How to Grow Grapes That Are Juicy and Colorful

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Grapes are succulent berries that grow on woody vines. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, grapes are perennials that can live for as many as 30 years.

Grapes can be eaten fresh, dry, juiced, or fermented. The aromatic tendrils are an excellent source of fruit. Their spindly tendrils compliment everything from urban exteriors to country manors.

What are Grapes?

Grapes, or Vitis, are plump, smooth-skinned berries that grow in clusters on woody deciduous vines. Curly tendrils anchor these succulent plants to nearby formations. These climbing vines fair well when they are planted alongside trellises, arbors, and other elevated structures.

Today, there are over 10,000 varieties of grapes. Table grapes represent the varieties that are eaten right off the vines. What’s more, many grape varieties are dried and made into raisins. Other varieties smashed for use in grape juices and wines.

What are the Different Varieties Available?

Table Grapes

Table grapes are best when eaten fresh. They are usually sweet, tart, and firm. Their skins are thin and easy to chew through. There are nearly 60 varieties of table grapes sold at the retail level. However, there is an even larger pool of alternatives for those who are shopping for bare-root vines.

Concord

Concord grapes are vibrant purple berries named for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord, Massachusetts. Their tart flavor and rich color make them one of the most prevailing grape varieties on the market.

Concord grapes possess large seeds. They also have thick, easily separated skins. These berries are commonly used to flavor grape jellies, sodas, candies, and more. They have been popular since 1849.

Moon Drop

Moon Drop are intriguing non-GMO hybrid with a rich flavor profile and a unique shape. These black grapes do not contain seeds. Their skins are thin and highly edible.

Like Cotten Candy grapes and other designer hybrids, it’s not easy to find Moon Drop vines. Still, these unique breeds can inspire growers looking to take their mini vineyards to the next level.

Raisins

Ruby Seedless

Ruby Seedless Grapes are reddish-black berries that taste great fresh and dry. These delectable fruits grow into plentiful clusters. They thrive in USDA hardiness zones seven through nine.

Their curly vines can grow 20 to 25 feet in a single year. Their quick turnarounds make them a fulfilling option for first-time grape growers.

Thompson Seedless

Thompson Seedless grapes are your quintessential green grapes. These seedless berries taste fabulous when eaten as table grapes. They can also be used as raisins. These berries thrive in USDA hardiness zones seven through nine. The fast-growing vines also make excellent privacy barriers.

Wine Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are the most popular variety of grape used in winemaking. These berries thrive in most climates. Their dark skins, sugary hearts, and varied flavors make them an excellent vine selection.

Zinfandel

Zinfandel grapes are black berries that can be traced back to Italy. Zinfandel vines produce thick, fragrant clusters of grapes. These grapes are used to make red wines.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes are white grapes that are native to Burgundy, France. Chardonnay vines are highly adaptable. The flavors are profoundly varied.

Seibel Hybrids

Seibel grapes are disease-resistant hybrids that were developed in France. All of the Seibel varieties carry the Seibel name and a number, such as Seibel 10173 or Seibel 14514. They are derived from a combination of four grape varieties, including Aaramon, Alicante Bouchet, Jaeger 70, and AxR1.

Muscadine

Muscadine grapes are much more prevalent in the warm climate in the southern part of the country. Muscadine grapes range in color. They may be white, black, or red. Their thick skins and large seeds make them unpopular as table grapes. Yet, they make delectable wines, juices, and jams.

There are over 125 varieties of muscadine grapes grown in the United States. Popular varieties include Alachua, Black Beauty, Super Pop, and Sweet Jennifer.

What is Best Time to Plant Grapes?

Your ideal grape-planting window is dependent on your USDA hardiness zone. Planting times are also determined by the grape variety and the planting method being used.

In USDA regions seven to 10, your grapes vines should be planted in early winter. In colder regions, vines should be planted in early spring.

Plant bare roots in late winter or early spring.

Where Can You Plant grape vines?

Climate

Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine whether or not grapes thrive in your location. These zones are determined by the average annual minimum winter temperature in your area. You can simply enter a zip code to find out the hardiness zone for that region.

Soil

Sandy loam is the best soil for vines. Loosen dense clumps and remove small rocks to ensure that roots have enough room to spread. Mix in composted manure, peat moss, and fertilizer. You can prepare your soil as long as the earth is not frozen or overly saturated.

Grapes favor soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 7. Lime and sulfur can be applied to bring the pH of soil up or down.

According to a publication in the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies, vine roots have adapted to a wide variety of soil conditions. As such, many growers graft their desired vine to a bare-roots that are known to thrive in their soil.

Sunlight

Grapes need seven to 10 hours of full sunlight each day. Be sure to select a sunny spot for your vines. Sunlight provides grapes with essential nutrients. If you want to maximize your crop’s access to sunlight, plant it on the southern side of your lawn.

If you are growing grapes for consumption, opt for spread out trellises over shady arbors. Sunlight helps fend off moisture-related fungi and diseases. It also enables grapes to develop more palette-pleasing flavors.

Water

Grapes need to be watered regularly, especially when they are young. Water your vines once a week during periods of reduced rainfall. Water should penetrate your vines’ deepest roots. Do not penetrate the soil deeper than 6 inches.

Test your soil’s drainage rate to determine if it needs to be amended. Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford gives some handy tips for performing soil drainage perk tests. All you need is a shovel, some water, a measuring tape, and a timer.

Grapes require sufficient drainage to prosper. If your soil does not drain well, add some sand and organic compost into the soil around your vines. The compost will increase the number of nutrients in your soil, while the sand will prevent the soil from retaining excess water.

How to Plant grape vines in Your Garden

Prep

Each bare-root vine needs to be planted in its own 4- to 6-inch wide hole. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, the holes should be separated by 6 to 8 inches of earth. You will need to place your vines in the ground immediately after you acquire them. As such, take care to dig holes, install trellises, and amend the soil before visiting your local plant nursery.

There are many trellis tutorials on the internet. Growers use trellises to bolster fruit-laden vines. There are many different trellis styles, including the High Cordon System, the Geneva Double Curtain, and the Vertical Shoot Positioning System.

Most home growers use vertical support beams, smaller vertical line posts, and horizontal wires to support their plants. Building a grape trellis is a lot like building a fence. Since grape roots go into the earth in late winter or early spring, you need to install your trellis system while the ground is still frozen.

Place the dormant vine roots in the holes as soon as the weather allows it. Insert the plants in the holes. Use your hands to separate bound roots. Cover the holes with topsoil. Provide them with 1 to 2 inches of water coverage.

Planting

Most growers start with dormant bare-root vines. Grape roots thrive in loose soil with adequate drainage. Your garden also needs sufficient sun cover.

Ideally, your grape garden should be located on a sloped portion of land. Grapes also need an unyielding support system. If you’re planting your vines in an open area, you will need to install an arbor or network of trellises. These can be constructed of wooden stakes, metal, or other materials.

The support beams should provide your vines with substantial reinforcement. The overhead rods and slats should provide a place for the vines to anchor themselves and grow.

How to Care for Your Gape Vines

Grapes are not the most low-maintenance cultivated fruits, but they’re also not overly complicated. You will need to take the time to find the vine varieties that can thrive in your particular USDA hardiness zone and your backyard growing conditions.

If you’re planning on growing your grapes in rows, you’ll also need to install a trellis system. On top of that, regular pruning will improve your vines’ fruit yields. If you have a good idea of your soil’s perk rate and nutrient profile, annual amendments should be economical and straightforward.

Watering

Young vines need lots of water. We recommend using a drip irrigation system to deliver water to your plants’ roots. Young plants require 1 to 2 inches of water each week during the first year after planting.

After that, moderate rainfall should suffice. Avoid spraying your plants with an overhead garden hose or sprinkler. Moist grape leaves are at risk for developing waterborne diseases. Overly saturated roots will rot.

Fertilizer

Feed your mature vines a small amount of slow-release 10-10-10 fertilizer. Sprinkle the fertilizer on the dirt above the roots. Most grape varieties do not require regular fertilizer.

When in doubt, reach out to a local agricultural extension to have your soil tested. Your soil should contain a moderate amount of nitrogen and potassium.

According to the University of Maryland Extension, nitrogen provides vines with essential proteins and growth regulators. Ammonium nitrate, urea, and calcium nitrate are all popular nitrogen supplements.

Potassium is also essential to vine growth. Plants with potassium deficiencies may appear yellow. Apply a modest amount of potassium sulfate to your vines.

Fertility

Most popular grape varieties are self-fertile. As such, you do not need to concern yourself with cross-pollination techniques. Muscadine vines are the only grapes that have solely male and female vines. Always check with your nursery to determine if a vine is self-fertile or requires cross-pollination.

Weeding

Weed around the bases of your grapes. Excess, unwanted foliage can cause vines to develop diseases. While you are at it, remove any loose or damaged plant materials. However,

Your vines should not have to compete for essential nutrients and water. Growers must be very selective when planting cover crops and removing weeds, as bare vineyards are at risk for erosion. If you are planting your vines

Mulching

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, you should not mulch the earth around your vines. Vine roots thrive in warm, well-drained soils.

Mulch keeps soil cool and prevents it from drying. Excess water can cause the spread of fungal diseases.

Pruning

During the first season of growth, remove small shoots from the base of your grapes. Likewise, remove any dead or damaged vines. Discard dead and damaged plant debris in a compost pile away from your grape plants.

A vine with too many buds will struggle to direct water and nutrients to grape clusters. When you remove excess flowers, you improve the remaining clusters’ growth potential.

The Oregon State University OSU Extension suggests that growers prune their grapes aggressively. Start pruning your vines in early spring.

Remove all plant growth expectations for the 1-year-old fruiting canes. Leave two to four canes on each vine. Each cane, or cordon, should develop several shoots. You’ll need to expand the difference between buds to ensure that clusters are fruitful. Buds should be planted 6 to 8 inches apart.

The University of Nebraska’s Agricultural Extension gives some helpful tips for pruning vines. They also go through the fundamental characteristics of vine anatomy, pointing out the trunk, cordons, spurs, and buds.

It may seem counterproductive, but plants produce more abundant yields when they are not forced to spread their nutrients far and wide. Grape tenders usually remove 90% of a plant at the beginning of each growing season.

Winterizing

Harsh cold spells can damage vines. If your vines are damaged during the winter, remove dead material. A well-established vine will be able to recuperate as long as the root and trunk are intact. Wait until late spring or early summer to remove any questionable cordons. Oftentimes, the woody vines appear dead but are, in fact, alive.

Cover your vines with nutrient-rich organic materials. Dried leaves, wood mulch, and shredded bark all help to protect grape roots. Use gardening twine or rope to secure your vines to their trellises. By doing this, you prevent snow and ice from dragging your dormant vines to the ground.

Of course, always opt for healthy, hearty vine varieties that thrive in your USDA hardiness zone. Check with your local agricultural extension service to acquire a list of regional favorites.

How to Harvest and Store Grapes

In cold climates, grapes ripen in late summer or early fall, usually sometime between August and October. In warmer climates, grapes ripen between February and April. Vine-ripened grapes are the most favorable.

The only telltale way to test grapes’ ripeness is to give them a taste. The length of time grapes are left on the vine is also determined by their intended use. For example, table grapes are picked when they are firm and juicy. Yet, raisins are left on the vine till they are shriveled and dry.

The Farmer’s Almanac suggests that growers pick their grapes when they are plump and firm. Color is also a great indicator of grapes’ ripeness. However, colors vary between varieties.

Use a clean, dry pair of pruners to slip grape clusters from your vines. Place the grapes in clean, dry containers, such as plastic totes, cardboard boxes, or baskets. Place the grapes in a cool, dry area, such as a cellar or garage.

Ripe grapes are exceptionally fragrant. In fact, they are magnets for fruit flies and rodents. Take measures to protect your precious fruit crops. Keep in mind that ripe grapes can only be stored like this for six weeks.

Consider lining your grapes with clean sawdust or straw. If you cannot consume or prepare your grapes in less than six weeks, freeze them in airtight plastic bags.

What Pests and Diseases Impact Grapes?

Insects

Black Vine Weevil

Black Vine Weevils are capable of damaging entire vineyards. These small black bugs consume the leaves and buds of immature vines.

Place cardboard traps around the woody portion of your vines. Use neem oil, cyfluthrin, or a chemical pesticide to fend off particularly unruly Black Vine Weevils infestations.

Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetles are invasive insects that chew through grape leaves. These brownish-green bugs chew through grape leaves with extreme efficiency. In a short time, all that is left are bits of lace-like foliage.

Stay on top of beetle outbreaks. If you find Japanese beetles on your vines, pluck them off and discard them in a basin of soapy water.

Grape Cane Girdler

Grape Cane Girdlers are black bugs with noteworthy snouts. They chew holes in a line along the circumference of vines. After this, they lay their eggs inside the holes. When the larvae mature, the vines swell and snap.

If you observe grape vine Girdlers, prune your vines just below the damage. When handled in a timely fashion, Grape Cane Girdlers will not prevent your vines from yielding fruit.

Grape Mealybug

Grape Mealybugs are fruit-loving pests that contaminate ripe grapes. Symptoms include pink fruit ends and white honeydew splotches.

Fungal and Bacterial infections

Widespread infections such as powdery mildew, black rot, and botrytis fruit rot can damage and even kill vines. Thin dense canopies, remove infected leaves, and constantly improve your growing conditions.

Pierce’s Disease

Pierce’s Disease causes leaves to turn yellow or red and die. Grapes on impacted vines will shrivel and fall to the ground. Even the trunks and stems of infected vines will eventually show signs of an infection. Most of Pierce’s Disease breakouts are spread by insects called sharpshooters. Popular management options include carefully timed insecticide applications and pruning sessions.

Downy Mildew

Downy Mildew is one of the most prevalent and damaging vine diseases. Infected foliage typically develops yellow splotches and white mildew patches. The infection can spread to a plant’s berries.

Downy mildew is typically spread through water. As such, growers must cultivate proper drainage to ensure that their vines do not develop this and other fungal diseases. If your soil perk results reveal less-than-desirable drainage conditions, opt for vines that are resistant to this disease.

Black Rot

Black Rot is a serious disease that can impact a wide variety of grapes. It damages every part of the plant except the trunk and woody vines.

Black rot is caused by bacteria that grow in moist environments. As such, many growers switch to drip irrigation systems after observing this plant disease. Chemical pesticides are the most popular treatment option for black rot.

If you observe telltale signs of a fungal or bacterial infection, always remove the damaged portions of your plants to prevent the infection from spreading.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed our comprehensive grape growing guide. These climbing vines look lovely. What’s more, they produce impressive harvests of tasty, nutritious fruits.

Grapes thrive in nearly every region of the United States. They require very little maintenance and flourish for decades.

We hope this guide inspires you to install a few trellises in your backyard.

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