers.
Weeding Grape Vines
While you should do some serious weeding if necessary even before planting your root cuttings, you should also maintain the soil around grape vines to be weed-free by regularly hand weeding in your grape vine care. Grape vines are sensitive to any chemicals used in gardening, so you should avoid week killers.
Pruning Grape Vines
Pruning plants is extremely important in their overall care, especially in grape vine care, because it stimulates new growth and helps to train the plant into the growing habit that you prefer. That is why pruning is done in late winter when the grape vine is dormant, so that the new growth is ready to thrive in the not-so-distant spring.
The first winter of pruning is perhaps the most important one in grape vine care, because it establishes said growing habit. Since the grape vine is still young, you’ll want to prune down to the healthiest cane, and prune that cane down to the healthiest two or three buds. Once you’ve trained your grape vines (see below) you’ll want to prune your grape vines down to two to three buds per cordon every winter.
If you live in a geographic area with a short growing period and chillier temperatures, you can also consider pruning away foliage to help expose grape clusters to more much needed sunlight.
Check out our more detailed guidelines for how to prune grape vines.
Training Grape Vines
Any and all grape varieties necessitate a support system in their grape vine care, or else they will grow into a mess of moist vines all over the ground, and be prone to all sorts of diseases and pests.
As mentioned earlier, the only sort of support your grape vines will need the first year is a stake that sticks out about five feet above the soil. Moving forward, however, you’ll need to decide on a training system that will dictate the growth habit of your grape.
You can choose from the high cordon training system, the guyot training system, fan training system, the Scott Henry training system, and more.
Learn how to train grape vines with the high cordon training system, which is a versatile and great option for home grape vine care.
Managing Diseases, Pests, and Wildlife
Unfortunately, animals and pests love sweet grapes as much as humans do, especially birds. Using nets is a great way to keep the winged animals away from your fruit production. You can net your grapes when they begin to ripen.
Other animals that might be attracted to the grapes (for food and for places to nest) include squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and more: netting is a great repellant for all of them. Remove rotting, unharvested fruit quickly so as not to attract other less pleasant bugs.
Unfortunately, grape vines are also susceptible to a number of viral, fungal, and bacterial diseases, most of which don’t have cures. Most of the times, if you find wide-spread diseases in your crop, the only way forward is to dig them out, destroy them, and then replant from scratch
That means that the only way to protect yourself from grape vine diseases is by planting with certified disease-free materials from a trusted nursery and applying fungicide preventatively. Because some fungi hibernate in leaf piles during the winter (and then release spores in the spring that infect your plants through water and air contamination) you should make sure to rake them out and keep the soil clear throughout the colder months.
Now You Know All About Grape Vine Care
I hope this post has inspired you to practice diligent and well-informed grape vine care to help your grape vines thrive and produce the tastiest grapes for your every grape need. Grape vine care is certainly a long-term commitment, but one that provides long-term satisfaction, too. Keep reading for more detailed guides on everything you should know about grape vines!