- Construction of a Grape Trellis
- A grapevine trellis was a must have when we moved onto this mountain valley acreage
- Even here in Canada, we have a wine valley in the Okanagan that produces outstanding wine
- Vineyards are in long rows for easy harvests.
- A backyard grape vine trellis needs to be strong and withstand the weight
- A large fence line is great for trellising grapes, so long as you prune and maintain
- I also planted lavender around the base because we have rodents.
- I look forward to seeing our grapevine trellis over time!
- Why we need a trellis:
- “Rules of Thumb” Regarding Trellis and Training Selection, Implementation, and Maintenance:
- Four Basic Vine Training Options:
- Trellis Wire Configurations and Training the Vines to those Wires:
- Advantages and Disadvantages of These Trellis and Training Systems:
- Planting Method for Bare-Root Vines
- Nursery Stock and Standards
- Recommended Resources
- How to Build a Grapevine Trellis
- Trellis Layout
- Placement of Posts and Anchors
- Wire Attachment
- Things You Will Need
Construction of a Grape Trellis
Grapevines can be supported and trained to a variety of structures. In the home garden, structures range from the decorative arbor to the conventional trellis.
Construction of a grape trellis is similar to constructing a farm fence. The trellis must be substantial enough to carry the weight of the vines plus a heavy crop during high winds. Basically, the trellis consists of two or three wires, one above the other, stretched tightly and secured to firmly-set posts.
End posts serve as the anchor points as well as wire supports. End posts are generally 8 feet long, with a diameter of 4 inches, set approximately 2 feet deep in the soil. They may be braced in several ways. A common method is to set an extra post within a few feet of the end post. A heavy piece of wood or another post makes a good brace between the two end posts. Line posts are also about 8 feet long, but with a diameter of 3 inches. They are set approximately 2 feet into the ground and spaced about 24 feet apart within the row.
Use galvanized wire for the grape trellis. Galvanized wire is durable and does not cause serious wire chafing of young vines. Wire sizes commonly used include numbers 9, 10, or 11. Wires are secured to end posts in various ways. A common method is to wind the wire around the post once or twice and then twist the end several times around the wire as it is stretched to the next post. Some gardeners use special devices to attach the wires to the end posts because they simplify tightening of the wires. These devices employ cranks that eliminate removing the wires from the end posts when tightening. Wires are fastened to the line posts with ordinary staples. Space the wires vertically according to the training system to be followed. For example, a 4-cane-Kniffin system would use 2 wires. One wire should be 3 feet above the ground and the second wire 6 feet off the ground. The 6-cane-Kniffin system uses 3 wires positioned 2, 4, and 6 feet above the ground.
The best time to construct a grape trellis is during the first growing season. Tying new shoots to the trellis wires allows for straight grapevine trunk development in future years.
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Table of Contents
A grapevine trellis was a must have when we moved onto this mountain valley acreage
You might be surprised to find out that you can grow grapes in cooler climates, not just Europe or California. We live in Canada, zone 5, and you can grow both table or wine grapes. You just need to select the right grape varieties for your grapevine.
Even here in Canada, we have a wine valley in the Okanagan that produces outstanding wine
Vineyards are in long rows for easy harvests.
Grapes in vineyards are trellised using wire and support posts. The backyard home gardener rarely has space for this sort of design.
The backyard gardener has to make good use of space for grapevines. For example, edges work well for this.
A backyard grape vine trellis needs to be strong and withstand the weight
Most grapevines can become huge and take over large areas.
Our friends grapevines took over a pergola, and even an entire house because they were never pruned.
Over time, grapevines can become too large if not pruned back. The trellis needs to be strong, fencing works great for that, or any climbing feature like a pergola. You’ll need to learn how to prune your grapevines after a few years. Wine Folly shows you different vining training methods.
KSU Viticulture has this very in-depth post on how to build and train grapevines the same way you would on a vineyard
We’re using our 8 foot elk fence line to trellis for our grapevines
Because our open acreage is lacking privacy, we chose to plant 4 grapevines against our elk fence line for support. I chose 4 different varieties, for table grapes, wine and jelly. Three of them are on the north side of our permaculture food forest, the other to block off the view from the road into our backyard garden.
A large fence line is great for trellising grapes, so long as you prune and maintain
I also planted lavender around the base because we have rodents.
We have so many meadow voles and apparently the scent of lavender deters the rodents from chewing them in the winter. Time will tell if that works!
I look forward to seeing our grapevine trellis over time!
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.
The use of a trellis when growing grape vines is of the utmost importance. Not only does the trellis support the weight of the fruit, but it spreads the grape canopy ensuring sunlight penetrates to all parts of the plant in addition to promoting good air circulation which is essential for keeping down the incidence of diseases which may harm the developing fruit.
Grape trellises can be quite simple depending on the design you go for. You may also consider a decorative option such as training your vines to grow on an arbor or porch. The choice really depends on the variety of grape you are trying to grow and also on personal preference.
Perhaps the simplest of grape trellis designs is what is known as a high cordon system (or high wire cordon system; see Figure 1). This type of trellis can be built with only one wire stretched between posts and the cordons (arms) of the grapevine are trained horizontally along the wire. With this design, you should allow 6 to 8 ft between vines and 7 to 8 ft between rows. This type of trellis is suitable for American varieties and most American-French hybrids as they have a downward growth habit.
Another system suitable for American grapes and hybrids is the Umbrella kniffen system. With this system, there are two wires (upper and lower) stretched between posts. The trunk (or trunks) grow to the uppermost wire and 4+ canes are bent over the wire, while the rest are removed. The tips of the bent canes are tied to the lower wire to create an arrangement that resembles an umbrella (see Figure 1).
If the chosen variety is French then it is likely that the plant will have an upward growth habit and the trellis design will need to reflect this. One of the most commonly used trellises for upwardly growing vines is the Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) system. The VSP system is suitable for smaller varieties and generally consists of between 4 and 6 wires stretched between posts. The cordons are trained to grow along the bottom-most wire which is usually positioned about 3 ft from the ground. The shoots are then trained to grow upwards using the wires above (see Figure 2). It is common to prune the shoot tips to a uniform height and create a hedge-like appearance.
There are several options available to a backyard grape grower when considering which trellis configuration and which training system to use. How do we focus on what’s important in a trellis and training system and avoid getting caught up in the mire? Let’s look at the basic requirements and select a trellis system that has practical trellis design and installation parameters for the backyard grape grower. I have a favorite recommendation for a backyard trellis . . . I will give you my perspective on which one and why later.
Why we need a trellis:
Grapes naturally grow up towards the sun, competing with and using fellow plants and trees to elbow their way up to the sunlight. A grapevine is perfectly happy hanging around a treetop, stealing the available sunlight, and producing sweet grapes up high. The birds and other critters will relocate the seeds, ensuring that the grapevines will exist in the future. Mission accomplished.
Now we grape loving humans come along and see that it’s not very easy to harvest grapes from the treetops. A better idea is to control these far reaching vines in an attempt to maximize their performance and make it easier for us to harvest the fruit.
The way to maximize the performance of a grapevine is to balance the amount of fruit development with the amount of energy-producing parts of the vine (leaves). Having too much fruit without having enough energy-producing leaves will result in an imbalance. This imbalance creates an environment in which the grapes cannot fully ripen and the vine is stressed by trying to provide all the grapes with sufficient energy, even though it cannot. The vines will allocate some of the energy to the fruit instead of retaining sufficient energy for overwintering and for use during the following spring.
We also would like to configure our grape vine such that the fruit is somewhat exposed to the sun and wind. We don’t want too many leaves creating a canopy that is thick and crowded, creating pockets that trap moisture. An open canopy facilitates fruit ripening by sun exposure, drying of the grapes and leaves quickly after a rain or dew event, and allows good pesticide coverage on the fruit and leaves opposed to just spraying the outside of the canopy.
We need to retain the appropriate number of buds such that we optimize the fruit production and canopy leaf density. Retaining too many buds results in over cropping and an excessively thick canopy that blocks the sun and wind. Over cropping will impair the fruit development and stress out the vines. An excessively thick canopy will promote mildews and other diseases, and also negatively affect grape ripening. A thick canopy also makes it more difficult to harvest in the fall and to prune in the spring. The experts have determined that 4- 7 buds per linear foot of canopy is a good approximation to use when pruning to create a crop load and canopy that are in balance.
In a paper titled “Shoot density and Canopy Management for Hybrids,” Tim Martinson (Senior Extension Associate) and Justine Vanden Heuvel (Assistant Professor) from Cornell University wrote: “Aim for 4-7 shoots per linear foot of canopy (if canopy is vertically or horizontally divided, that’s 4-7 shoots for each portion of a divided canopy), and remove secondary buds where both primaries and secondaries have pushed. The result will be a more open canopy, less leaf layers, better fruit exposure – and hopefully more intense flavors and fewer ‘unripe’ flavors in your wines.” This same paper cites the optimal vinifera shoot density as 4–6 shoots per foot. You can read the paper at:
“Rules of Thumb” Regarding Trellis and Training Selection, Implementation, and Maintenance:
• 6 buds per foot (30 cm) is the target linear density for our canopy.
• Internode spacing (space between buds) is 4 inches (10 cm) — about the width of a closed fist.
• Vinifera vines will be planted with 6-foot (1.8-m) spacing.
• Hybrid vines will be planted with 8-foot (2.4-m) spacing because of their typical high vigor.
• Row orientation will be North-South (if practical) to allow sun exposure on the east side of the canopy in the morning, and on the west side of the canopy in the evening.
• Row spacing will be 10 feet (3 m). The row spacing is between the canopy wires in adjacent rows opposed to between the posts in adjacent rows. This wire to wire spacing is important to take into consideration with a double canopy such as the Geneva Double Curtain.
• Double trunks or quad trunks are good practices in colder climates. Retaining multiple trunks is an insurance policy for split trunks that can occur in cold climates. Multiple trunks can also develop more options for spring cane selection in the renewal zone.
• Using angled end posts is a less expensive choice, but using H-Braces for the end posts will eliminate the unsightly wires that run from the end post to an earth anchor. These earth anchor wires also create a trip hazard in a backyard vineyard.
Angled End Posts H-Braces
Four Basic Vine Training Options:
One fruiting wire with one cane trained to the right from the trunk and one cane trained to the left from the trunk.
Two fruiting wires. Each fruiting wire has one cane trained right from the trunk and one cane trained left from the trunk. Without doing redundant math, we can easily see that our bud linear density will be double that of a bilateral cane system, or 6 buds per linear foot. That is exactly our target bud density.
Bilateral Cordons with Spurs:
One fruiting wire. Each fruiting wire has one cordon trained to the right from the trunk and one cordon trained to the left from the trunk. Ideally we would have a spur every 4 inches (10 cm). If we retain two buds per spur, our bud density will be 2 buds x 3 spurs per foot = 6 buds per linear foot, which is our target. This will be true with vinifera at 6-foot (1.8-m) spacing and with hybrids at 8-foot (2.4-m) spacing. In practicality, getting spurs exactly every 4 inches (10 cm) may be hit or miss, so extra buds can be retained if the spur spacing is more than 4 inches (10 cm).
Quadrilateral Cordons with Spurs:
Two fruiting wires. Each fruiting wire has one cordon trained right from the trunk and one cane trained left from the trunk. Again without doing redundant math, we can see that our bud linear density will be double that of a bilateral cane system, or 12 buds per linear foot of row. Quadrilateral cordons are usually implemented on a double canopy (aka double curtain) trellis system, so the 6 buds per linear foot of canopy will still be achieved.
The decision to cane prune or spur prune can be a personal choice, or it may be a choice that is influenced by the winter damage. For example, I like cane pruning because I usually get much more symmetrical bud spacing. When I use spur pruning, the cordons frequently have spots along the cordon that don’t produce new canes, or some of last year’s wood was destroyed over the winter. I don’t always have the opportunity to have a cordon with viable spurs that will reach all the way to the next vine. In this case I may use spur pruning for the first foot of cordon or so, and then lay a short cane down from the last cordon node to fill out the wire to the adjacent vine.
Trellis Wire Configurations and Training the Vines to those Wires:
Now that we have looked at four basic training systems, let’s look at which trellis wire configurations can be used with each of these training systems. There are numerous trellis and training systems available to the grape grower, but for simplicity in this discussion we will select five that are commonly used. We will consider Top Wire Cordon (TWC), Geneva Double Curtain (GDC), Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), Four Arm Kniffin (FAK), and the Umbrella Kniffin (UK). TWC, GDC, and VSP are commonly used acronyms in the grape growing industry. FAK and UK are not acronyms that are frequently used, but we will use them during this discussion.
Quadrilateral Canes are usually implemented on VSP, FAK, and UK. Bilateral cordons are usually implemented on TWC and Quadrilateral Cordons are used with GDC. The GDC is actually a double canopy so each canopy is bilateral cordon.
The basic design of the five most common trellising systems in home vineyards: Top Wire Cordon (TWC), Geneva Double Curtain (GDC), the Umbrella Kniffin (UK), Four Arm Kniffin (FAK) and Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP)
The FAK, UK, and TWC can all be implemented on an inexpensive three-wire trellis system. The three-wire trellis is implemented with the wires at various heights, but a typical example is where the bottom wire is placed approximately 30 inches (76 cm) from the ground, the top wire placed at the top of the post, and the other wire in-between the top and bottom wires.
The fruiting zones for each of the five trellising systems
Advantages and Disadvantages of These Trellis and Training Systems:
Four Arm Kniffin
The FAK is a quadrilateral cane system with two canes on the top wire and two canes on a mid-wire. This system allows for sufficient bud retention and uses the inexpensive three-wire trellis. The upper two canes usually produce larger shoots than the bottom two canes, and shading can become a problem. Leaf pulling must be performed to expose the fruit and the canes should be “combed” down so they don’t grow to long in horizontal length. Skirting the shoots when they touch the ground is also required. If you already have a three wire trellis in place, the FAK is a good way to get adequate bud count per linear foot, but the canopy can become thick and entangled, and considerable leaf pulling and shoot hedging is required. I would not recommend the FAK as a trellis and training system for a new vineyard design, unless the low cost of building a three wire trellis is imperative. If you already have a three wire trellis installed, the FAK is a viable system.
The Umbrella Kniffin
Left: A variation of the Umbrella Kniffin known as “Double Arched Canes” or “Pendelbogen”
The UK is implemented by tying the trunk to the bottom wire and developing the renewal spur zone at the second wire or just below the top wire. Either a bilateral cane system or a quadrilateral cane system is implemented. The canes start in the spur renewal zone by the second wire, and then are draped over the top wire and tied down at the second wire, forming arches on both sides of the trunk. The UK allows more buds to be retained because an arched cane is longer than a cane that is laid flat on a single wire. The UK is still widely used but I don’t recommend it for a new installation. I think you can achieve better linear bud density by using quadrilateral canes in a VSP system. A variation of the UK system is to have the spur renewal zone low in the trellis and then have catch wire pairs to allow vertical shoot positioning.
Top Wire Cordon
Two cordons are located along the top wire. One cordon goes to the right of the trunk and the other cordon goes to the left of the trunk. This system is often used for vines that have a downward growth tendency. Leaf pulling is necessary to expose the fruit, but that exposure near the top wire makes it easy for the birds to help themselves and also increases the risk of sunburned fruit. Shoot combing is performed by untangling and encouraging the canes to grow downward in a vertical fashion. Combing helps to keep the shoots from growing horizontally along the trellis in a tangled mess that shades the fruit and makes harvest more difficult. The reason I do not encourage training with cordons in a backyard vineyard, especially in cold climates, is because cordons don’t always have viable spurs where you want them. This can cause gaps along the canopy and can also cause multi-year cascading spurs that progressively get farther from the cordon. TWC is a very commonly implemented trellis and training system for Hybrids and American cultivars that have shoots with a downward growth tendency. I believe it is a good trellis and training system, but not the best.
Geneva Double Curtain
Left: Geneva Double Curtain (GDC) trellis arm variations
The GDC system uses some variation of a T-bracket at the top of the post. The T-bracket will have a wire at each end of the T, a wire about a foot from the top of the posts, and another trunk wire approximately 30 inches (76 cm) from the ground. The advantage of using the GDC Trellis and training system is that it provides more canopy area for highly vigorous, downward growing cultivars. You can see in the previous illustration of fruiting zones that the GDC system is basically two TWC systems from one vine. Leaf pulling can be more difficult because access to both sides of the canopies is somewhat restricted as compared to the TWC. Installing and removing bird netting can also be more complicated with GDC than it is for TWC. I know backyard growers that are successful using the GDC system. Double curtain systems usually increase your yield per square foot of vineyard. I don’t strongly recommend a GDC system for a new backyard vineyard for the same reasons I don’t strongly recommend a TWC system. I prefer to use canes over cordons, and I like a more easily controlled canopy with a manicured look. I would not discourage anyone from using GDC if they really like the system, but it’s just not my favorite.
Vertical Shoot Positioning
The trellis and training system that I recommend most often is a 9-wire VSP system. It has a trunk wire, two fruiting wires, and three catch wire pairs. I like this VSP system for most new backyard vineyards because it has so many nice features. With this VSP system, the fruit is easy to pick without having to bend over or reach up high for long hours during harvest. This VSP nicely exposes the fruit to the sun, wind, and pesticides. After appropriate leaf pulling in the fruiting zone, you will experience dappled sunlight exposure on the grapes. The canopy also looks like a prudently manicured hedge when the canes are tucked up into the catch wire pairs. To keep out the birds, side netting is also easily used with this VSP system because the fruiting zone is easily accessible and the nets can be rolled down and tied to the trunk wire when not in use. All of the new shoot growth will come out of the top of the canopy and eventually begin to drape down and possibly shade the fruit. The excessive shoot growth can be easily hedged off the top, while still retaining sufficient length shoots that can become next year’s fruiting canes.
I have installed the 9-wire VSP system for several clients. I have trained several cultivars including Corot Noir, Traminette, and Noiret on this 9-wire VSP and had excellent results. All three of these cultivars are described as having a “semi upright” growth habit in the Double A Vineyards “Grapevine Variety Characteristic Chart”. You can view this excellent vine characteristic chart here:
The 9-wire VSP trellis and training system is also successfully used throughout the Finger Lakes with vinifera vines that are categorized as having “upright” growth habits.
The figure above 6.5 feet (2 m) of post above ground where 10-foot (3-m) post were used. You could reduce cost if you use 8-foot (2.4 m) posts with 6 feet (1.8 m) above ground and position the wires 6 inches (15 cm) lower than shown in this figure. Using 10-foot (3-m) posts makes a very sturdy trellis system that will last a long time without the posts heaving or leaning. If you can afford them, I would recommend using 10-foot (3-m) posts a diameter of 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) throughout the vineyard. The best vineyard I have ever installed has 10-foot (3-m) posts pounded in the ground 3.5 feet (1 m), leaving 6.5 feet (2 m) above ground. This is how the trellis shown in this figure was installed. For free online trellis installation resources, check out the “Links” page on my website: WoodsWine.com.
When installing your trellis system, don’t skimp on materials. The trellis is like the foundation of a house. The house is only as strong as the foundation it is built on. A vineyard is only as strong as the trellis you build for it. Use real vineyard posts of high quality, not 4-by-4s. I prefer wooden posts because of their esthetic appeal. I recommend H-braces opposed to angled end posts with guy wires tied to earth anchors. It is also advantageous to spend the extra money up front and put additional wires on. I’m referring to the value of the 9-wire VSP system opposed to the inexpensive three-wire trellis. Wire and staples are relatively inexpensive. The benefit of having three sets of catch wires to tuck your shoot into is well worth the money. The additional bud retention facilitated by having two fruiting wires will give you higher yields than a single fruiting wire. The trunk wire is useful for tying the grow tubes on newly planted vines, for securing the trunk, and for securing side netting.
For additional reading, I recommend a presentation created by Dr. Duke Elsner of MSU Extension in Traverse City, Michigan titled “Trellis Systems vs. Varieties vs. Management: Pros & Cons & Ideas from Michigan.” Here is the link:
As you can see, there are several viable options available for a backyard vineyard trellis and training system. I have only touched on a few. There are several very successful backyard vineyards that employ different types of trellis and training systems. I have seen both TWC and GDC quite often used for downward growth tendency vines, and many hobby growers are happy with the results. In my experience though, I find that the 9-wire VSP quadrilateral cane system stands out because it has so many advantages for both vinifera and hybrids. This VSP trellis is more expensive to install, and worth every penny of additional cost. It is very difficult to modify an existing trellis once you have mature vines in place, so get it right the first time. Build a good foundation for your new vineyard, and it will make you happy for the next 20 years!
Bare-Root Vines Timing Nursery Stock & Standards More Info
Eric Stafne, Mississippi State University
This article will answer the following basic questions:
- How do I plant a grape vine?
- What is the best time of year to plant grapes?
- When should I plant grape vines?
- What kind of plant material should I buy?
Planting Method for Bare-Root Vines
- Be sure to keep vines moist right up to planting.
- Dig a small hole with a hand-held or tractor-mounted post digger about 6 inches in diameter, 4 inches to 6 inches deep. In soils with high clay content, glazing of the sides of the hole may occur, which can impede root growth. In this situation, break up the glazed areas using a shovel or equivalent tool.
- Immediately prior to planting, trim the roots to fit the hole and cut the top growth back to only two to three buds (above the graft union on grafted vines) on the strongest cane. Remove all other canes.
- Stand the plant in the hole and pack the same soil back into the hole around the plant. If you are using grafted vines, make sure the graft union is above the soil line by approximately 6 inches.
- Install a stake next to the vine to provide stability.
- Water the vine with two or three gallons of water immediately after planting.
- As new shoots begin to grow, watch for signs of pest damage that may inhibit vigorous growth.
- Do not allow weeds to grow near the vine row, and keep the young vines well watered. The amount and frequency of irrigation will vary depending on region and environmental conditions.
Green growing (potted) vines should be acclimated to seasonal weather conditions in a protected area for a few days prior to planting. Do not plant potted vines until after the risk of frost has passed in the spring. Be sure to remove the vine from pots before planting. If you are using grow tubes, install them after planting, lightly covering the base with soil to exclude herbicide sprays. Do not bury them too deep into the soil as root constriction may occur.
In most of the U.S., the best time to plant grape vines is very late winter or early spring, if irrigation is available.
To ensure the highest quality vines and a specific cultivar or rootstock, order vines from a reputable nursery in the summer or early fall prior to planting in spring. If you wait until January or February to order, you could have problems with plant availability and/or quality . For example, you will probably miss out on the best rooted cuttings (often termed #1), and poor quality vines can be too weak to survive. The nursery should ship the vines at or near your desired timeframe around planting.
Once delivered, vines should be planted immediately, if possible, and not stored. Storage of dormant vines leads to desiccation of the roots and buds. This will prohibit the vine from growing optimally and may lead to death.
If vines are received before the site is ready for planting (e.g., soil preparation, irrigation set up or trellis construction has not been completed), unpack the vines and cover them with soil in the shade until planting. This is known as “heeling-in.” Vines will remain healthy in the heel bed for up to four months. Do not store vines in water or a refrigerator for long periods of time. Water the heel bed periodically to keep the roots moist but not wet. Never allow the roots to dry out, as this will lead to poor growth or vine death.
Nursery Stock and Standards
Most grapevines are sold as dormant rooted cuttings and are either grafted or own-rooted. Rooted cuttings are graded by nursery industry standards. Becoming familiar with these standards is important to help you make decisions on plant material and can make the difference between success and failure of a new vineyard. For further information see Quality Guidelines for Grapevine Nursery Stock.
A 2-year-old #1 vine is more vigorous and will transplant with better success and become productive quicker than a #2 vine. A #1 rooted cutting is produced in a phylloxera-free nursery and certified as virus tested. Although certified virus-tested vines are initially more expensive, they are cheaper in the long run as this avoids problems with lower production and poor plant health associated with virus-infected vines. Remember, virus-tested vines from the nursery may not stay that way in the vineyard if efficient vectors are present, and virus-tested vines are not guaranteed to be completely virus free. Virus-infected vines can never be cured. Virus-tested cuttings should be ordered as far in advance as possible (up to one year prior to planting) to ensure availability of planting stock. Vineyard establishment from non-rooted cuttings is a gamble and you should consider success from them as atypical. This method, although less expensive initially, often leads to slower growing vines that do not come into bearing as quickly as purchased vines. You can also inadvertently introduce diseases and viruses into the vineyard by taking cuttings from another vineyard. All new vines should be free of viruses, insects, and disease.
Tips on Growing Grapes, University of Minnesota
Planting Grapes, Iowa State University
Growing Grapes, Ohio State University
Ordering Grapevine Cuttings and Plants from Nurseries
Quality Guidelines for Grapevine Nursery Stock
Common Miscommunication Problems between Grape Growers and Nursery Plant Suppliers
Reviewed by Patty Skinkis, Oregon State University
and Keith Striegler, University of Missouri
How to Build a Grapevine Trellis
High-tensile galvanized wire has the strength to support a heavy crop.
Although grapevines will grow on practically any strong support, such as a tree or arbor, they’re usually trained on 5- to 6-foot-high trellis systems for ease of harvest. Grapes commonly grown in the United States are American or fox grape (Vitis labrusca), which is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, and European grape (Vitis vinifera), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Locate a site for the grape trellis, ensuring the location receives full-sun exposure and, if possible, the trellis can point in a north-south direction. That directional position is especially important in the northeastern United States, where east-west grape rows may negatively affect fruit quality.
Calculate the length the trellis needs to be, allowing about 6 to 8 feet between plants of American grape varieties and about 6 feet between European grape cultivars. Allow about 4 feet at each end of the trellis for the installation of anchoring devices.
Mark the location for the trellis, using your calculations for the trellis’ length. Hammer 6-inch-long wooden stakes at the beginning and end of the trellis row. These stakes also mark the location where you will put anchor devices.
Place wooden stakes 4 feet inward from each end of the future trellis row, where you inserted stakes. End posts will go at the locations of these latest wooden stakes.
Put additional stakes 18 to 21 feet apart evenly spaced between the end-post stakes. These new stakes mark where the trellis’ line posts will go.
Placement of Posts and Anchors
Remove the two wooden stakes marking the locations for the trellis’ end posts. Make holes for the two end posts by using an auger. Each hole should be 2 feet deep and angled outward, toward the end of the trellis row, at a 65-degree-angle.
Make holes for the trellis’ line posts, taking out each wooden stake marking the site for a line post as you proceed. The holes should be 2 feet deep and go straight downward into the soil.
Put one 5-inch-by-8-foot end post into each prepared end-post hole, and add soil to hold each post in place in its hole. Place 3-inch-by-8-foot line posts into their prepared holes, and fill the remaining space in their holes with soil.
Place one anchoring device at each end of the trellis row. The anchoring devices can be either 36-inch-long ground screw anchors or wooden anchor stakes that are 3 inches wide by 3 feet long. If you use ground screw anchors, drive each one vertically into the ground, leaving the eye at the anchor’s end exposed above ground. If you use wooden anchor stakes, sink each one 2 feet vertically into the ground by using the hammer.
Put on leather work gloves. Wrap one end of a piece of 10-gauge galvanized wire through the eye of each ground screw anchor or near the top of each wooden anchor stake, twisting the wire into a loop to secure it. Move the other end of the wire piece to the top of the nearest end post, with the wire forming about a 65-degree angle with both the anchoring device and the end post. Wrap that end of the wire securely near the top of the end post, making a loop around the post. Twist the wire at the base of the loop to hold it in place. Cut off any excess wire by using wire cutters.
Attach one end of 9-gauge galvanized high-tensile wire about 5 feet from the top of one end post. Wrap the wire several times around the end post to secure the wire. Twist the wire’s beginning end around the remainder of the wire so it doesn’t come undone. The section of wire needs to be longer than the trellis’ length.
Secure the same 9-gauge wire to each line post by using galvanized wire staples. Hammer each staple over the wire and into a post, ensuring it is possible for the wire to slide within the staple, allowing the wire to be retightened each year.
Secure the 9-gauge wire to the trellis’ other end post by wrapping it around that end post several times. Bring the wire’s end to the inside of the post, and twist the wire’s end portion around the wire’s horizontal part several times. Cut off excess wire with the wire cutters.
Attach a second strand of wire to the end posts and line posts, if desired, but use 12-gauge galvanized high-tensile wire and place it 30 inches below the 9-gauge galvanized high-tensile wire. Attach the 12-gauge wire to the posts in the same way you attached the 9-gauge wire.
Things You Will Need
- Tape measure
- Wooden stakes, 6 inches long
- 2 end posts, 5 inches by 8 feet
- Line posts, 3 inches by 8 feet
- 36-inch-long ground screw anchors or 3-inch-by-3 foot wooden anchor stakes
- Leather work gloves
- Galvanized wire, 10 gauge
- Wire cutters
- Galvanized high-tensile wire, 9 gauge
- Galvanized wire staples
- Galvanized high-tensile wire, 12 gauge (optional)
Allow at least 9 feet of space between trellises when more than one trellis is needed. Put a trellis in place during the first year grapes are planted so they can grow into the trellis. In warm-winter areas, a single-wire trellis creates a somewhat spread-out canopy that protects fruits from overheating. Use rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood.