- Propagating Grapes from Hardwood Cuttings
- Propagating Grapes from Greenwood Cuttings
- Propagating Grapes by Layering
- Propagating Grapes by Grafting
- Growing Grapes from Seed
- How to Grow Grape Vines From Green or Softwood Cuttings
- Planting Vines
- Rooting Grapevines: Tips For Transplanting Grapevines And Grapevine Propagation
- Can You Transplant Grapevines?
- Grapevine Transplant Info
- How to Propagate Grapevines
- Growing Grapes In Shallow Soil
- Digging into the roots of a vineyard
Propagating Grapes from Hardwood Cuttings
Grapes are one of the easiest plants to propagate at home. Each year, grapes need to be pruned back in the late fall and winter to ensure a good crop the following year. Those cuttings are often thrown away, but with just a bit of effort, you can turn those discards into hundreds of new plants. In many cases, just taking a dormant cutting with a few buds attached and sticking it in the ground will suffice to start a whole new plant.
While propagating grapes from hardwood cuttings is by far the easiest and most economical way, there are five different ways to successfully propagate grapes. I’m going to take you through all 5 methods, and explain why you would choose each method.
A tray of grafted grapevines breaking bud for the first time. By Grafted Vines (CCBYSA)
The five ways to propagate grapes include:
- Hardwood Cuttings – Using dormant wood pruned off in the fall or winter.
- Greenwood Cuttings – Best used in the growing season to multiply plants quickly.
- Grafting – Used by vineyards when specialized rootstock is required for disease resistance.
- Layering – Used to fill in blank spots in a row or by home gardeners to expand a grape patch.
- Growing from Seed – Not used commercially because grape varieties don’t come true to seed, but it can be a fun to experiment and create new varieties.
Hardwood propagation is the most common method, though there are a select few types of grapes that cannot be propagated using hardwood cuttings, like muscadine grapes. Each year during the dormant season, grapes should be pruned to ensure a healthy crop the following year. Grape vines can get leggy, and if the ratio of top wood to roots is too high, then the roots will not be able to feed all the grapes. By pruning the vines, you ensure that the grapes produced are large, healthy and sweet.
The discarded cuttings from a single vine can be used to produce dozens of new plants each year.
Propagation of grape vines by hardwood cuttings. Photo by Mark Shirley (CCBY)
Cuttings 12-18 inches in length with 3 or more buds are taken from dormant plants in the fall or winter. The hardwood cuttings are stored in a cold moist environment until the beginning of the growing season.
Shortly before the beginning of the growing season, the grape cuttings are either calloused to induce root growth or simply dipped in rooting hormone and placed in the soil.
To callus the cuttings, they’re exposed to prolonged moist heat to cause the cut base to begin to heal and generate stemcell like tissue that can develop into roots. This can be tricky, and if done incorrectly the cuttings can either mold or sprout prematurely. For better results, dip them into rooting hormone before planting them 2 to 3 inches deep in moist potting soil.
Keep the soil moist, and you should see sprouts within a few weeks. Allow your cuttings to get established and firmly rooted in pots before transplanting them outdoors in the early to mid-summer.
Cuttings using dormant wood should have an 80% or greater success rate.
Greenwood breaking bud on a grapevine
Propagating Grapes from Greenwood Cuttings
Greenwood cuttings, or cuttings from actively growing vines, can also be used for propagation. Greenwood cuttings have the potential to dry out and are a less reliable method for beginners. There are a few reasons why you might choose to propagate from greenwood cuttings:
- You want to begin propagation and it’s the summer
- A friend or neighbor offers you greenwood cuttings during the growing season
- You want to propagate a lot of grapes in a single year (once established and growing you can take cuttings from your cuttings and produce literally thousands of individual plants in a single year)
- You’re trying to grow a type of grape that doesn’t grow successfully from hardwood cuttings. Some examples include muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) or pigeon grapes (Vitis aestivalis) which have a 1-2% success rate from dormant cuttings but roughly 70% success rate from green cuttings)
Cuttings about 4-6 inches long should be taken during the late spring until late summer from healthy grape vines. All but a single leaf is removed to minimize water loss. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant the greenwood cutting in potting soil. Keep your plant in a warm, humid environment.
Grape plants started from greenwood cuttings should begin to develop roots in 1-2 weeks.
Propagating Grapes by Layering
Layering means burying a portion of an established grapevine until it takes root. It’s a quick way to produce a few new vines during the growing season, and maybe the easiest method for the home gardener just wanting 2 or 3 new plants. Layering is occasionally used in a commercial setting to use a neighboring vine to replace a dead vine within a row.
Choose a parent grape plant and bend a young, still flexible 1 to 3-year-old vine near the ground level until it reaches the ground. Burry a portion of the vine beneath the soil, ensuring that you bury at least 1 node. The nodes are where new roots are most likely to form when buried. Make sure that the end of the vine is left above ground to continue growing.
The new grape plant should form roots within a few months and can be separated from the parent plant once it is well rooted.
A tray of grafted grapevines breaking bud for the first time. By Grafted Vines (CCBYSA)
Propagating Grapes by Grafting
Since grapes are willing to root from cuttings, grafting is not often used by home growers. There are occasions when a commercial grower has a particularly desirable grape variety and wants to establish them on more vigorous or disease resistant rootstock. Grafting can also be a good way to quickly replace an established vine with a more desirable variety. If you have an established grapevine, but don’t like the taste, cut it back to the ground and graft on new dormant grape wood. This process is a lot like propagating from hardwood cuttings, but instead of placing the cutting in the ground you’re taping it onto a cut portion of an existing grapevine. Use grafting tape to attach the cut end of your new grape cutting to an established root. If your rootstock has several wounds, you can try grafting a number of pieces of grape wood onto the same rootstock as is shown below.
Graft union on grafted grape vines. Photo By W. Carter (CCBYSA)
Detailed instructions for grafting grapes can be found here: Home guides: How to Graft Grapes onto Root Stock
Growing Grapes from Seed
Grapes are generally propagated “clonally” so that they are “true to type.” Grapes can be propagated from seed, but they will not be identical to the parent plant. Growing grapes from seed is an important tool for grape breeders and those interested in developing their own variety or grape. It can also be a fun experiment for the home gardener, because you never quite know what you’ll get.
Red wine grape pomace after pressing is full of viable seeds. Photo By davitydave (CCBY)
Grape seeds can be collected from seeded grapes, cleaned and stored in a moist paper towel or directly in soil in the refrigerator for 3 months. After cold stratification in the fridge, the grape seed can be planted in the spring and will germinate into new plants.
How to Grow Grape Vines From Green or Softwood Cuttings
Nowadays, most grapes are grown from cuttings. If you grow these plants from cuttings, you will find it easier than getting started from grape seeds. You can start from dormant or green cuttings. Although dormant is the more commonly used than green cuttings, green cuttings are used for grape variety that don’s root well when using the dormant cuttings.
The common varieties that were grown from soft or green cuttings are Vitis aestivalis or Vitis lincecumii or the Muscadine grapes. Planting Muscadine grapes from cuttings has a higher success rate than growing dormant cuttings. The success rate of this variety when using the soft cuttings is about seventy to eighty percent compared to one to two percent if you make use of its dormant woods.
The use of green cuttings is also beneficial when you want to propagate a suitable variety. It is quicker than using the dormant cuttings.
When choosing your green cut, you can make use of any healthy growing shoot or cane. But you must avoid the canes that are starting to harden and begin to turn into brown color. These characteristics indicate that the cane stopped growing. The best time to take green cuttings is early spring time to give the young vines time to mature.
The cuttings must be four to six inches long. Make sure that two or three leaves are with the cutting. You have to remove the extra leaves; if you notice a large leaf in the cutting, you must cut it into half. Remember, a cutting without any leaf will seldom develop roots.
After removing the softwood, you have to place the root in a mist bench that is connected to a heat cable. This is important to maintain the temperature at eighty five percent degree Fahrenheit heat in the root part. If you do this method correctly, you will notice that small roots will start to pop out in six to nine days; your pots must be ready before this happens.
Once you have potted your vines, you have to keep them under high humidity or mist for a couple of days until the roots can protect the plants from sagging or wilting. If you put the vines inside your greenhouse, this will hasten the root growth and the new vine can eventually provide you with more shoots that can be used for cuttings in two to three weeks time. By doing this method you are assured that your cuttings can multiply and become hundreds or thousand after six weeks.
If you do not have a greenhouse, you can make use of a big black plastic pot that has clear plastic cover and maybe supported with wires. It is also better to use glass cover; this will create greenhouse effect to your cuttings. Take note that vines presented with constant heat root faster.
When your plants are ready for planting, you have to make sure you have prepared the soil and other materials for growing your grape vines. While your vines from dormant cuttings need to be exposed to sunlight directly, it is not the same with the vine derived from green cuttings. Vines from soft or green cuttings require additional protection when planted in your vineyard.
You have to be certain that the vines will be initially shaded to prevent them from direct sunlight until they can properly withstand such atmosphere.
Establishing a vineyard is an exciting and rewarding adventure. Like all of life’s challenges, your success or failure will be dictated by the amount of research, planning, effort and perseverance you exhibit throughout the process. If you’ve read my last few articles you know one thing is certain — there’s a lot to do before putting vines into the ground. Your vineyard “system” needs to be in perfect working condition before vines can be planted. You need to install the trellising and install and test the irrigation equipment. The soil needs to be tested. In addition, vineyard pests need to be held in check. Installing a vineyard is not something you do on a whim some weekend.
Before planting a vineyard, it is advisable to talk to a local horticulturist or nurseryman about how grapevines will grow in your specific locale. Ply the local experts with kindness and wine, and ask every question you can come up with. You may also need to ply some friends with beer to get them to help out over the growing season. As my favorite wine-country truism goes, “It takes a lot of beer to make wine.”
Ordering dormant vines
I suggest that you plant dormant grapevines because they establish themselves — start growing and adapting — in the piece of ground where they are going to live permanently. Green-growing grapevines were raised in a sheltered environment and often die in the field from exposure or shock. While many wilted green-growing vines will sprout secondary buds and do fine in the long run, my experience has shown me that dormant vines are clearly the smart choice for planting material.
Purchase dormant vines early to make sure the nursery has the exact materials you are looking for. Ordering early assures you don’t have to settle for “leftovers.” I recommend you order dormant grapevines up to one year before planting. A good grapevine nursery wants to know what their customers need in advance. This knowledge aids them in deciding what scion material — sometimes called clone material — to graft onto rootstock to prepare orders. Vines that are going to be planted in an area with known soil pests, such as nematodes or phylloxera, are commonly planted on hardy, disease-resistant rootstocks. These rootstocks are bred from native vines, which are resistant to American soil pests. Call a good nursery at least a few months before spring and let them know how many vines you will need. Be sure to specify that you want to purchase dormant grapevines. Make sure the type (cultivar) of vines you order —Norton, Chardonnay, Merlot or whatever variety you choose — are appropriate for your climate and vineyard.
Order ten percent more vines than you think you will need. The extras will come in handy in case you need a few extra or miscounted. It’s easy to plant them, according to the directions below — but at two-foot by two-foot spacing, in an out-of-the-way corner of your vineyard. The following year you can dig them up, trim the roots and growth, and use them to replace the vines that didn’t take in the “official” vineyard.
Call the nursery every few months and give them updates on when you’d like the dormant vines taken out of cold storage and delivered. The best time for delivery is usually in the spring after the possibility of hard frosts has passed. Dormant vines are usually dug up deep in dormancy (during the winter), trimmed, and then bundled into 20–25 vine bunches, tied together and bagged. The bags of grapevines are filled with moist wood chips and put in a large wooden crate that is also filled with moist wood chips.
Plant after the worst threat of frost is over and the ground begins to warm. In California, this is usually around March or April, but will obviously be later for cooler parts of the continent. Deciding when to plant is tricky. The earlier you plant, the more growth you will get in the first year, but there will also be a greater chance of frost damage. You can plant grapevines all the way through late spring to early summer, so don’t rush it. You can even plant in June or July, but you won’t get as much growth your first year. A vineyard is a long-term investment, so there’s no reason to put the vines in the ground until you and the soil are absolutely ready.
Dormant grapevines are vines that have been grafted to rootstock, or grown on their own roots, at least a year previously. The grapevines were put in the soil and allowed to callous and grow for a season. They were then taken out of the ground, trimmed, placed in moist wood shavings, and put in cold storage in bundles for delivery to vineyards.
The cold temperatures in storage — usually about 35–40° F (1.6–4.4° C ) — give the vines their “chilling requirement” as well as keeping them from growing before they are planted. For a vine to have successful budbreak and to be fruitful, it needs 250 hours per winter below 45° F, although many regions get over 800 hours of chilling.
Most dormant grapevines are already two to four years old, and are fairly hearty, with trunks almost as thick as a man’s finger. When your vines arrive, I suggest you cut a few up in front of the driver or salesman to show you are serious. Make sure the center of the vine still shows green tissue. The vines should bend and not snap like a dry stick. Ensure there are uniform, bulging calluses at the graft union. Hold the bulging top of the vine — where the last year’s growth has been trimmed to a single “spur” — and bend it gently back and forth to make sure it is still green and elastic. Dormant vines that break at the graft union — where rootstock meets the clone wood or scion wood — are of poor quality and will provide more headaches than pleasure.
When you sign the invoice saying you have received the vines in good condition, make sure you feel comfortable that your vines are of acceptable quality. Many times vines sold to home vineyards are the ends of odd lots that nurseries are trying to get rid of.
Cut a randomly selected vine in half with a sharp knife, and then bend the halves to check that they are green and somewhat elastic. If you see dark, gooey spots inside the vine’s tissue, chase the delivery driver off your property, wielding the diseased wood like a knife, shouting threats of litigation.
The “head,” or top, of the vine should have been trimmed at the nursery to a two-bud spur. If this trimming not been done, just count the small, bumpy buds on the spur and cut through the third bud to concentrate the vine’s growth.
Planting dormant grapevines
Now that you’ve guaranteed you have good dormant planting materials, you should be ready to prepare the vines for planting. The vines should be warmed to the ambient temperature of the vineyard site over five to ten days before planting. However, you want the vines to remain moist so they don’t dry out needlessly.
Most vines come in bagged bundles of twenty or so. You can either open the bags or poke holes in them. Keep them in a shaded area, still enclosed in moist sawdust and shavings, while they acclimate. If the sawdust dries out during this process, just hose down the bags until moist again.
Take the vines out of the bags and sawdust the night before planting. Soak the roots in five-gallon buckets of water. The tops of the vines can stick out of the water, or you can soak them in larger bins so that the entire vine gets soaked. Take the vines into the field in these same buckets — you can use the water in the buckets to give the planted vines a first drink.
Don’t make the mistake of taking too many vines into a sunny field to plant. You do not want the vines to be out of water, soil or moist sawdust for more than an hour before they are planted to avoid dehydration.
Each vine should be removed from the water bucket as it’s planted. Trim the root tips with sharp pruning shears so that the root ends will be vital and fresh when put in contact with soil. I usually take the entire root bundle in my hand, stretch the roots out like I was giving them a haircut, and then trim the last few inches of all the roots with a quick snipping motion, taking care to cut off broken or crushed roots as well.
Efficiency is key to the planting of dormant vines. I recommend having a strong helper digging holes with a post-hole digger or a narrow-bladed planting shovel, and another helper following behind to plant the vines. The hole should be about six inches across and at least 18–20 inches deep. Do not just stick a shovel in the ground, yank it back and forth to open a crevice and toss a vine in. Do everything you can to assure the walls of your hole are loose and not compacted further than the soil would be naturally.
Drop the vine in the hole and then spread the roots out so roots are facing the sides of the hole, as well as facing down into the subsoil. Packing the dirt back into the hole, around the vine, is an art form in itself. We cut the handle off a standard garden hoe so that it’s only about 18 inches long and use the butt end to compact the soil as we fill it back in. We use the hoe end to pull dirt into the planting crevice. Pack well, but don’t damage the roots.
It is also important to make sure that the graft union is at least four to six inches above the finished soil level, as the vine will settle a bit in the dirt. If you are planting on rootstock, the graft union is the bulge a few inches under the “spur” where new growth will sprout on the top of the vine. If you bury the graft union, roots will sprout underground from above the rootstock, and the vines will prefer them to the stock. You will soon have vines growing from their own roots rather than from the rootstock, which defeats the purpose of rootstock.
If you have training stakes in the vineyard, plant the vine so that it is no further than a few inches from the stake, with the “spur” turned inward so that it almost touches the vertical stake. This will make it easy to tie growing shoots to the stake.
Review and mounding
Make sure you keep the vines moist and cool prior to planting. Trim the roots, make a deep hole and position the vine with your hand to a correct depth that keeps the graft union above the ground. I tell my planters I want the union four finger-widths above the finished soil level. Then sweep the soil back into the hole, packing it firmly in with the butt end of a sawed-off hoe. Don’t leave air gaps in the soil. This would be an appropriate time to water the vine to help the soil settle and soak the root area.
Once you have compacted the soil back to the natural soil level, you’re still not quite done. You need to make a soft soil mound over the part of the vine that protrudes from the ground. Use soft, broken soil — not hard clumps — and cover the vine so that the whole vine has one to two inches of soil covering it. This keeps the growth buds moist and protected from the sun as the vine acclimates. It will also discourage rabbits and other pests from nibbling off new growth as it emerges. Loosen the top of the mound if it dries and begins to clump. Within a few weeks, you will see green growth poking out from the soil mounds. At this point, carefully loosen the soil mounds on a cool, cloudy day and remove them so the natural soil level is restored.
Planting a vineyard is hard work, but here’s some good news — once a vine is planted and established, it’s pretty hard to kill. If you get decent rainfall and have a mild winter, your vines should grow healthy and produce fruit for making wine. Rainfall in the range of 20-30 inches per year seems about optimal and, for best results, winter temperatures should not hover constantly below 14° F (-10° C). If you get eighty-five percent of the vines to take and grow, consider your home vineyard planting a success.
Once the vines are in the ground, you have about three years until you have usable wine grapes. During those years, the vines will need to be cared for and tended to. In the next issue, I’ll tell you in detail how to care for your vineyard during its first few years. For now I’ll just supply a quick overview of these critical years.
Once the vines sprout, you’ll have to start thinking about vine training. Initially, stakes are used to support the growing vines. You should start staking when the longest vines reach about six inches in length. The shorter vines in that bunch should be removed, leaving only the longest vine to grow upward. At this point, some vineyards use grow tubes, which are slender plastic tubes that surround the vine, to thwart pests.
If the vine’s growth seems stunted, you probably have less nitrogen in the soil than the vine would prefer for full, vigorous growth. High nitrogen levels are not good for established vines that are producing fruit, but young vines can benefit from the application of some nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
If you’re lucky, the vine will reach the top of the stake by the end of the first year. In the second year, your vines should start growing on the trellis and by year three you should have grapes. And once you have grapes . . . well, you know what comes next.
Planting usually takes place in spring, but potted vines can be planted throughout the year, as long as the ground is frost-free. The planting hole must be much larger than the root system, and quite deep (dig at least two spades wide and deep), and the subsoil needs to be aerated, i.e., loosened.
If necessary, incorporate some drainage, as vines don’t tolerate waterlogging! After the planting stake is rammed in, backfill with a layer of (sieved) fine soil, place the vine in the hole, backfill with topsoil and carefully tamp the soil around the vine… establish a watering ring (a slightly mounded earth ring around the plant to hold the water) and water the plant in with 5-10 litres of water. The swollen bud union (grafting point) should be approximately 8-12 cm above the ground. A paraffin layer protecting the vine from drying out may still be present, but will degrade naturally. The stem is then tied to the stake below the bud union. The strong main shoot is also tied to the stake, and any further shoots are cut and removed. Mulch the planting area. In an open field situation (e.g. vineyard), it is necessary to protect the vines against foraging deer, rabbits etc..
Rooting Grapevines: Tips For Transplanting Grapevines And Grapevine Propagation
Grapevines are tenacious plants with wide-spreading root systems and persistent growth. Transplanting mature grapevines would practically take a backhoe, and digging out an old grapevine will require back breaking labor with mixed results. A better approach is to take cuttings and try rooting grapevines. Learning how to propagate grapevines from cuttings is not difficult and can preserve an old vine variety. New vines that are not heavily entrenched can be moved with some specific grapevine transplant info.
Can You Transplant Grapevines?
Relocating an old grapevine is not an easy undertaking. Grapevine roots are deep when compared to many other types of plants. They do not produce excessive roots, but the ones that they do grow extend deep into the earth.
This can make transplanting grapevines very difficult, as you have to dig deep enough to capture the entire root system. In old vineyards, this is accomplished with a backhoe. In the home garden, however, manual digging and lots of sweat are the best method for transplanting grapevines. Therefore, smaller vines are preferable if the need to transplant arises.
Grapevine Transplant Info
If you must transplant a grapevine, move vines in fall or early spring, cutting back the vine to 8 inches from the ground.
Before you dig out an older grapevine to move it, excavate down around the perimeter of the main trunk out a distance of 8 inches or more. This will help you find any peripheral roots and free them from the soil.
Once you have the bulk of the outer grapevine roots excavated, dig down deeply in a trench around the vertical roots. You may need help to move the vine once it is excavated.
Lay the roots on a large piece of burlap and wrap them in the material. Move the vine to a hole that is twice as wide as the roots. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole to the depth of the vertical roots. Water the vine frequently while it re-establishes.
How to Propagate Grapevines
If you are relocating and want to preserve the grape variety you had at your home, the easiest way is to take a cutting.
Hardwood is the best material for propagation. Take the cuttings in the dormant season between February and March. Harvest wood from the previous season. Wood must be pencil sized and about 12 inches long.
Place the cutting in a plastic bag with a piece of moist moss in the refrigerator until soil is thawed and workable. Wait until the soil is completely thawed before rooting grapevines.
In early spring, prepare a bed with loose soil and put the cutting in the soil vertically with the top bud just above the surface of the soil. Keep the cutting moderately moist during spring and summer.
Once the cutting has grapevine roots, you can transplant it the following spring to a permanent location. Transplanting grapevines of this size is no different from planting a new plant.
At the end of the year when I’m contemplating new topics for “Backyard Vines,” I like to go through and look at all the subjects I’ve covered previously and ask myself: “What have I missed?”
I’ve noticed a pattern: that we’ve moved from general to more detailed and specific strategies for grape growing. I believe it’s time to go back to the mailbag (or email inbox) and answer some questions that are more general in nature.
The goal here is to go over some basics of viticulture for the uninitiated, and to provide a review of the fundamentals for the more experienced backyard vineyardist. As always, feel free to send me your viticulture questions via email ([email protected]), but please make sure to give as much detail as possible, including your city, state, soil type, vine varietals and any other info that you can provide.
Our parents gave us a few grapevines as a gift and we’re interested in planting them as landscaping. How big of a planter would we have to use, and what’s the correct way to plant a grapevine?
B. and R. Oas
In general, I don’t recommend planting grapevines in pots or planters. Grapevines are deep rooting plants, capable of sending roots down 20 feet (~6 m) in soil without restrictive layers of clay or stone. There are a few options though.
Planting a vine in a half-barrel planter (30 gallons/114 L of soil) will likely allow the vine to grow to a small size, and even produce a few grape clusters for you after the third year.
A great compromise is to pop the head out of the half-barrel planter, place it in its permanent location (with the soil broken up beneath so it is visible through the barrel), and fill the planter with stones on the bottom, followed by a mix of sand, clay and planting soil.
This way, when the vine’s roots spread out, they will be able to move through the small rocks at the bottom of the barrel and into the ground/soil underneath. The vine will have no problem maturing vigorously with the ability to grow through the planter’s soil into the ground.
The correct way to plant a dormant grapevine
There are two different types of grapevines you can buy — dormant vines and those that are green-growing. They need to be handled differently. I prefer dormant grapevines, which I like to plant after frost danger in spring. Dormant vines are usually shipped from refrigeration in sawdust, and they need to be acclimated to the outside temperature for a few days before being put in the ground.
Take your dormant vine or vines and place them (roots down) into a bucket half-filled with clean water. Allow them to soak for 24–48 hours in the shade before planting. At that time, dig a hole about 18” (46 cm) deep and place some loose soil back in the hole and make sure the sides of the hole are not too compacted.
Trim the root tips a 1/2” to 1” (2–3 cm) with sharp scissors or shears so that the root ends are cleanly cut and healthy. Pour about 1/2 gallon (~2 L) of water into the hole before planting to make sure the soil beneath the newly-planted vine is moist.
Drop the vine in the hole and spread the roots out so that the tips are facing the sides of the hole and down into the subsoil. Packing the dirt back into the hole around the vine is an art form in itself.
We cut the handle off a standard garden hoe so that it’s only about 18” long (46 cm), and then use the butt end to compact the soil as we fill it in. We use the hoe end to pull the dirt into the planting crevice.
It is vitally important to ensure that the graft union is at least 4-6” (10–15 cm) above the finished soil level, as the vine will settle a bit in the dirt (if you are planting on rootstock the graft union is the bulge a few inches under the spur where new growth will sprout on the top of the vine).
If you bury the graft union, advantageous roots will sprout underground from above the rootstock and the vines will prefer them to the stock. You will soon have own-rooted vines instead of carefully-selected rootstock.
If you have training stakes in the vineyard, plant the vine so it is no further than a few inches from the stake, with the spur turned inward so it almost touches the vertical stake.
This will make it easy to tie growing shoots to the stake with green, vinyl tie-tape. After planting you will want to mound soft soil over the freshly planted vine until the vine is effectively hidden by the mound.
This will protect the vine from dehydration. When the green shoots begin to emerge from the mound, remove the mound so the original soil level is restored.
The correct way to plant a green-growing vine
Vines that have green leaves growing when purchased need to be handled a little differently. They are a bit prone to shock when planted in full sunshine, so you can either buy a “grow tube” to shade them, or just plant them in the sunshine, let them shock, and hope they will come back afterward.
Use the same basic technique for planting (note that more green growing vines come with their roots in soil). When putting the vine in the ground, gently pull apart the roots so they are not all bound together and then follow the directions for planting a dormant vine. If the green leaves shock or die, wait for new growth to emerge before giving up on the vine.
Keeping the Vine Alive
Let the soil dry out between watering and loosely tie the healthiest shoot to a stake or other trellising with 1/2” vinyl tie tape (the translucent green type is what we use). Knock off all but the shoot that is tied (do this after the best shoot is tied safely).
Allow the vine to grow and thrive, and if you can, spray it with sulfur or Bordeaux mixture every week or so in spring and summer to keep mildew off. Prune the vine lightly each year to keep it tidy.
Can I test my soil?
I want to plant a small vineyard in my backyard, but I don’t know any locals who have tried. Am I crazy, or is there a way that I can test the soil/water/climate to know if I can make wine here?
Barr, South Carolina
In previous articles I have detailed the process of taking soil and water samples to determine suitability for grapevines, but I am going to suggest something different in this context.
Instead of dropping a hundred or two-hundred dollars on fancy soil and water tests, I suggest you purchase 5 grapevines from a nursery and have them delivered. You may choose five of the same vine, a few European cultivars (such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Grenache) coupled with a few hybrids (like Norton or Chardonnel), or five different vines.
Find a nice sunny spot for them (maybe near a hose bib), put a simple training stake in the ground (8’ stakes are common) and plant the vines in your backyard. Once they are in the ground, you can make a practice of assessing their health and vigor. You could call this a “real time” test.
Watch the vines for a year or two and see which ones are the healthiest, and which are affected by mildew or other disease. In this way, you can pioneer a new area by watching how the vines interact with your locale and make a decision based on your own experiment.
Research vineyards in South Carolina and keep looking for local resources. My quick research turned up grapes like DeChaunac, Muscadine, Picpoul, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Magnolia and Scuppernong. Stay in touch and let me know how it works out!
Timing the harvest
Thanks to you, our 1/2-acre backyard vineyard is installed and will produce some fruit in 2007. We wanted to plant Pinot Noir, but after study and a lot of local tasting, decided to produce Norton grapes.
The vines are looking great after their second year, and we plan to put some canes on the fruiting wire during pruning this winter to produce fruit next year. My question is this: I’ve been studying ripeness and wine style, but I’m still confused about the timing to harvest my grapes.
Some books say pick on flavor, but this will be my first time tasting wine grapes. Other winemakers say “pick by Brix,” but I don’t know what they mean. Can you help me sort this out?
Let’s open this can of worms and start flinging them around. The decision on when to pick grapes to make wine is the single most important choice one makes as a wine grower. Technical manuals can instruct how to fix most problems in a wine, but you can never fix issues of under-ripe or overripe fruit.
The decision on when to pick is a very personal decision for the winemaker, and one that posits an indelible style on the wine that cannot be undone. If you wanted my decision, I would say pick your fruit between 23 and 24 ºBrix, which will yield a wine around 14-15% alcohol and should have nice richness and balance.
As important as the Brix level, is the pH and the browning of the seeds (which roughly shows phenolic ripeness). Try to keep pH in red wine under 3.5 (use a pH meter on juice samples) at harvest and make sure the seeds are brown or turning brown.
On the subject of Brix, the term refers to a number that is roughly equal to the percent of sugar by weight in the grape. Buy a refractometer to check Brix levels in your vineyard.
Using modern winemaking yeast, the conversion factor from Brix to alcohol in the wine will be around 0.55 to 0.6. In other words, take your Brix reading from a refractometer or by floating a hydrometer in a juice sample taken from your vineyard and multiply that reading by .55, and that will give you your potential alcohol.
For example, if your Brix reading is 23.5, nice numbers to make a dry red wine, multiply 23.5 by 0.55 for a product of 12.9 potential alcohol.
Tip top tips
My wife and I have planted a small backyard vineyard and enjoy your articles. Without getting too complicated, can you give me your favorite three tips for maintaining a young vineyard and top three suggestions for a mature vineyard? What tricks and tips would you suggest to someone trying to get a vineyard up and running and what would you suggest to someone with a mature vineyard that needs a tune up?
Doss County, Texas
It’s difficult to come up with tips that are useful to all vineyards, but I’ll give it a shot! Single suggestion for all viticulturists: Don’t farm in a bubble. Visit other local vineyards and wineries and make friends, ask questions and be passionate!
Three suggestions for young vineyards:
- Make sure your watering and trellising is fully installed and functioning before planting the first vine.
- Let the young vines’ roots dry out a bit between watering. Don’t drown the young vines with excessive water. Irrigate deeply and infrequently for the best root growth.
- Do not push the vines to produce fruit in the first two years. After one year of growth, cut the vine back to two buds (the way it looked when it arrived as a dormant vine). During the second year, get a shoot up the stake and on the wire, rub off all the dormant buds on the new “trunk” (buds are only left on wood meant to produce fruit) and ask the third year vines to produce a small bit of fruit.
Three suggestions for mature vineyards:
- Control vigor and promote vine balance with water and fertilizer. Rank vineyards should have no fertilizer applied and water reduced. Struggling vineyards should have watering increased, and Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Zinc, Calcium and Potassium applied at suggested rates at budbreak and before bloom. Balance is achieved at a ratio of 12-15 leaves per cluster. Don’t be afraid to hand fertilize vines that are smaller than their neighbors, but don’t get too hung up on a vine or two that just won’t grow. Every vineyard has a few problem children.
- Let the soil dry out between flowering and fruit softening (veraison). The critical time between flowering and veraison determines berry size and fruit composition. Allowing the soil to dry out will limit berry size and promote concentration in your resulting wine. Don’t let the vines start shutting down, though.
- Get into the vineyard every day. Nothing is better for a vineyard than paying close attention to what’s happening in and between the rows. Most problems in home vineyards are caused by apathy and laziness. Make a habit of taking a pre-dinner walk through the vines to assess vigor, pest and mildew pressure, irrigation (are all drippers/sprinkler functioning?), soil health, weeds, etc. Keeping a close eye on the vineyard will keep anything catastrophic from sneaking up on you.
The area where I live (Willamette Valley of Oregon) is covered in beautiful Pinot Noir vineyards and I love the wines that are produced. These questions may be way too general, but what is the approximate cost of putting in one acre of vineyard? How many vines would that be? And how much wine does one acre of vines produce in a “normal” year?
Allow me to speak in very general terms on these questions, which I will simplify to keep the answers short enough to fit in this Q&A format.
One acre of vineyard installation will run between $5,000 and $10,000 for a vineyard without irrigation, and roughly twice that amount for a vineyard with irrigation. These prices include top-notch trellising materials and good dormant grapevines, labor and perhaps even a consultant to oversee the installation.
The last time I was in Oregon wine country there was a movement toward irrigation in the vineyards, especially to keep young vineyards healthy. If it was my money and I lived in an area like Willamette, I would plant the vineyard without irrigation, during the spring when the frost is gone and the soil is still moist and warming.
Without irrigation you may have vineyard water issues a few years out of ten, but your wines will show the effect of weather and vintage in a way that irrigated vineyards cannot. In the Pinot Noir world, that’s a sexy proposition, but may keep you up at night a few days per season, as the vineyard’s water status is totally dictated by rainfall and soil structure.
There’s a lot of clay up your way, which will equate to better water holding capacity than sand, which means that rainwater will be available to your vines for a good long time after a period of precipitation.
Drought will be an issue at some point in the vineyards’ life, but allowing nature to affect the wines is rarely a bad thing, and vines generally can come back after a period of drought with few problems.
To figure out how many vines would be planted, there is an easy formula. Take your anticipated vine spacing, for example, 8’ (2.4 m) between rows and 4’ (1.2 m) between plants. That is usually expressed as 8’x 4’. Multiply those two numbers together (giving you 32 as a product) then divide the square feet in an acre, or 43,560 by your spacing product (32).
That gives you 1,361 vines. Vine spacing should be determined by a consultant, matching anticipated vigor with the room a vine needs to spread out and be happy.
Tighter row spacing also limits what equipment can fit into your rows. Now we come to the question of wine yield from an acre of vines. Starting in the third year you can expect about 1–2 tons of fruit, and expect that yield until the sixth year when the yield will be in the 2-5 tons per acre range (depending on fertilizer, spacing, soil fertility, pruning and several other factors).
Using home winemaking equipment you can count on about 150 gallons (570 L) of finished wine per ton. So, at full maturity, the vineyard will produce around 300-750 gallons (1,140–2,850 L) of finished wine annually.
This amounts to 6-12 barrels or roughly 1,500–3,500 bottles per year if everything goes right. So, after a successful vintage, you may be able to go through 3–10 bottles of homemade wine per day without running out! That sounds like a good plan to me (and your friends).
Even though the science of viticulture is changing rapidly and suggesting new methods of farming, the fundamentals of winegrowing have basically remained unchanged over the past few centuries. Winegrowing requires passion and perseverance, as a vineyard will not suffer fools or the lazy.
Whether discussing planting technique, site suitability, tips for maintaining balance or giving specific advice about what an acre of Pinot Noir can do in Oregon, there is advice that is universal: Do your homework, make friends with local growers, be consistent in your vineyard work and learn to observe.
The good news is that grapevines are relatively hard to kill, fairly easy to grow and, when groomed correctly, will provide beauty in your backyard and pleasure in the glass.
Wine-growing connects us to a simpler, agrarian lifestyle where we can forget about pushing paper, where weeding and watering take precedence over board meetings and where the finished product can help us pause and appreciate the miracle of being alive on a planet that is spinning 70,000 miles per hour. Cheers to that!
Growing Grapes In Shallow Soil
This seems to be a topic of great concern to many vineyard owners all over the world, and there is a good reason for that as well. A too shallow soil will for sure have an influence on how well your grape vine grows and how productive the vines will be.
To determine if your soil is too shallow for growing grapes, you need to know what the roots of the grape vine look like and how the root system develops over the years. Another very important fact to keep in mind is that a grape vine don’t like wet feet. In other words, the grape vine’s roots must develop in a well-drained soil with enough oxygen for normal nutrient uptake. I wrote an article about this a while ago, so if you are interested, head over to the following web page: The Importance Of Oxygen In The Soil When Growing Grapes
With that said, what does the root system of a grape vine look like?
On deep soil, the roots of a well developed grape vine can easily reach a depth of 15 feet and spread like a fan. On the other hand, grape vines that grow on compacted soils or soils with an impenetrable layer, have roots that are poorly distributed, shallow, and stubby ended and grow horizontally, rather than downwards.
The optimum soil depth is about 2 meters or 6 feet and deeper. The most active roots for food uptake are found in the top 600 to 800 mm (2 to 3 feet). The roots below this area is responsible for oxygen intake and other respiratory actions. Any shallower soil, will prevent proper root development. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot grow grapes on a 1.5 meter deep soil. There are vineyards that produce a reasonable crop on 4 to 5 feet deep soils, but I would say that 4 feet is about the minimum depth for growing grapes.
What will determine the depth of your soil.
Basically there are three types of obstacles that will determine the soil depth. The first, and most obvious, is an impenetrable layer of rock (reef) or clay. If possible, the reef can be cracked with a bulldozer and toe-plough, that enables the roots to grow down in the cracked reef. To obtain the best results, it’s best to plough the land sideways and from top to bottom – this however is pretty expensive!
The second, and less obvious is a high water table. If you live in an area where the water table is close to the surface of the soil, you can know for sure that the roots of the grape vine will not grow below that point. There’s not much you can do about lowering the water table, except if can install a drain system, that will channel the water away from your grape vines – again, this is pretty expensive as well.
The third and probably the least obvious is an impenetrable chemical layer. A chemical layer normally consist of a layer of soil with a very high or low pH, but can also be a layer of salt, because of year and years of fertilizing a soil, without proper soil management. The roots of the grape vine will avoid these layers and rather grow sideways than into them. Correcting these layers can be done with proper soil analyses and soil preparation and management.
My viticulture lecturer in collage, always said that the root system of a grape vine, will be as big as the canopy above – interesting statement isn’t it, but that’s why a too shallow soil will prevent good canopy development.
If there’s not much you can do to increase the soil depth of your vineyard, there is one final thing you can do before planting your grape vines – it’s called ridging.
Like farmers ridge potato lands, a vineyard can also be ridged (just on a bigger scale). Ridging the soil along the length of the planting row, will increase the soil depth with about six to twelve inches. I know this is not much, but could be enough to ensure a better root development.
Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of a ridged vineyard right now, but I will try to upload one soon. The ridges are about 8 to 10 inches high and about 4 to 5 feet wide and stretch from where the one end post will be planted, to the other – in other words, ridging should be done BEFORE planting your end post or canopy support posts.. The most practical way make a ridge, is to use turn plough several times on the same row or with a back-hoe. Just ensure the plateau, where you will plant the vines and posts, is more or less lever.
Off course ridging has many disadvantages as well, such as …
- Ridged soils will dry out quicker because of a bigger soil surface exposed to sunlight and wind.
- Normally, the planting rows need to be wider to make space for tractor movement between two adjacent ridges.
- Working (harvesting, thinning out bunches, suckering etc.) in ridged vineyards will be much harder, as the canopy will be higher above the normal ground level.
- Weed control is more difficult because of the higher planting row.
- Expensive way or soil preparation
Hopefully, with these tips you will know what to do.
Good luck and happy grape growing my friends
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Digging into the roots of a vineyard
Managing irrigation and nutrients for grapes can be tricky anytime — even more so in a drought year like the one last year in Washington. The key to ensuring vineyards receive the necessary water and nutrients lies underground at the roots.
For two years, Washington State University soil scientist Joan Davenport and a research team sampled Concord roots on 42-year-old vines at different points in the growing season to better understand when roots are working most actively to support the vine.
While Davenport focused on Concord grapes for the study, the findings relate to wine grapes as well.
The takeaway: Growers must remember their roots are distributed over a much wider area than they probably think, which affects how and when they apply nutrients and water, Davenport told growers at the Washington State Grape Society annual meeting in November.
The density of fine roots (the feeder roots that take up most of the water and nutrients) on grape plants changes according to plant needs, with the fewest fine roots found during bloom. (Source: Joan Davenport/WSU Illustratioin: Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower)
Types of roots
Grapevines have a lot of different roots. The big roots, called coarse roots, help serve as the sturdy backbone of the plant, while the finer roots are the feeder roots that take up the majority of water and nutrients.
Overall, root distribution decreases as they grow farther from the trunk at deeper depths, but that growth is influenced by water.
To better understand how those roots develop during the season, Davenport and her research team dug up an average of four Concord vines from a furrow-irrigated vineyard at different points in the season: in winter, at bud break in early spring, when vines showed three to four leaves in late April, at bloom, at veraison, at harvest (in about mid-September) and at postharvest, before the vines had gone dormant.
They excavated the entire root ball, measured the length of roots and weighed coarse roots. They also collected soil samples, in a radial pattern out from the trunk, for fine and some coarse roots and separated them from the soil.
Davenport said she expected to find fine roots in the first 8 inches below the surface but was surprised to find them even beyond that. Overall, roots were found 1 yard deep. However, roots decrease farther from the trunk and deeper below the surface of the soil.
“As a general rule of thumb, the further out from the trunk you go and the deeper you go, the fewer roots you have,” she said.
The density of coarse roots was greatest at bud break, with 6 linear feet of roots in a cubic yard of soil.
The second-highest density of coarse roots was found directly preceding bud break in late winter. The lowest point was at harvest.
“When we have some of that early growth, the plants are actually using a little bit of those root materials to feed the growth,” Davenport said.
The team generally found that more coarse roots were found closer to the vine trunk and diminished with greater distance from the trunk. They also decreased at greater depths.
Because fine roots are so tiny and would be destroyed or lost in the process of collecting and measuring coarse roots, the team collected soil samples in a radial pattern around the trunk to assess the distribution of fine roots.
They then separated these roots from the soil. Fine roots were measured separately in the first 12 inches in depth and again at a depth of between 12 and 30 inches.
Fine roots grow and die. They decreased with depth, Davenport said, but depending on the time of year, they increased or decreased the closer or farther away they were from the trunk.
Fine roots were densest at postharvest, with the fewest found at bloom. “By the time we get to bloom, the fine root density has declined dramatically at the surface and pretty much disappeared at the deeper depth,” Davenport said.
Fine root numbers then increased incrementally through veraison, harvest and postharvest, with fine roots growing at the expense of the coarse roots, she said. “This tells you how much the fruit is utilizing these resources and allows for more root growth after the fruit is harvested.”
People who manage crops tend to focus on the plants above ground and sometimes forget about the root systems, Davenport said, but they shouldn’t assume that roots are growing just because they don’t see them. “Know your roots,” she said.
In terms of the fine, feeder roots, it would be nice to have a lot of them during blooms, but the plant is so busy funneling its resources to its buds, that it “robs Peter to pay Paul,” Davenport said.
However, the exact opposite is happening at postharvest: The fruit is off the vines, and with shorter days and colder temperatures, the plant begins to send carbohydrates and nutrients to the trunk and roots to store for spring, causing a resurgence in fine root development.
“Make sure you pay attention to that root growth and development when you’re developing your irrigation management strategies,” Davenport said. “Because there’s a time when roots are growing or developing, and when you’re stressing them with less irrigation, you’re actually doing more damage than you know.” •