Grapes aren’t just delicious. They make a beautiful sight growing along a trellis or arbor in a yard. Maybe you’ve been experimenting with growing your own fruits and veggies, and have decided to add grapes to the pumpkins you are growing for your fall harvest.
With a variety of flavors, from the very sweet, to the very tart, grapes are a versatile fruit. They store well for preserves, make mouth-watering jams and jellies, and can even be used in cooking. If you are feeling truly adventurous you can even grow grapes to make your own wine.
Grapes are not the easiest fruit to grow. They take time and care, and pruning can be a challenge if you are just starting. Don’t let that scare you!
Some grape species are easier to grow than others, and if you start with a beginner-friendly variety, you will be an expert in pruning vines and determining ripeness in no time.
We’ve put together a handy guide to help you on your grape growing journey, from selecting a variety to pests to watch out for. Let’s get started!
Types of Grapes You Can Grow
There are over 10,000 varieties of grapes. With that many available, there is a grape that is right for your backyard. Grapes all have different flavor profiles. If you are able, try to sample as many varieties as you can before you decide what you want to grow.
Most of the grapes listed are North American Varieties. These are hardier, and more resistant to disease than European grapes.
When you plant your grapes, make sure you are familiar with their mode of pollination. Most grapes are self-pollinating, which means you need at least 2 vines of the same variety to ensure they produce fruit.
Grapes that require a pollinator, need a grapevine of another variety nearby to produce fruit.
These are extra sweet purple grapes that are native to the United States. Concords were bred from grapes that were found growing wild in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s. These are a seeded variety with loose skin that makes them perfect for jelly and juice. This is why they are the grape of choice for commercial jelly and grape juice.
They are a hardy variety and great for beginners. They grow well in zones 4-9 and are cold hardy. This is a self pollinator, so plant 2-3 vines.
Another excellent beginner grape. Bluebell grapes are disease resistant, grow very quickly, and are great for jam, and winemaking, and for enjoying straight from the vine. They were bred to be extremely cold hardy, and grow their best in zones 4-8.
This blue-black beauty is one of the cold hardiest grapes out there. It is easy to grow, and besides being good to eat fresh, also makes an attractive ornamental.
This grape is a self pollinator. Since it is so cold tolerant it can be grown down to zone 3 and does well all the way to zone 8. The Bluebell grape is a self pollinator.
The first white variety of grape on this list, Eona grows medium-sized fruit. It makes a tasty table grape and is also good for making wine. This is another quick grower, that works well on a trellis as a privacy vine.
This grape prefers colder temperatures than most others, flourishing in zones 4-8. When planting, keep in mind Eona needs a pollinator to produce fruit.
This is a large grape with smooth purple skin and a delicate sweet flavor. It is very good for the backyard gardener and grape growing novice. They make a delicious table grape, grow quickly, and are another variety that also acts as an ornamental privacy screen.
The Suffolk prefers more moderate temperatures than some of the others that are listed. It grows well in zones 6-9. For the best chance of success. Suffolk is a self pollinator.
Living up to the spirit of its name, Valiant is a vigorous hardy grape. It has a blueish black skin and is a seeded variety. It makes a pretty ornamental when grown over a lattice and is good for eating fresh, making jam, or for wine.
Valiant demonstrates its vigor with its cold hardiness. This grape does well from zones 3-8. Valiant is a self pollinator.
Developed in Wisconsin, Somerset is a red grape with a light fresh flavor, similar to a strawberry. This flavor gives it versatility, making it a good table grape, or a tasty preserve, It also lends itself well to winemaking.
Somerset is a self pollinator. Cold tolerant, and disease resistant, Somerset does well in zones 4-8.
The most popular variety for commercial production and back yard gardens, the Thompson’s seedless is the grape everyone is familiar with. It has an attractive vine and grows bunches of medium to large fruit. It is good for a little of everything, as a table grape, for drying into homemade raisins or making wine.
Thompson seedless is a self pollinator. This grape is disease resistant and easy to maintain, but it does not have the cold hardiness of some of the other grapes. Thompson seedless does best in zones 7-9.
Where To Start
To get started you will need to obtain grapevines or seeds. Obviously you need to start seedless varieties from a cutting, but all varieties of grape are easiest to grow from cuttings.
Starting grapes from seed, you will have at least a 3-year wait for your grapevines to bear fruit, not only that but very few of the seeds will actually germinate, meaning you have put forth a great deal of effort for very little reward.
Since it is easier to start from a vine that is about a year old, we will be describing how to grow grapes starting with a vine.
Once you have decided which variety of grape is best for your climate and your gardening goals, find a reputable nursery, and select your vines.
Nurseries typically have 2 types of vines. Grafted, and non-grafted. Grafted vines are just a simple cutting that was planted and took root normally. Grafted vines take a desirable cutting and graft it to the roots from another variety that is more disease-resistant or stronger.
Look for healthy young vines that are at least a year old, and ask your nursery if their grapevines are certified virus-free. When you get your vines home, soak the root ball in water for 2-3 hours before planting.
Before placing your vines in the ground, trim any straggly or broken roots.
Where To Plant
No matter the variety, grapes all require the same thing. Full sun. Be sure to plant your vines in an area that at least has morning sun.
Plant in well-draining soil, with loamy texture. Grapes like moisture, but do not enjoy soggy roots.
Give each vine about 6 feet of personal space. Some varieties may require more. Grapevines can get large root systems, and need the room to spread out.
You can also plant grapes in a container if you have a small space. Place one vine per container, and make sure they are big enough, you want pots that are about 15 to 20 gallons to make sure your grapevines can spread their roots.
When To Plant Grapevines
To give your young vines the best chance at success, you need to practice good timing when planting. For most varieties, late winter or early spring, when they are dormant, is the best time to plant.
Grapevines usually bloom in spring, but they will not start to produce fruit until they are more mature, about 3 years old.
How To Plant Your Grapevines
Take care when you plant your vines. Don’t just chuck them in a hole and throw on some dirt. Dig a hole about 12 inches deep. Place about 6 inches of topsoil in the hole. Gently place in your vine, and throw on a few more inches of soil, tamp down this layer. Finish with the last bit of soil and leave this top layer loose. Water the vines.
Grapevines need something to grow up. You can tie small vines to a trellis or arbor, tying them as they grow to train them to grow up. You can also plant them against an existing fence. Whatever you do, choose something well constructed and sturdy, since grapevines can get quite heavy.
To protect your baby vines from critters, cover them with mesh netting.
Adding mulch around the base of the vines will help evenly distribute moisture.
Most North American Grape varieties are extremely disease resistant. That doesn’t mean they’re invincible. If you plant a European variety you need to be especially cautious about preventing diseases.
This is a fungus that leaves oily looking spots on the leaves. If it reaches the fruit it can turn it a brownish color. Treating with fungicide, and protecting your grapes from too much moisture will keep it from spreading.
This mildew occurs in drier years, coating the plant with a powdery grey covering. Fungicide and silicone are typically used to treat powdery mildew.
These little insects are a major pest for most plants. Neem oil and diatomaceous earth are both effective treatments against these aggravating insects.
These beetles will decimate your foliage, skeletonizing the leaves. You can remove them by an application of neem oil, handpicking, or row covers
Once your vines start to grow, pruning will be an important part of maintaining your grapevines. During the first year pruning your grape vines isn’t necessary.
Starting in the third year you will need to start trimming back old canes. Prune with caution. Grapes will only grow off canes that are at least one year old, trim all of these and you will not get any grapes. Too many old canes and your harvest will be very slim.
Prune in the offseason removing any scrawny canes. Remove any canes that fruited the previous growing season. Leave around 20 to 80 buds per plant. This helps keep your veins easier to work with and help them produce the optimum amount of fruit.
Harvesting Your Grapes
When to harvest your grape is based partially on intuition. You want to observe the color of your grapes, as well as the color of your vines. Your grapes should have their full rich color, and the vines should be bronze, if the vines are blackish and wrinkled, it’s too late.
Your grapes should feel firm and plump, if they are shriveled or wrinkled, they have been on the vine too long.
Don’t be afraid to taste your grapes. The flavor is the best way to tell if your grapes are ripe. If they have their full sweet flavor, They’re ready to pick.
If you see your local wildlife making off with your grapes, trust their intuition. Animals in your arbor are a good indicator that your grapes are ready to be picked.
Do not try to twist your grape bunches off the vine, you could damage it. Instead, use garden shears to snip the bunch from the stem.
Helpful Grape Growing Tips
You will not need to fertilize your grapes for the first year unless your soil is deficient. Start fertilizing gradually, and increase the amount used over time. You can find some good advice on Gardening Know How.
For some extra dramatic impact, you can add other climbing vines on your grape trellises and arbors. For each grapevine, you can plant two other climbers and create a stunning display.
Young grapevines require ½ an inch to an inch of water per week during the growing season for their first 2 years.
It takes time and effort, but you can see, growing grapes is not as complicated as it seems. Find out the specific requirements for the variety of grape you want to grow, and in the next two years, you could be harvesting your own juicy grapes!