Wine grape growing zones

Two types of grapes thrive in the Sunshine State: muscadine and Florida hybrid bunch grapes. Both are used as table fruit and for wine, juice and jelly-making. Grape harvest season begins in late June and continues throughout the warm summer months.

At least eight varieties of muscadine grapes are grown in Florida, including the bronze-colored scuppernong, a large, seeded grape with thick skin but juicy, sweet flesh. Of the Florida hybrid bunch grapes, Stover, Suwanee and Blanc du Bois are popular varieties.

The Florida Grape Growers Association Web site (fgga.org) lists nine you-pick operations across the state, but not every small vineyard is a member. There are many small private farms in Lake and Polk counties that also offer you-pick opportunities for grape lovers. Most announce harvest season with hand-lettered signs along the roadside or by posting hours in classified ads.

Florida is home to 14 wineries, including Lakeridge Winery in Clermont. Producing more than 50,000 cases of wine in 2005, Lakeridge Winery is a popular destination for wine lovers. Last year 110,000 people visited the 127-acre estate to buy wines, tour the facilities and enjoy free wine tasting.

Grapes In Florida

Every man his vine, every man his fig tree

Sounds idyllic, but while figs aren’t hard to grow in Florida, it takes a bit more planning and work to grow grapes in a Florida-type climate. It CAN be done, though you’d better do your homework before you plant or you’ll be in for disappointment and a lot of work. Over the next several columns I’ll cover the basics of what you will have to deal with and what you can grow, depending on how much work you want to put into your grapes.
The first big obstacle to growing grapes in Florida, or any warm, humid part of the U.S., is disease.
The southeastern U.S. is where all the major fungal diseases of grapes originated, including black rot, downy mildew, powdery mildew, anthracnose, several kinds of blights and fruit rots, and more. Those diseases are bad enough in the summers of northern areas, such as New York, but in the hot, humid climate of the southeast, they start earlier, reproduce faster, and have many more months to do their work. Even so, these diseases only stunt and damage vines and destroy the crop, and then only if untreated. Much more serious is the bacterial pest Pierce’s Disease, which can kill vines altogether.
Pierce’s Disease (PD for short) is a bacterial disease. Instead of attacking the outside of the vine, the way the fungal diseases do, it gets into the vine where it reproduces at a rate that clogs the vascular system of the vine, making it wilt and die, sometimes within a few days. Severely affected vines will look like they were hit with a blowtorch, while vines with resistance may not even show any obvious symptoms. In between are such things as slowed growth of the vine, scorching of the leaf margins, and death of some shoots. The important factor in PD is that, while the fungal diseases spread by themselves, PD has to be spread by a carrier, usually sucking insects such as leafhoppers. This gives one of the means to stop the spread of PD, by stopping the leafhoppers that carry it. Not an easy task in a climate where the leafhoppers can have three or more generations a season, each larger than the last.

These pests are the main reason that unwary home growers who buy vines of table grape varieties like Flame Seedless or wine grapes such as Chardonnay and other types of the old world grape Vitis vinifera soon find they made a serious mistake. Plant Vitis vinifera outdoors without a lot of pest control and it will be a rare vine that survives its first year. In this case, a lot can mean spray or other disease control applied as much as three times a week.
American grapes such as Concord or other northern-bred grapes that have a modicum of disease resistance may survive a little longer, but they will succumb eventually, too, without a LOT of work controlling disease.
With these kinds of nasties to deal with, it may sound like growing grapes in Florida may be more work than it’s worth. But take heart, there are lots of ways to get grapes WITHOUT spending all your waking hours on pest control.
We’ll start on a few next time.

Muscadine Grapes: The Most Well-adapted Grapes For Florida

NESBITT:
a really sweet, nice black muscadine (male) with a long ripening season; developed in NC;
flavor similar to a Concord; high yielding / cold hardy / disease resistant; fruit is 20% sugar;
ripens mid to late September;

JUMBO:
extra large: size of half dollars; black (female)
very sweet when fully ripe (approx 15% sugar) highly disease resistant; very vigorous vines; longer bearing season;
mid-season: ripens September to October;

SUMMIT:
a tasty red-bronze muscadine (female)
ripens early to mid-September, about 20% sugar; grape is about 1″ in diameter;

GRANNY VAL:
a deliciously sweet, male bronze muscadine;
mid to late season — even Oct;
heaviest producing variety of all muscadines;
a favorite for fresh eating;

TRIUMPH:
a pinkish-bronze muscadine; (male)
sweet with a crunchy texture: 17% sugar;
highly productive vines, quite hardy;
ripens in August;

FRY:
bronze (female) early ripening; productivity varies from year to year, but it is exceptionally sweet for fresh eating;

New for Fall 2017:

3yr old vines: 4g pots / $25ea
bearing age/ pruned to 4′ tall
10 or more: $220ea

varieties available in 4g:
Fry, Granny Val, Summit & Noble

Muscadine Grapes

If you’re interested in growing grapes in Florida, then look no further than the muscadine grape, native to our state and other areas of the Southeast.

Sometimes called scuppernongs, these grapes are popular because they have a high degree of tolerance to pests and diseases and can be grown with minimal or no use of pesticides.

Muscadines differ from the bunch grapes found in the produce section of the supermarket in that they are thicker-skinned, somewhat spicy-sweet, and are picked individually from the vine rather than in bunches.

They mature in August and early September, when you can pick them from the vine and enjoy them fresh or make them into jelly, jam, or wine.

Varieties

Wild muscadine vines can be either male or female and must grow near each other in order for pollination to occur and grapes to form. If you don’t have the room for multiple vines, opt for a self-fertile variety, i.e. those that are said to have “perfect” flowers.

Many varieties of muscadines are commercially available, and several of the most popular self-fertile cultivars in Florida are ‘Carlos’, ‘Polyanna’, ‘Florida Fry’, and ‘Southern Home’ (the latter is actually a hybrid of bunch and muscadine grapes developed in Florida).

Growth and care

Muscadines will do best and fruit most heavily if planted in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Plant new vines in the spring after the danger of hard freezes has passed, spacing plants at least 10 if not 20 feet apart and leaving 4 to 10 feet between rows.

Proper trellising helps contribute to good fruit production, so choose a trellising system that will work in your space. While growing grapes over an arch or pergola can look nice, these structures can make it harder for you to maintain the vines and fruit production may decline. You want to be sure you have easy access to the cordons (arms) of each vine so that you can prune them each year.

For tips on setting up and maintaining your own vineyard, read the UF/IFAS publication “The Muscadine Grape” or contact your local Extension office.

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Pruning Deciduous Fruit Trees

UF/IFAS Publications

  • The Muscadine Grape

News & Advice

Growing Grapes in North Central Florida

Let’s face it. Our region is not known for producing world class grapes. In Gainesville, you won’t see prestigious vineyards pumping out high-end wine like they do in Southern California or the Mediterranean. But that does not mean we can’t grow certain varieties of grapes and do it well!

In fact, Growing your own grapes in Gainesville and the surrounding regions can be quite simple. A few simple tips can go a long way in cultivating grapes for our area.

Whether you are looking to establish a vineyard or just looking to add to an edible garden, try sticking with these general directions:

  1. Plant in Full Sun. Exposure to at least 6 hours of direct sunlight is essential to keep grape vines healthy year-round and ensure production of fruit.
  2. Purchase Self-Pollinators, then get Female Varieties. Self-Pollinators will produce fruit themselves without another plant. They will also pollinate other female plants. If you purchase a female plant alone, make sure you already have a self-pollinator nearby.
  3. Establish Good Spacing (10′ to 12′ apart). Spacing your grapes a healthy distance apart will ensure even exposure to the elements and prevent overcrowding at maturity.
  4. Fertilize in the Spring. It is important to fertilize your grapes early in the Spring before the new growth begins. Any good Fruit Tree Fertilizer would work well.
  5. Beware of Cold Tolerance. Most Grapes zoned for our area can handle temperatures in the 10 to 20 degree Fahrenheit range. In our region, temperatures can reach these lows only a handful of times during the Winters.
  6. Keep Up with Moderate Water Usage. After planting, keep the soil moist until your new grapes are completely established; once established, keep a moderate watering schedule or simply water as needed.

Here at Garden Gate Nursery, we carry a wide variety of Muscadine Grapes that are perfect for our region. Below are some varieties we usually keep stocked.

  • Muscadine Jumbo: Female variety (needs a pollinator nearby) that is good for fresh eating.
  • Muscadine Carlos: Self-Pollinating variety that produces a medium-sized bronze fruit. Carlos are vigorous growers that produce a high yield in fruit making them good for fresh eating, wine production, and juice pressing.
  • Muscadine Noble: Self-Pollinating variety that produce a small-black fruit. Noble are good for jelly making, wine production, and juice pressing.
  • Muscadine Fry: Female variety (needs a pollinator nearby) that produces very large bronze fruit. Fry produce large clusters with excellent flavor (a sugar content of 21%) that make them perfect for fresh eating.
  • Muscadine Granny Val: Self-Pollinating variety that produce a bronze fruit. Granny Val are known for having very high yields in fruit.
  • Muscadine Summit: Female variety (needs a pollinator nearby) that produces a bronze fruit. Summits are very high quality grapes with the thinnest skins of all the Muscadines.
  • Muscadine Triumph: Self-Pollinating variety that produce a bronze fruit. Triumphs produce in the early to mid-season making them good for fresh eating, wine production, or juice pressing.

Our entire selection of Grapes (including Muscadine Grapes) are 20% off this week. Stop by our shop on NW 43rd Street and check out of selection.

Gardening advice: Growing, picking muscadine grapes

Muscadine grapes are in season in our area. Known for their unique flavor, they are very different from the California seedless grapes at local stores. Muscadines have a stronger flavor, seeds and a thick, inedible skin.

There is a technique to eating these that those of us from the South have perfected. Just squeeze the pulp and juice into your mouth through the stem end, enjoy the essence of the fruit, and spit out the seeds.

Whether you eat them fresh, or make wines, or jams and jellies, muscadines are a great fruit crop for the Southeast. You can either grow your own or visit a local U-pick vineyard to reap the rewards.

Grapes are one of the easier fruits to grow in our area. All you need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, a strong trellis, a pair of pruning shears and good, healthy plants. Two types are available at local nurseries – bunch grapes and muscadine grapes. Bunch grapes are more difficult to grow because the grapes grow in a tight cluster, making them more susceptible to diseases and pests. For the novice gardener, stick with muscadine varieties.

Muscadine fruit are smaller and thicker-skinned than bunch grapes, and they are harvested as single berries. They are native to Florida and are seldom seriously affected by disease or insect pests.

Muscadine varieties recommended for our area include:

Fresh eating:

• Bronze: Fry*, Granny Val, Pam*, Pineapple, Summit*, Sweet Jenny*, Tara

• Purple/Black: Black Beauty*, Black Fry*, Farrer*, Ison, Polyanna, Southern Home, Supreme*

Juice, wine and jelly:

• Bronze: Carlos, Welder

• Black: Alachua, Noble

Many of these are self-fruitful, but there are exceptions. Those listed with an * following their name have female flowers only and require a self-fertile (perfect flowered) muscadine nearby for fruit set. All other varieties listed are self-fertile and should be planted within 25 feet or less from those with female flowers. Ison, Polyanna and Tara have good potential as pollenizers for those with female flowers.

There are pluses and minuses to each. For example, Fry is considered to have the best flavor for the bronze-colored grapes, but Summit may be preferred because vines are more disease resistant.

Granny Val, Pineapple, Carlos and Supreme tend to overproduce, which may seem like a plus. But this stresses the vines and often results in dieback.

Southern Home is an interesting variety developed by the University of Florida. This grape is a hybrid from a bunch and a muscadine cross. It produces clusters of sweet, thin-skinned black grapes that are harvested as a clump, unlike muscadines, and the flavor is milder than traditional muscadine grapes.

For wines, Carlos is the No. 1 bronze wine or juice grape in the Southeast. Noble is the best black grape for red wine or juice production and the wine/juice has good color and flavor.

For information on growing muscadine grapes, go to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs100.

Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

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