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How to Prune Grape Vines

You’ve just started a home vineyard, and you can’t wait for your first clusters of grapes. What are the next steps while you wait for fruit? The truth is that pruning is the most important step you can take to ensure healthy vines. Read on to learn all about how to prune grape vines.

Pruning a California wine grape vineyard

Why Should You Learn How to Prune Grape Vines?

It might seem wrong to cut the vines that you’ve worked so hard for, but don’t fear. Learning how to prune grape vines correctly will help you to grow a healthy and fruitful vineyard next season and for years to come.

Learning how to prune grape vines is essential to the vine’s health and its fruit. There are three main goals for pruning grapevines:

  1. Keep the grapevine productive and free from disease. Pruning cuts out disease before it can wreak havoc on your grape plant.
  2. Encourage growth where you want it for vines that are easy to manage. Pruning grapes will help the trunk, shoots, and vines keep the same shape every year.
  3. Ensure quality fruit production by removing excess growth and concentrating energy during the growing season into selected fruiting wood. This will improve air circulation, vine growth, and fruit quality.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Prune Grape Vines

Grape Pruning Tools

When pruning grape vines, you’ll have one of two tools in your hands at all times – your tapener gun or your pruning shears. And don’t forget a decent tool belt to keep things handy.

Tapener Gun

The one tool for pruning grape vines that many home gardeners don’t already have is a tapener gun. If you’re not familiar with these tools, they allow you to grab, tape, and staple vines together with one hand, freeing your other hand to position canes appropriately. (I bought mine to prune grape vines but I use it just as much in the summer to tie up my tomato plants.)

I love my Max Tapener HT-R2. It was a complete game-changer for me when I bought it a few years ago; you can see it in use in the video above. You can also get by with budget versions as well.

Max Tapener HT-R2 Plant Tie Machine

Max Tapener HT-R2

Pruning Shears

Hand pruning shears are the other must-have for pruning grape vines. I carry a Feclo F8 for my larger cuts and a Felco F310 for my smaller cuts.

The F8 works great for me with my big hands, but you might want to look at the Felco F14 if you have small hands or the Felco F6 if you have medium hands.

A quality pruning shears from Felco is worth the investment; these pruning shears have stood the test of time; they aren’t getting replaced with next year’s model. Parts are readily available as well, unlike budget brands.

Vine and Trunk Fixation

For your trunk and large cordons, EasyFlex FirmFlex Tree Tie is an ideal solution, as you can cut it to size. I keep different pre-cut lengths in my tool belt at all times when pruning.

Additional Tools

Other than a tapener tying tool and quality pruning shears, home gardeners likely have most other supplies you might need for pruning grape vines. However, it’s always good to make sure you have everything you need before you start.

  • Orchard loppers: You’ll use these for any tough shoot or part of the vine where hand shears aren’t strong enough to cut.
  • Gardening gloves: You might have these from working around home gardens, but remember that grapes can be quite prickly.
  • Curved saw: Keep a pruning saw handy when you run into a tough branch that needs to be cut off.
  • Flagging tape: To help distinguish between renewal spurs and side shoots.

Basic Terms of Pruning

If you are new to growing grapes, you’ll want to become familiar with some of the basic terms of how to prune grape vines. This terminology will become second nature with time, but this glossary will help as you learn how to prune grape vines.

  • Fruitful wood: one-year-old wood that will produce fruit (canes, shoots, spurs, and buds).
  • Arm: branches of the grapevine that are more than two years old and provide support for canes and spurs.
  • Bud: buds from dormant wood that will grow shoots.
  • Shoots: the young stems and leaves that grow from buds on dormant wood.
  • Cane: a dormant shoot.
  • Spurs: one-year-old canes that have been pruned to just a few buds that will produce new shoots next year.
  • Cordon: an extension of the trunk that once was a cane.
  • Trellis: the posts, wire, and other structures used to manage and support growth of the grape vine.
  • Training systems: structures such as a trellis and trellis wire, and positioning of shoots and trunk within the framework so that it is easy to work with and receives optimal sunlight.
  • Fruiting cane: one-year-old wood that will produce this season’s fruit.
  • Dormant season: the winter rest season when the grapevines are not growing but are storing up energy for spring growth; this is when you can remove up to 90 percent of growth from last year along with diseased wood.

When to Prune Grape Vines

Man pruning a grape vine

While almost every gardener knows that grape pruning in the dormant season is necessary, summer pruning is important as well. Here you’ll learn exactly how to prune grape vines in the dormant season and in the summer.

How to Prune Grape Vines in the Summer

While dormant pruning is meant to develop the growing framework, summer pruning helps manage the leafy canopy of a mature grapevine. Summer pruning should be done early in the season, around June, so as to make sure the vine receives all the sunlight and nutrients it needs later in the season.

  • Remove unproductive vines that are preventing light from reaching fruiting canes.
  • Cut side shoots and lower leaves around grape bunches later in the season to ensure sunlight can reach the grapes as they mature.
  • Make sure each shoot has 14 to 16 leaves that get plenty of sunlight. Otherwise, the shoot will not have enough energy to ripen the grapes.

How to Prune Grape Vines in the Dormant Season

Dormant pruning develops the framework of the grapevine and manages new growth. The later you prune in the winter, the later the vine will grow in the spring. However, temperatures below -10 Fahrenheit can cause cold injury to the plant. So it’s best to employ a dormant pruning system between February and March. Read on to learn about the specifics of pruning grapes in the dormant season.

Methods for Dormant Pruning

Spur pruning vs cane pruning - a diagram to help ou learn how to prune grape vines.

The two main methods for pruning grapes in the dormant season are cane pruning and spur pruning.

Before pruning, it’s important to have a structure of some sort to support the grapevines and direct their growth. Most growers use a trellis system with end posts and wires to support the vines. The directions in this section will assume a trellis system or another similar type of support will already be in place.

How to Prune Grape Vines: Cane Pruning

To cane prune your grapevines, you’ll first establish a permanent trunk. Each dormant season, you’ll cut back the plant to at least one cane that will grow new shoots. Renewal spurs will grow shoots as the new fruiting canes. A Guyot training system works best, so you’ll tie grape canes to the trellis wires as the lateral arms.

Cane Pruning Timeline

Year One: Growth

  • Plant your grapevines and let them grow. You won’t be learning how to prune grape vines until next year!

Year Two: Develop the vine’s main trunk

  • Allow one main cane to grow in height, and prune it right above a bud. This will be the permanent trunk of the grapevine.
  • The top bud will grow lateral arms of the vine framework, and the buds below will shoot out to grow new canes.

Year Three: Lateral canes are renewed

  • Prune one or two canes on each side of the trunk over the trellis wire to about 12 buds. These 12 buds will become fruiting canes and grow grapes.
  • Choose one cane on each side of the trunk and prune it to two buds as a renewal spur. This will grow canes that can be lateral arms next year.
  • All other wood can be removed.

Mature vines: Maintaining the trellis framework

  • Prune anything above the top bud of the renewal spurs from the previous year. This will leave a long fruiting cane on either side of the vine.
  • The lower bud can be pruned to 12 buds per cane for fruiting, or 2 buds to become next season’s fruiting canes.
  • Prune a fruiting cane from last year on either side of the main trunk into two bud renewal spurs.
Grapes on a grape vine.

How to Prune Grape Vines: Spur Pruning

When you learn how to prune grape vines with the spur pruning method, you’ll use the cordon system. Cordons are canes that have become dormant and stayed on the vine for two or three seasons. This means you’ll have cordons three or four years after you plant your grapevines.

The cordons grow new shoots every growing season that you’ll cut back from about 10 buds to a spur with at least one bud. The buds on this spur will grow the fruiting canes for next year. This method of controlling growth is called cordon training. You’ll repeat this process for each vine every dormant season.

Spur Pruning Timeline

Year One: Grow

  • Plant your grapevines and let them grow for a year. You still need to wait until next year before learning how to prune grape vines!

Year Two: Select the trunk

  • Select a cane to become the main trunk. Allow it to grow to a manageable height that will allow easy grape harvesting.
  • Cut the selected cane right above a bud. All the buds below that cut will shoot out as lateral arms.

Year Three: Develop the cordon framework

  • Choose a healthy cane on both sides of the main trunk as cordon branches.
  • Train the cordons to each side along the trellis wires. The buds on the cordon will become fruiting canes.

Year Four: Choose spurs

  • Choose canes on the cordon that are free from disease and in a proper position for canopy management. Prune the canes back to three buds: one at the base and two above the base bud.
  • Remove all other growth, including shoots along the base of the trunk.

Mature Vines: Preserving the cordon system

  • Cut the top half of the spur with new growth off to leave one bud above the base of last year’s spur.
  • There will be one remaining spur above the base. It will have canes from the last year on it. Cut it down to two buds above the base as the spur for the following year.
  • Prune away all other growth.

Cordon Renewal

Each year of spur pruning the spur will be further down the cordon. This leaves the buds at risk for cold injury. Furthermore, after about ten years, there will be a long barren part of the cordon limiting its fruitfulness. Cordon renewal will let you keep the same vine but protect the quality and quantity of your grape harvest.

  • Ensure the roots of the vine are healthy. If the roots are diseased, the entire vine may need to be replaced.
  • Allow a cordon shoot near the base of the vine to grow up the framework. Train the cordon laterally along the trellis wires.
  • Cut away the old cordon.

Which Pruning Method Works for Different Grape Varieties?

Lemberger Grapes

Depending on which grape variety you’ve chosen for your vineyard, either spur or cane pruning might work best. Many varieties work well with either method. Here is a quick guide.

What Grape Varieties Should Be Cane Pruned?

Cane pruning aggressively prevents disease, cutting out about 90 percent of old wood. Most table grapes are cane pruned. It can also help a grape variety resist cold injury in a harsh growing climate. Cane prune grape varieties that grow fruit far from the base of the cane, like these varieties:

What Grape Varieties Should Be Spur Pruned?

Spur pruning is the most common method of pruning. It works well for wine grapes such as French hybrids. Spur prune grapes that grow fruit at the base of the cane, such as:

Wrapping Up How to Prune Grape Vines!

Now you know all about how to prune grape vines. The best way to learn is by doing, so get out there and prune. Within a few years, it will become second nature. Still need to plant your grape vine? Buy seeds online.

Excited for more grape content? Next, check out my grape vine page for more growing tips, care guides, recipes, and more!

Travis canoy

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

Older vines that will not produce they look healthy i am going to pull them up and plant new ones need help


Sunday 14th of March 2021

Sure. What's your question Travis?

I would be tempted to cut back the old vine to the ground and just see if it shoots up new growth. You could train it as you wish and you might be rewarded with fruit in another year or two.