How to prune muscadines?

Trimming Muscadine Vines – How To Prune Muscadine Grapevines

Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to southern North America and have been cultivated since colonial times. For owners of these wonderful fruits, knowing how to prune muscadine grapevines properly is a must. Without proper pruning, muscadines are doomed to become tangled masses of woody vines bearing little or no fruit.

Old wood must be cut away to make room for new growth, as it is new growth that produces fruit. Vines with too much old wood will not bloom and bear fruit. Those with too much growth will not produce well either. Therefore, pruning muscadine grapes not only controls growth but also increases the productivity of the plant.

Trimming Muscadine Vines

Before you can discuss how to prune muscadine grapevines, it’s important to understand the vine’s natural growth and the framework that should be imposed upon it.

The vine framework is comprised of the trunk and two or four permanent cordons (arms) and fruiting spurs. Pruning muscadine grapevines each dormant season maintains this basic form. New shoots– those grown in the current season– are the ones that bear fruit. These new shoots, however, rise from last season’s growth and a balance must be struck when pruning.

Grapevines, old or young, benefit from late winter or early spring pruning. The same process for pruning muscadine grapevines is used regardless of the type of trellis they are trained to. What’s important is to begin properly and avoid problems later on.

Pruning Muscadine Grapes to Trellis Framework

For new vines, pruning begins as soon as the root is planted and continues through the first two growing seasons. Cut the trunk stem back to two or four buds. Tie the trunk above or between the buds to the trellis wire. As the trunk grows, clip out the side shoots that develop but leave the leaf growth along the trunk alone. Repeat the side shoot trimming throughout the summer.

Over the first and second growing season, keep pruning away unwanted growth until the trunk is taller than the wire. Now is the time to prune the terminal (topmost) buds back to wire height and let the new topmost buds develop into the cordons. Trim back lateral (side) growth on the cordons to one foot lengths to encourage rapid growth and development.

From here on in, trimming muscadine vines will be a dormant season chore.

Pruning Muscadine Grapevines During Dormant Season

January through February is the ideal time for pruning these vines and the process is fairly simple. Once the basic framework is established, pruning is used to develop short lateral shoots, or spurs, off the cordons.

All shoot growth from the previous season should be cut back to spurs with two to four buds each. Over a number of years, as the spurs keep sending out new shoots, the vines develop spur clusters. When there are too many spur clusters or the clusters become too large, the shoots will become weak and the fruit sparse. When this occurs, pruning of muscadine vines should also include the partial removal of heavily spurred clusters or the compete removal of every other overloaded cluster. Often, these vigorous spurs are found at the top of the trunk and most of the spur system should be removed. Vines may “bleed” at the pruned sight, but this won’t hurt the plant and should be allowed to heal naturally.

Another growth to watch for while trimming muscadines is girdling. Tendrils will wind their way around the trunk or cordons and will eventually strangle the trunk or lib. Remove such growths yearly.

There is one more area that should be covered; how to prune muscadine grapevines that have been neglected and are seriously overgrown. You can start from scratch and cut the vine all the way back to the original trunk with drastic pruning. Muscadine grapevines are tough and most will survive the shock. However, to keep the vines producing while you bring the plant back under control, you might consider pruning only one side of the trunk or one cordon at a time. The process will take longer — possibly three or four seasons — but the vine will retain its strength and productivity.

Pruning Muscadines

Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to the Carolinas, making them a relatively low-maintenance fruit that is well adapted to our warm and humid climate. Gardeners experience very few problems with this small fruit. However, one of the problems I hear about from time to time is low fruit yield. This problem can be attributed to many different reasons such as sunlight, poor pollination, nutrition, or lack of proper pruning. Proper pruning should be done on an annual basis to keep the plants at a manageable size and to allow the plant to use its energy for fruit production versus shoot and leaf production. Muscadines should be pruned when they are dormant, so now is the perfect time. Keep in mind that the vines will drip sap or “bleed” if pruned too late but this does not harm the plant.

Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to the Carolinas, making them a relatively low-maintenance fruit.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2018, Clemson Extension

Once gardeners know that they need to prune the vines their next question is how. To understand how to prune a muscadine vine you first need to understand its basic structure. A well-trained muscadine plant consists of a single trunk and 2 to 4 trellised arms or cordons and smaller fruiting stems called spurs. If the vines have been neglected for more than a year start by working in small sections to prevent being overwhelmed. Annual upkeep makes the pruning process much simpler. Start by removing any competing stems, suckers, or water sprouts that are growing from the trunk. Muscadines typically flower on new growth that emerges from last year’s growth; older stems tend to produce little to no fruit. If the vines have been neglected, the younger canes can be identified by their lighter brown color with numerous brown buds present. Ideally spurs should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart across the cordons. Remove all older woody stems from the cordons and then prune back the stems from last year leaving three to four nodes or buds, which will produce fruit in the coming season. Regardless of whether you are tending to neglected vines or performing annual upkeep it will seem like an excessive amount of plant material is being removed. For more information see, HGIC 1403, Muscadine Grape.

Unpruned (left) and pruned (right) cordons of a mature muscadine grape trained to a one-wire vertical trellis.
SC Nursery and Landscape Association Certification Manual ©2001. Reprinted with Permission

Muscadine fruiting spur
SC Nursery and Landscape Association Certification Manual ©2001. Reprinted with Permission

Edible Landscaping – How To: Prune Grape Vines

Grapes are best trellised on a wire system. Growing on a fence allows you to grow grapes in a small space.

Grapes produce clusters of fruits off the one-year old canes.

Grapes are vigorous plants and need to be pruned back severely, removing more than 70 per cent of the canes in winter to get the best production.

Grow grapes on an arbor to provide shade, atmosphere, and food for your family.

Grape growing is booming across the country. As more people try to grow their own edible landscapes, they are realizing that grapes fit into the picture perfectly. Grapes produce fruit a few years after planting, the vines are vigorous but can be pruned to fit in small spaces, there are varieties adapted to almost any climate in the country, and the plants are long lived, yielding grapes for eating, juicing and wine making for years.

However, there are some gardeners who still shy away from grapes because of the pruning they need. Pruning grapes can seem daunting and a mystery to the inexperienced gardener. However, with a little understanding and trial and error, you can learn to how to prune your vines to keeping them under control and producing well.

How to prune your grapes depends on how you’re growing them. If you’re growing table or wine grapes for maximum production, training them on a fence is the way to go. For small spaces consider growing grape vines on individual stakes. For atmosphere, shade, and as a landscape feature, try growing grapes on an arbor. No matter how you grow them, grapes should be in your yard. Don’t let the need for pruning stop you from giving them a try.

Grape Vine Basics

The key to pruning grapes is understanding their fruiting habit. Grapes produce the most fruit on shoots growing off of one-year-old canes. If you have too many old canes (from no pruning), then you’ll get fewer grapes. If you prune back your vines completely each year, then you get lots of new growth, but again, few grapes.

For the first year or so, pruning is basically the same for each of these three methods. The goal is to create a strong root system and trunk. Plant in spring and prune back the grape vine to three buds. Place the vine near a stake and attach it to keep the vine growing vertically. As it grows, select the strongest shoot and let it grow. From here on the pruning systems vary.

Grapes on a Fence

Once you’ve selected a main cane, allow two canes to form on either side of the main trunk at about the height of your first horizontal wire (about 3 feet). Let the trunk grow up further and top it once it reaches the ultimate height (usually 5-6 feet). Allow two more canes to develop on either side of the main trunk.

The first winter, prune back the side canes to 3 buds on each and construct wire supports for them to be attached to. As the side canes grow, attach them to the wire and remove all other canes coming off the side canes or trunk. Remove fruit clusters because you want the vines to send energy into growing strong roots and a trunk at this point.

The second winter, prune back the side canes so they have about 10 buds on each. The next year they will grow shoots that will fruit. Select four other shoots close to the side canes and prune these back to two buds on each. These will be renewal spurs for the following year’s production.

The third winter prune back the side canes that fruited to the trunk and prune back the renewal spurs to ten buds and select four more renewal spurs for the following year’s fruit. Continue this process each winter. You should be removing up to 70% of the grape canes each winter.

Grapes on a Stake

If you are low on free space, try growing grapes on a stake. Pound in a sturdy stake next to the grape vine and securely attach it. Let the vine grow to the top of the stake the first year then top it. Allow 4 to 5 side canes to grow. Remove all the rest.

The first winter, cut back the side canes to three buds on each. These will send out shoots that will produce grapes the next year. Remove all weak and spindly growth, especially along the lower parts of the trunk. The second winter, prune back the healthiest canes to six to ten buds, select two canes as renewal spurs and prune those back to three buds on each and remove all other canes. Repeat this pruning each winter. Your trunk should be able to support four to seven fruiting canes each year as it gets older.

Grapes on an Arbor

If you like the thought of eating grapes hanging down from an arbor in the shade during a hot summer day, well here’s how.

Make sure you have constructed a sturdy arbor to hold the weight of the grape vines. It may be a two, four or six post arbor, depending on whether it’s attached to the house or another structure. The top can be secured with 2-inch by 4-inch wooden slats that hold the arbor together and topped with 1-inch by 2-inch wood pieces to create the lattice work for the vines to grow on. You may also need corner braces to secure the whole structure.

Grow the grapes, one per post, selecting the strongest cane. Allow it to grow to the top of the post the first year, securing it to the post as it grows. The first winter top the cane and allow it to grow side branches along the top of the arbor. If you let the vines just continue to grow, they will produce dense shade, but little fruit. Prune the grapes each winter by removing those canes that fruited the previous year, cutting back one-year-old canes to five to six buds, and leaving some renewal canes pruned back to two to three buds. The goal is to have canes on the trellis spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Remove any weak, thin canes. You want to leave enough fruiting canes on the trellis to fill it back in each summer, but not so many that is becomes a tangled mess.

More articles on pruning grape vines:

Grape Pruning: Three Systems
Grape Arbors Simplified
Of Muscadines and Scuppernongs
Grape Training Systems

How to Plant Muscadine Seeds

Muscadine grapes are native to the Southeastern United States and were the first native grapes cultivated in America. Muscadine grapes are grown for their musky flavor and aroma as well as the beauty of their bronze, pink, purple or black grapes. There are more than 100 cultivars available, but the only muscadine grape that grows reliably from seed is the wild muscadine grape.

Remove the seeds from wild muscadine grapes, rinse off the pulp and pat dry.

Spread the dried muscadine seeds on one half of a clean paper towel. Fold the paper towel once to cover the seeds and encase in a plastic storage baggie. Do not seal the baggie: You want airflow in the baggie so the paper towel will stay dry. You can store up to 15 seeds per paper towel.

Store the wrapped seeds at 40 to 50 degrees for 120 to 150 days. Muscadine seeds will not sprout unless they have this period of cold storage. Cold storage mimics the dormancy the seed undergoes in winter and helps soften the impenetrable outer seed coat.

You can store the seeds in a refrigerator (the crisper drawer is the best choice) or in a cold basement or storage area. Leave the seeds alone until you are ready to move to step 4.

Remove the seeds from cold storage when the 120- to 150-day period is up. Remove the muscadine seeds from the paper towels and the baggie. As soon as you remove the seeds from cold storage, you must finish the stratification process.

Place the seeds in a heat-proof glass or plastic container. Place the container on a flat surface (you might want to put it on a trivet or coaster if you are worried about scarring the surface under the container). Pour boiling water over the seeds and cover tightly with plastic wrap. This is called stratification, and the process will further soften the seed coat, allowing the seedling to emerge.

Remove the seeds from the water once it has cooled to room temperature or when you can comfortably place your hand in the water. Pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.

Mix the sterile seed starting mix with compost until you have a 50/50 seed starting/compost mix. Make enough mix to fill your seed-starting flat and moisten with water before filling the flat. It should be sticky and hold together but not be soggy. Moistening first makes the mix easier to handle.

Scatter the muscadine grape seeds on the surface of the mix. Cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of compost.

Place the seed starting flat on a seedling heating mat set at 68 degrees and locate in a bright room out of direct sunlight.

Keep the seeds watered, allowing the 1/4 inch of compost to dry out slightly before watering again. Seeds should germinate in 10 to 14 days.

Leave the seed starting flat on the seedling heating mat until the seedlings form their first set of true leaves, usually within 4 to 6 weeks. The constant temperature encourages germination and growth, so do not turn off the mat or adjust the temperature.

When ready to transplant, muscadine grapes should be planted in slightly acidic, well-drained soil on south facing slopes. Transplant in late spring once temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees. The seedlings should be 3 to 4 inches or taller with at least two sets of leaves.

Oh My!® Seedless Grape

  • A breeding breakthrough
  • World’s first seedless muscadine
  • 40-plus pounds of fruit per mature vine
  • Tender skins and sweet, rich muscadine flavor
  • Resists diseases and late spring frost damage

Oh My! Seedless Grape will change the way you think about, and eat, muscadines. Bite into these perfectly round, golden fruits and experience an explosion of juicy sweetness and rich, aromatic muscadine flavor. You can savor the flavor and the experience without worrying about spitting out seeds or skins. Oh My! is the first muscadine that reliably yields full-sized, seedless, bronze-colored fruits with tender skins. And, it’s productive too! Each vine yields 40-plus pounds of fruit.

A breeding breakthrough! Native to the Southeast United States, muscadines are treasured for their flavor and vigorous vines. But big seeds and tough skins are their downsides. Most people pop traditional muscadines into their mouths, extract the pulp, and spit out the seeds and skins—not a neat experience, and one usually reserved for the outdoors. For over 100 years grape breeders have attempted to develop muscadines that are seedless with easy-to-chew skins. After a lifetime of work, developing his U.S. patent-issued methods in North Carolina, renowned grape breeder Jeff Bloodworth finally achieved this long-anticipated breakthrough: seedless, full-sized, thin-skinned, wonderfully sweet muscadines.

Full-sized fruits! Oh My! yields clusters of bronze-colored, 3/4-1 in. fruits that ripen in early to mid-September in the North Carolina area—and even earlier in more southern regions. The fruits usually hold onto the vine beyond firm ripeness—and they hold through rains without cracking. This is a huge benefit for Southeastern grape growers who regularly deal with late summer and early fall rains.

Easy Eating—and Easy Cooking! With Oh My! Seedless, it’s a breeze to making jellies, juices, whole berry preserves, grape hull pies and other recipes that Southerners have enjoyed over the decades.

Long Lived! Muscadine grape vines are extremely long-lived. Some live for 400 years or more! Plant a muscadine, and you can look forward to enjoying it for a lifetime.

Easy to grow! Like other muscadines, Oh My! is vigorous and easy to grow. In our test vineyards, it withstood three winters when temperatures dropped near 0°F. It also resists late spring frost injury. When temperatures dropped to 23°F, its emerged green tissue did not freeze. Like other muscadines, it can be grown with minimal spraying for insects and diseases, making it the best-suited grape for organic production. Self-pollinating. Zones 7-10. PPAF

U.S. Patent No. 9706726. This utility patent prohibits use of this cultivar in both breeding and propagation activities.

The Most Trusted Name in Muscadines

It will soon be time to prune your muscadine vines. Annual pruning of muscadines is a must if the vineyard is to be kept at its optimum production level. Unpruned vineyards may bear alternately, are nearly impossible to harvest, and are also more vulnerable to pest attacks because of reduced spray coverage and poor air movement within the canopy.

The ideal time to prune muscadines is mid to late February. We have over 40 acres of muscadines in fruit production and we will not prune them until late February or early March.

  • An un-pruned muscadine vine can withstand severe cold temperatures better than a newly pruned muscadine vine. That is one reason we wait until February to prune.
  • You may see the muscadine vines drip a liquid substance but this will not hurt the vine. We have 40 acres of muscadines in production and we will not prune them until late February.
  • Thin out dead, diseased, and interfering wood.
  • Remove all canes from the trunk except the permanent arms or those canes needed to replace damaged or dead arms.
  • Cut back all of the previous year’s growth, which is light brown, to two to four buds.
  • View Isons’ Guide to Winter Pruning

Ison’s Nursery & Vineyards is the largest and oldest grower of muscadine vines in the world. In fact most of the top muscadine varieties were developed on our farm.

We are very proud of our connection to the muscadine. It is a true southern treat.

We are happy to help you make your selections and and answer any questions that you have.

Ison’s Nursery & Vineyards offer many varieities of fruit trees, berry plants, nut trees and grape vines. Visit our shop!

Want to make wine? Now is the time to plant grapevines | Raleigh News & Observer

Trellis: Ward’s trellises run the length of his vineyard. Depending on the grape, some have wires running 3 feet off the ground or about 5 feet off the ground, strung between wood or metal posts. “For someone who wants a home garden, this trellis system is … what they need,” he says. Learn how your grape behaves before constructing your trellis – vinifera, for instance, grows up before sprawling outward and succumbing to gravity. Be aware, too, of the western sun – particularly in summer – as it can burn grapes on the vine. Avoid this by pulling leaves through the wire to the west-facing side, ensuring they block direct rays, or with a shade cloth angled toward the afternoon sun. “If you manage it properly, you’re not going to sunburn,” Spayd says.

Pruning: “Pruning is very essential because if you let a vine go as it naturally wants to do, it’ll make a huge mess and you won’t be able to get in there to the fruit and it won’t make fruit,” Ward says. He mentions three techniques. In cane pruning, you preserve the cane – that is, the branch – which has grape-producing buds along its length. In spur pruning, you focus on the buds themselves, removing “no-count buds” to make room for productive ones. Ward balances between the two: “I go whichever way the geometry presents itself,” he says as he works. One downside to spur pruning, he notes, is that every cut in the wood is another place disease can enter the plant. The third method he mentions is formulaic pruning, a mathematical approach in which you measure everything – including the weight of everything pruned – in the quest for a “balanced” vine and a set base count of buds.

Spraying: European cultivars in particular are susceptible to disease and pests. “Use some simple stuff,” is Ward’s pesticide advice: “That’s something else (new growers) need to research, to ask their ag agent.” A by-county list of agriculture extension agents can be found at

Winemaking: Start with a kit, Ward says, and work up from there. (Kits can be purchased at many local homebrewing stores, including American Brewmaster in Raleigh and Cary.) The more practice you get, the more you can fiddle with the recipe. “After you do a couple of those you might feel like you can handle some pH strips and figure out what your acidity is,” he says. “By that time, people have learned how to use a hydrometer, so you can measure sugar levels in the must.” It’s worth mentioning that good homemade wine doesn’t necessarily scale up to good commercial product. “It does you absolutely no good to make a wine that you like and that nobody else does,” Spayd says. “Have good friends taste (your) wine and accept any criticism.” Ward also sells wine grapes; contact him at [email protected]

Classes: Several Triangle homebrew stores also offer winemaking classes.

Durham’s Bull City Homebrew has three upcoming Introduction to Winemaking classes: 3 p.m. Feb. 21, March 13 or March 20. Cost: $25. If you sign up now, you can get a second ticket for free. Info: The store also sells winemaking kits and supplies.

This is the second installment of a new homesteading column, which aims to share information on do-it-yourself skills in the home and garden. Often it will tackle skills once taken for granted by our grandparents.

To learn how to grow your own mushrooms, go to

Flower Type

Muscadine flowers can be either male, female, or self-fertile (or perfect). In nature, vines are either female or male, and only the female vines set fruit. Before there were self-fertile flowers, vineyards were planted with the female fruiting cultivars, and male plants were interspersed to pollinate the female vines. Thus, production was reduced because the male vines produce no fruit.

Fortunately, a few vines that had self-fertile flowers were discovered, and through breeding, this trait was introduced into new cultivars with good berry quality. This meant that self-fertile vines could be used to pollinate the female cultivars, and berries could be harvested from the entire vineyard.

Currently, most vineyards consist of a mix of female and self-fertile vines. Usually, the female vines have a lower and more inconsistent yield than the self-fertile vines, but have a larger berry size. However, with self-fertile cultivars with large berry size being developed, the planting of female cultivars will likely decline in the future.

Male flowers have extended stamens and are missing the female pistil. Female flowers have shorter reflexed stamens with nonfunctional pollen. Perfect flowers have functional pistils along with extended stamens with functional pollen.

Female cultivars often have reduced yields. This is sometimes because the calyptera dries down and does not fall off the pistil. Notice how these are brown and still attached as compared to the female flower above showing a green healthy calyptera excising from the pistil. This prevents pollen from reaching the stigma and thus the flower isn’t pollinated.

What to do when grape vines won’t produce fruit

Q. I have grape vines espaliered on a wire fence. A neighbor has a wooden fence about 2 inches behind that. The vines grow, but have not produced fruit. I wonder if it’s because they can’t get air circulation. I thought of transplanting them, but can they be transplanted?

— L.B.R., Houston

A. There are a couple of possible reasons for poor production. Grapes should be pruned pretty severely to be productive. The home gardener can train grapes on a trellis or an arbor.

Pruning is done when the vines are dormant. I would call your Texas Cooperative Extension office and ask for free publications that illustrate pruning techniques.

Are you sure you don’t have male vines?

You could try to move the vines, but if they’ve been growing on this trellis for four or five years, it may be difficult. You can propagate bunch grapes from cuttings taken from year-old wood pruned during dormancy. Muscadines are propagated by layering. Long shoots are pegged, and once roots have formed after a growing season, the new plant is transplanted.

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