Home-grown grapes can be a rewarding, versatile, and delicious endeavor. In order to harvest a good crop of grapes, certain key steps must be followed along the way.
A major factor in growing good grapes is selecting the best site for your vines. In order to reach their fullest potential, grape vines need a sunny location. Your vines should receive 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. However, the site should also provide adequate protection from wind.
Another thing to consider is the soil conditions of your site. While grapes can thrive in different soil types, any site you choose must provide good drainage. Try to avoid soils with heavy clay content, which can prevent adequate drainage.
It is important to plant grape vines that are well suited to your climate and geographical area. Not all varieties are suited to all areas. The best resource to help you determine which variety is best suited for your area is your local agricultural extension agent.
Plant your vines in the early spring after any threat of frost is past. At planting time, be sure to prune off any broken roots and trim very long roots. When planting a vine bought from a nursery or garden center, you will want to prune off all but one strong-looking cane. It is also a good idea to prune this cane back to 2-3 buds before planting. This will help establish the root system of the vine, allowing more of the nutrients to be utilized on the roots rather than multiple canes.
The planting hole should be wide enough to spread the roots out fully. The depth of the hole should be consistent with the depth the vine was grown in the nursery. Set the plant into the hole and back fill with soil, firming it down as you go to prevent air pockets. Water the vine thoroughly after planting. You should not need to fertilize the vine at planting time.
Watering and Fertilizing
After planting, water frequently to encourage root growth and development. However, it is also important to avoid over-watering, as a vine with “wet feet” can develop root rot. A general guideline is to water new vines every 2-3 days during the first season. Mature plantings require less frequent watering.
Grape vines do not require a lot of fertilizer. One application of a 10-20-20 (or equivalent) fertilizer once per year will most likely be adequate. If you prefer, you can also use organic fertilizers (manure and/or compost).
Training and Pruning
You can train your vines to climb on any number of structures. Popular choices are wire fences, trellises, and arbors. The choice of structure is really only limited by your imagination. Whichever structure you choose, just ensure that it is well anchored and sturdy enough to support the weight of the vine and your grape crop.
Starting out right with training and pruning your vines is essential to future grape crops. The methods of pruning and training depend upon the type of structure you choose for your vines. The University of Missouri Agricultural Extension has provided an excellent article on the different types of pruning.
It may be a year or two before you harvest your first crop. In fact, most vines do not reach their full potential for 5-7 years. Yet with a good start, lots of care, and patience, they will be productive for years to come.
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