It goes without saying, but knowing how to train grape vines is absolutely critical to properly growing these delicious fruits. If you fail to do these two things right, the results will be an overgrown mess and could even result in a wasted harvest.
When it comes to training grapes, there are a wide variety of techniques and methods out there. The one you choose to go with will depend heavily on the variety of grapes you’re growing, where you’re located, and whether you’re growing grapes to be consumed on their own or growing grapes purely for wine. Likewise, pruning has a variety of techniques as well.
If you want to learn how to train grape vines properly, I suggest reading this article as we will be discussing the ins and outs of grape vine training and we’ll also go into pruning as well!
Get Familiar With Grape Vine Training & Pruning Terminology
There are a number of terms experts use in both grape pruning and training. Most of these terms pertain to the specific areas of the grapevine itself and include:
- Shoots: refers to the new green, succulent and soft growth on one-year old wood, with tendrils, flowers, and leaves clusters that grow into grapes.
- Trunk: refers to the upright stem and is a permanent part of the grapevine.
- Cordons: These are used in both grape pruning and training and refer to the arms of the grapevine that extend out from the trunk. Cordons are almost always in a horizontal position and are placed along a trellis wire.
- Canes: Refers to the brown, mature parts of the grapevine. When it comes to canes, they can either be mature shoots (after they have developed fruit and the leaves have started to drop in the fall) or fruiting canes, which are canes that have the ability to bear fruit.
- Spurs: Refers to stubby and short canes that have grown for a year and have been pruned to the point that only 2-4 buds are remaining. Spurs eventually grow into shoots and can later on in their lifespan, after bearing fruit.
- Renewal Spurs: These are spurs that you cut back, leaving one node remaining in the location on a cane where the buds emerge. The renewal spurs have a very specific purpose, and that is to grow shoots for the following year’s fruiting canes.
- Suckers: refers to shoots that are growing at the lower part of the grapevine’s trunk.
How To Train Grape Vines: Grape Training Systems
The high cordon or high wire system of grape training is an excellent choice for home gardeners because of its simplicity. It works well for American table grape varieties which grow downwards and also provides the option of growing grapes in rows or as an arbor.
The high cordon system consists of a trellis with 8 foot long posts, with two posts being anchored in the soil, end posts four to six inches in diameter, and 3-inch inner row posts. Space vines seven to eight feet per apart row, and use a 12.5 gauge high-tensile wire to support the weight of the vines.
The first year of planting is focused on establishing the plants. If you are not ready to commit to a permanent trellis, tie the vine onto a metal or wooden stake on the ground to ensure straight trunk growth.
Once new shoots have turned into woody canes with a pencil size diameter, it is time to train the vines. Select the two healthiest canes and secure them to the wire, one in each direction, using a rubber band, or vinyl tape.
When Should You Prune Your Grapes?
Pruning can be done anytime between the start of dormancy, after New Year is usually a good time, and late February to the beginning of March, depending on your location. Grapes must be fully dormant before pruning, as premature pruning can prevent the vine from going into dormancy and leave the vine vulnerable to injury.
Pruning later in the dormant season is advantageous as the pruning cuts will expose the grapes to diseases for a much shorter time. Once the grapevines break dormancy, the cuts will heal.
How do You Prune Grapes?
The goal of pruning is to remove 85 to 90 percent of all one-year-old wood. How much you prune is determined by how vigorously your vines are growing.
There are two main types of pruning, cane pruning, and spur pruning. Cane pruning creates the highest yields and best table grapes. Cane pruning can be done on mature grapevines, which are vines three years or older.
To cane prune, remove suckers, and all cane growth with the exception of new one-year-old fruiting canes. Simply looking at the bark will let you know which canes to prune. New canes have a smooth, reddish to bronze-colored bark and buds, while old canes have grey shaggy bark with no buds.
Prune the new cane so they become either fruiting canes for this season or renewal spurs which will yield fruiting canes the following year.
Cut each fruiting cane back until three to five nodes remain on the cane. The goal is to have 50-80 buds per plant when finished.
Renewal spurs should be at least pencil size in diameter at the cut end. Select suitable canes and cut back until only one node remains. Space the spurs as evenly as possible along the cordon to ensure the balanced growth of the grapevine.
Don’t worry about over-pruning as most home gardeners do not prune enough. If you do get a little overzealous, simply take care of your grapes by giving them nutrients and water while monitoring for pests and diseases. You will be amazed at their growth the following year.
As you can see, when it comes to training grape vines, the process can be quite complex. If this is your first time growing grapes, feel free to use this article as a guide for both training and pruning grape vines.
Excited for more grape content? Next, check out my grape vine page for more growing tips, care guides, recipes, and more!