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How To Easily Plant And Grow Grapes

If you’ve always wanted to grow grapes – now is the time to get started! Springtime is the perfect time to plant a few grape vines to enjoy bountiful harvests for years to come.  

Planting a small selection of perennials like grapes, strawberries, asparagus, blueberries and fruit trees can really compliment a home-grown plan to supply your family with fresh produce.  See : Planting Perennial Food Sources 

Once established, grapevines can produce fruit for decades. Depending on the variety chosen – they can supply you with everything from table grapes to homemade jams, jellies, juice and wine! 

Grapes are an easy crop to grow – whether it be on an arbor, trellis, pergola – or a more traditional post and wire set-up. They can also beautify the landscape as well with their large sculpted leaves and colorful ripening fruit.  

What to Plant

What variety to plant depends on what you want to do with your grapes. Whether it be for simple eating (table grapes) – or to make jam, juice, jelly or wine – there are varieties suited to better fill each specific need.

grow grapes
Our mini vineyard at the farm where we grow grapes in the traditional row style
Our Marquette Grapes we planted at the farm in 2012
Our Marquette Grapes we planted at the farm in 2012

Grapes can be broken down into three basic varieties: European , American and Muscadine. American varieties like Concord and Mars are great for Jams and Jellies – and are more tolerant to cold than most of the European varieties.

Many of the European selections are more known for wine making – although there are some great American and new hybrid varieties that are now producing some incredible wines here in the states too.

At our little farm – we planted a selection of Mars and Concord for table grapes, jams and jellies. We also planted Marquette grapes a few years back –  a red wine grape variety developed here in the upper Midwest that can tolerate colder winters.  Here are a few resource links for purchasing grapes :  Mars Grape Vines , Concord Grape Vines

Where to Grow Grapes – And How To Plant

Grapes love the sun – so you want to locate them in an area that receives a lot of light. Morning and afternoon sun are the best choices to allow for good growth and ripening of the crop. 

When you plant your grapes is dependent upon how you buy them. If you have purchased dormant, bare-root grape vines – you will want to plant them in the early spring as soon as the soil warms up and you can work the ground. If you have purchased bare root plants that have already flowered (this often happens in nurseries or big box stores where they are stored inside and begin to flower) it is best to wait until past the threat of hard frost in your area and plant them.  

Grapes are perfect for making Jams,
Grapes are perfect for making Jams,

As for how to plant – both are the same. Since grapes are a long-term perennial crop – you want to make sure the soil is prepared properly from the outset to give them years of productivity.

Start by digging a 10 to 12″ diameter hole about 12″ deep. Fill in the bottom few inches of the hole with loose soil. We like to add in a little well-aged compost as well to the soil mix. Set the grape plant in the hole – and then fill in with a few more inches of soil or soil/compost mix around the roots.

Make sure at this point that the soil level of your plant is planted about 1/4″ or so below the new soil line. This keeps the crown well protected.

Water While You Plant

Lightly water around the plant and the first few inches of soil. Then tamp the soil gently around the roots. Next, fill in the remainder of the hole with soil. Don’t compact the soil any more at this point. And be sure to leave it loose for good drainage and circulation.

You may need to come back in a few weeks to add a little around each planting – but this is better than stomping the ground solid around the plant. We will talk below about long-term support – but for young grape plants just put into the soil – use a small stake to keep the vine supported.

Supporting Your Crop Long Term

No matter where you plant them – you need to give your grape plants plenty of support to keep them growing strong.  A simple metal pole with a few wires attached will work – but you can also get creative and plant them over arbors or pergolas to create a living wall or canopy of grapes. 

We used simple stakes to train the grapes during the 1st year of growth.
We used simple stakes to train the grapes during the 1st year of growth.

Grapes will do well anywhere they can get sun, water and support –  you can even grow them on a fence row. Just remember that the vines will most likely outlive the fence!

The birds will love them too – so be prepared to put a net over them when harvest time arrives if you would like to keep some of the crop for you.

If you are growing in rows – you will want to space your vines about 6 to 10′ apart.  If you are growing on a trellis or pergola – be sure to plant your vines out of direct foot traffic and on the outside edge of the structure. This keeps the vines out of harms way as they become established. 

Long Term Care

Ok – so here is the bad news – you are not going to get many grapes the first few years on your vines – and if you do – you actually need to remove them. Keeping the vines from fruiting the first few years allows the main stem shoot and the roots to grow strong. 

Pruning :  You will need to prune your grapes early each Spring to insure a good crop. Prune in the very early stages of Spring, cutting back old growth from the main canes. This is where most people get scared – but the more you prune – the better your crop will turn out in the long run. Grapes will only form on new shoots from the main canes – so keeping too much old growth will hamper yields.

So add a few grapes to your homestead this Spring and get set to enjoy the “fruits” of your labor for years to come!

Happy Gardening!  – Jim and Mary

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