For Summer Grapes Prune Vines Now

Late winter is the only time to prune your grape vines.   Grape vines should only be pruned when they are dormant to prevent fungal infections at the pruning sites, which means pruning must be done before the buds break in the spring.  Grape vines will perform infinitely better if properly pruned yielding more fruit, and developing a stronger vine.  I prune my grape vines every year in March.  Invariably in the summer visitors to my house are stunned by the grape clusters on my vines.  I am repeatedly asked what it is I do for the vines to get such great fruit production, and my answer is always the same – I do nothing other than prune the vines heavily in later winter.

Vine Before PruningConvincing folks to prune their own grapevines is not easy.  I hear two main reasons for not pruning: 1) “I might prune the vine wrong” and 2) “I don’t want to hurt the vine by cutting it back.”  Let’s take a look at each of these reasons for not pruning your grapevines.  The first, that you might do it wrong, is true but ultimately unimportant.  Yes, you can prune a grapevine wrong.  You can make the vine awkward, you can encourage growth in the wrong direction, and you can ultimately limit the vines productivity.  The alternate, not pruning at all, actually creates problems that are far worse.  If you neglect to prune your grapes you will have no ability to direct growth, the vine will grow in all directions and “take over” the location where it is planted, and all of that wild growth will steal energy away from the vine for fruit production, bringing your yields down considerably.  I understand the nervousness of hacking on a plant that you have been nurturing along, but leaving it to its own devices ultimately limits the vines ability to produce and makes for a weaker plant.

Grapevine After PruningThe second reason folks tell me they don’t prune their grapevines is because they don’t want to hurt the plant by cutting back so much of the plants “good” growth.  My dear friend Tascha Yoder, owner of the Center for Powerful Living, once said that pruning is about directing energy.  That is probably the best definition I have heard, be it for plants or even in my own life.  When you limit the ability of growth in a direction, presumably the wrong direction, you allow for the availability of more energy for growth in the desired direction.  It’s a bit like one door closes another door opens.  When you clip the extra growth from a grapevine it then devotes its growing energy in a more compact manner, resulting in better fruit production and a stronger vine.  Cutting the vine back gives it focus and resiliency – you are not hurting the vine when you prune.  Indeed, you actually hurt the vine over time by not pruning.

Grapevine Cane BudNow that we know how beneficial pruning is for grapevines, how exactly do we go about cutting off canes in a manner that benefits the plant?  There are many different methods for pruning grapevines, too many to talk about here.  I will tell you that I have found a method that I like, and this method gives me good results.  The method that I use involves counting the number of canes on a vine (canes are the long shoots that grow off of the main grape vine), and counting the number of buds on a cane.  I limit each of my vines to between 6 – 8 canes, and I trim my canes down to 3 – 5 buds per cane.

Pruning ToolsThe trick to getting an accurate bud count per cane is to first determine where each cane has died back from the cold winter weather.  The canes will die from the tips back, and by tapping on the cane with your hand cutters you can hear the difference – the dead cane material will sound hollow when tapped.  Cut off the dead ends first; some of these can go quite a ways back to the central part of the vine, so check the entire cane.  Once the dead is cut off you know what part of the vine is alive, allowing you to make better decisions about where to cut.

Green Cut VineStart making your bud counts from the heart of the vine toward the ends where you just cut off the dead material.  You should have somewhere between 3 – 5 buds per cane, but also look for balance in the plant and the direction you would like to send growth for the coming season.  Cut off the excess part of the vine that has growth on it beyond the 3 – 5 buds.  When you make the cut, cut halfway between the last bud you are keeping and the first bud you are cutting off.  The fresh cut should be green, an indication that you are working with live material.  The reason for cutting halfway between the two buds is because the vine will die back slightly from where you cut, and you want the cut high enough that it won’t die back to the bud you intend to keep.

Cut CanesWhen you finish you will have a respectable pile of canes that have been removed from your vines, and your vines should look tidy and structured.  Your vines should not look like they have been hacked down to nubs, but instead should look like they have space for new growth along with a solid foundation to support the plant through the coming season.

Grapes 2012I have included a couple of videos that demonstrate the two most popular pruning methods – cane pruning and spur pruning.  Also check out Double A Vineyards for great information; they have a Training and Pruning section on their web site that is loaded with links.  Double A Vineyards also sells great stock – I order my grapevines from them exclusively.  And, do a little Google-snooping on your own and see what other methods might also work for you, your grape varieties, and your ultimate goals for your vines.  While it is possible to make pruning errors when working with your vines, remember that not pruning them is the ultimate error and will guarantee poor results for your vines.  Vines (unlike fruit trees) recover from pruning errors readily, making them a great fruit to prune while honing your technique and steeling your resolve.  Don’t be afraid to prune your grape vines – you can only help them in the long run.  I promise.


Cane Pruning


Spur Pruning

Do you prune your grapevines?  What method is your favorite?  Leave a comment and let us know how you care for your vines.  If you are just getting started in growing grapes and need a recommendation for specific varieties just let me know – I am happy to share what has worked well for me.



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48 Responses to For Summer Grapes Prune Vines Now

  1. Mike March 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    I need to find out what to do and if I can regrow my grape vine.

    I live in central MN (Sartell)

    I had the grape vine growing up a trellis. I moved and took the trellis with. I cut the grape vine off and left vines on trellis. (was frozen in ground)

    Can I get vines on trellis to regrow?

    Thank You,

    Mike Bromenschenkel

    • Christine March 25, 2013 at 7:34 am #

      Hey Mike! While it is possible to graft grape vines onto new stock it sounds like we might be a little too late here. How long ago did you cut the vines? If you had your root stock in hand already that would be better. If the vines are “live” (they will look green on the cut ends) you can try to put them in the refrigerator and keep them moist. When you are able get some root stock you could try to graft the vines onto the stock. This is tricky business but it is not impossible – it will depend on the life energy left in the vines, the quality of your root stock, and your skill as a grafter. I have pasted in a link with a better explanation. Good luck!

    • Christine March 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

      Hey Mike – one more thought on this. Again, this is going to depend on how long ago you cut your vines, but in some cases you can get grape vines to root directly in moist soil. Get a bucket of good potting soil, cut fresh end off of your canes, and stick them in the bucket. This process can take months so be patient, keep the soil moist, and keep your fingers crossed! 😉

  2. Theresa July 28, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Thank you for your informative piece. I hope you can help me. Long Island NY, my mature grapevine arbor got pruned viciously. The long overhanging shoots were hacked haphazardly. As a result the leaves have dried out. Is it dead? Can I heal it? Your help is much appreciated!

    • Christine July 30, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      Well, I have never been in your situation, but I know someone else who has. She was certain her grape was dead but surprisingly it made comeback. You have to retrain the cordons, but I am optimistic in time you can nurse it back to health. If enough carbohydrate was stored in the roots before said hacking the grape will make it through the winter and emerge in spring. Keep your fingers crossed!

  3. Rose September 8, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    I live in Piedmont region of NC and have a Muscadine grape vine that is probably 4 years old. I am guilty of both of the reasons you stated and now have an out of control vine that is taking over. It is now September and of course, I have very few grape clusters (as far as I can see) and they are not ripening properly. I am not worried about production this year, but also don’t want to damage the vine by pruning at the wrong time. Will it damage the vine if I prune it now to get it under control?

    Thank you,
    Rose Saulsbury
    Pittsboro, NC

    • Christine September 11, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Hey Rose! I would say wait to prune. I don’t know much about grapes, but I do know that the reason for winter pruning is to keep fungus from getting into the cut ends of the vines. Fall is a time that has fungus around, though I don’t know if it is the kind that will hurt grapes, or not. Deep winter is the recommended time. I know it’s a mess right now, but wait if you can. 🙂

    • Julia Shields February 25, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

      Muscadines are a law unto themselves, with fruiting produced on new growth from last year’s growth, pruning in late winter, leaving 2-5 buds on last year’s growth. There are lots of YouTube videos to help. Several Chatham County master gardeners will soon be coming to prune my overgrown muscadines grown on overhead arbors; we’ll all be learning together and taming the jungle.

      Chapel Hill, NC

      • Christine February 27, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

        Good to know about muscadines – I don’t have any experience with them.

  4. Sarah January 24, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Hi Christine,
    I live in Colorado Springs area, and I am wondering what types of grapes you grow here?

    • Christine January 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      Edelweiss for white, and Steuben for red.

  5. Ray Underwood June 10, 2014 at 3:01 am #

    I have bought a new house in the UK and have grapevines growing round my house. The previous owner assures me they bloom and grow every year. I plan to prune prune late winter as you recommend. However, I am not sure what else I should do when they start to grow like they are now. The new vines are spreading out away from the trellis and there are big leaves. Should I try and “train” the new vines onto the trellis or just leave them? Should I cut back any of the leaves during htis time or just leave as thye are until harvest at end of September, early October?

    • Christine June 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

      Hey Ray! I think you would be okay training the vines to the trellis. I wouldn’t cut them, but weaving them back sounds fine. See how they produce this year, and make a decision about pruning after you get a sense of how they produce. Grapes really do best when pruned, so decided what shape you want the vine to be and go with that. It may take you a couple of years if your desired shape is different from how the grape is currently growing.

  6. Devorah October 2, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    My mom really, really wants to cut down the grape vines that crisscross our porch. The guy who previously lived in this house really let them run rampant, so it’s all a big, tangled mess. If we cut off the vines at the top of the fence on each side, will they regrow from the stumps or whatever? (We’re definitely novices at this, so… yeah. 🙂 ) Thanks!

    • Christine October 2, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      They will regrow – you can prune them back pretty hard and they should bounce right back. Decide what pruning style you would like to stick with (this determines the “shape” of the vine) and prune heavily this winter. I take mine down to just about sticks each winter, and each summer they produce well. Check out Double A Vineyards – they have some great tutorial videos on their site.

  7. Dan May 1, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    We bought a house last fall and there were lovely clusters that looked like concord grapes in the back yard. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to harvest them. I just read the article on pruning and see that I’m a little late this year. Should I avoid the pruning this year and wait until next year? We are in Maine so spring is late this year. I don’t think the vines have begun to bud yet.

    • Christine May 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

      I didn’t get mine pruned this year either – I’m leaving them as they are until next year.

  8. Eddie Berrios May 15, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    Hi I recently moved to Ohio into a property that has an existing grapevine. I would love to keep and maintain them but they are already starting to bud and it’s May so I don’t know if i should prune them or leave them alone. Also this is my first time caring for one so any tips would be great. Thx

    • Christine May 16, 2015 at 6:26 am #

      If it were me, I would just study the plant for this season, and make a plan to prune in late winter/early spring of next year. Check with an expert for a second opinion, but if my grapes break bud and haven’t been pruned, I wait.

  9. Candace July 1, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Christine, I recently purchased a home in NE Phoenix which came with two mature grape plants. They began to produce vines and very large leafs in March/April, but then started to struggle due to insects in May. I reached out and started to use some insect spray and had hope that the vines would begin to improve. Then I came home from work in June to find the landscaper had trimmed back all the vines, because he through they were dying. I’m concerned that the plant has been pruned in the middle of winter (very hot in Phoenix). Plus, I quite honestly am not sure how to care for the plant and would like to learn. Any recommendations for quick care would be wonderful. I would like to get it through this year, and work on maintenance so to have a healthy plant next year.

    • Christine July 3, 2015 at 7:04 am #

      Candace try the Double AA Vineyard website. They have a ton of tutorial videos that I think are quite helpful. They’ve also been available by phone when I had a quick question. Now I did buy my grapes from them, so it was customer support, but I’m sure they’d be happy to help in general.

  10. Shannon October 16, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Our grapevine was just butchered. They cut the 2″ diameter trunk down to about 2′ tall. Only the barky, dry stump is left. The full crop of grapes was just ready to harvest and the first frost will come next week. What are its odds of survival?

    • Christine October 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

      Um… what happened!? Mulch it to protect the roots, don’t keep wet by water occasionally to keep the roots from desiccating. Most production grapes are grafted on to root stock. If they cut below the graft, the grape vine that grows back will not be what you had. Serious bummer. 🙁

  11. Yolonda January 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    Hello I prune my grapes too early before first frost will they die also I container grow them one is a few years old had grapes got two new one new to this need help
    Thank you

    • Christine February 1, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

      I would not prune your grapes before late February, but definitely get them way before they start to break bud. I don’t grapes in containers so I can’t comment on how to care for them. Check out Double A Vineyards for additional tips, or just call them. They’re great, and very knowledgeable.

  12. angie March 20, 2016 at 7:31 am #

    Christine, I have 2 grave vines that were perfectly fine for a few years. Last year they produced beautifully.
    I live in TX. This winter didnt get too cold. I pruned in january. We are in March and I didnt see any keaves coming out so I started cutting the branches and they were dead. I kept cutting until I wld find anything alive. Unfortunatelly only part of the trunk was alive. I am very sad wondering if just the teunk wld even get any new branches :(pls help) are my vines gone now? Or will I have to wait long time again for them to re establish as a regular vine….

    • Christine March 22, 2016 at 8:33 am #

      Oh my goodness – what happened to your poor baby!? I do think it will come back, but keep an eye on it. Many (most, from my understanding) grapes are grafted onto sturdy rootstock. If the vine died back below the graft, the growth that comes back might not be the grape you had before. Good luck, and so sorry to hear that your grape took a hit this last season.

  13. Jerry April 8, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    Hello. I was wondering if it would be too late for me to prune my grape vines this late. I live in Georgia, just moved to a home that had two rows of grape vines. About 16 total plants they look that they have been in the property for a few years now. I was wondering if I can send you a picture to see if you can tell me what I can do first they also seem that they might have some kind of decease or fungus. I am new to planting any kind of vegetables much less grapes 🙁 but I want to learn.

    • Christine April 18, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

      Hmmm… that sounds late. I’m no grape expert, and I don’t know that I could identify a fungus on one. You should have an Extension in Georgia – if you do they would be far better able to help you in the deep south. Google for Georgia Extension Office and see if something comes up.

  14. André April 14, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    Dear Christine,
    Can you please help me with some advice.
    I got a little stick of a grape vine about 4 years ago, put it into a glass of water from November and when it sprung roots in March I planted it outside, over years has become a great plant.
    But this year I pruned a few days ago, pruned back to the main branches(not trunk) and its bleeding and about 30cm of thr bottom trunk seems constantly wet. Cant see any buds on the branches, as these were cut off right down to the main branches from the trunk.
    I was an idiot to prune now instead of in autumn. Climatewise is probably like north of New York, I live in Denmark.
    Do you think the vine will survive, despite the late pruning and bleeding?
    Thanks beforehand for your reply!
    Wish I’d seen your website earlier:(

    • Christine April 18, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

      Yes, I do think it will survive. I’ve had a grape weep for days (looked like it rained around it) and it pulled through. Not great for the plant, but grapes are very tough. Keep the faith – it just might make it. 🙂

  15. Marlin Pruett April 19, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    I live in Texas and we have had so much rain, Grape vines are running wild, Can i cut the tips to stop them from running new growth

    • Christine April 21, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

      If you cut them now you run the risk of a fungal infection.

  16. Christine May 10, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    I live in northern California and pruned my grapevines back in early spring but now they are totally overgrown again! I assume I just didn’t take off enough canes? We moved to this new house in June last year and have never had grapes before. The vines had many bunches on them when we arrived, however, because of the drought and probable zero watering, they were all dried up raisins! As of yet, I have not seen any new clusters starting and I’m not sure what to do at this point other than train the long vines back onto the trellis? From reading other posts, pruning now might introduce fungus, so any advice?

    • Christine May 16, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Can you send a picture? Not sure what they look like. Vigorous growth is a good thing – usually. 😉

  17. Keith Arnold May 31, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    I’ve got loads of foliage but no sign of blossom . My vine is 5 years old . I either get bitter grapes or split grapes

    • Christine June 6, 2016 at 10:02 am #

      Yikes! I don’t know what’s causing the bitter grape problem – is it the variety?

  18. Rob Long August 11, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    Christine, I have two vines that produce a huge amount of grapes and great big leaves. They are just beautiful. However, the grapes only get to be about 5/8″ in diameter and they are always just sour. Is there anything I can do to transform them into edible gems?

    • Christine August 22, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

      Hmmm, sound like a variety issue. Do you know what the variety might be? Did the vine die back to the root stock at any point in time? Could the grapes be from the root stock and not from the grafted variety?

  19. Hank August 22, 2016 at 6:50 am #


    I’ve a three year old backyard vine trained as cordon. This season, only two buds broke on each arm with little or no fruit. I let the canes grow. Later, a new set of strong canes grew slightly below the head which I trained to wire below. Now the question is, what would be the best way to go forward in terms of pruning coming winter?


    • Christine August 22, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

      Honestly Hank I don’t know – it sounds like your pruning and training skills are beyond mine. If it were me, I would contact someone like Double A Vineyards for advice.

  20. Karen Thomas February 20, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

    I am afraid I have killed my muscadine vines. I was waiting to prune at the end of winter, but I am in Tallahassee, FL, and we didn’t get a winter this year. So, I pruned them back Feb. 1st, they already were loaded with buds (I thought they would sprout new ones). Three weeks later, the sap continues to drip from the cut ends and sometimes is viscous…and NO new buds. These vines were about 2 years old when I planted them in the ground; now they are 5 years. Can I help them? My husband fertilized them with 10-10-10 before I thought to ask about it.

    • Christine February 20, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

      Oh no – that sounds rough! This “no winter” winter has been rough on all types of fruit producers – they’re all so confused they don’t know what to do. I have heard stories of folks pruning later in the year, and lots of sap running. Those folks claim that as long as the grape doesn’t contract a fungus it will be okay. I’m no expert, so I would contact a true viticulturist to check. Good luck!

  21. MaKayla Komes April 23, 2017 at 11:36 am #

    Hello. We recently bought a house in a small town in south dakota. It laid empty and it’s yard unkept for 3 years before we moved in. Last year was my first year with the grapes that have gone wild. It’s becoming nice and I’m wondering about pruning this wild things back into a manageable mess of vines. Mostly they grow along the ground and at times get run over by the mower (hubby forgets to move them back). There is a very little wire that’s supposed to hold the vines, its tall and needs more lower wites to hold the small vines. Thinking about revamping the area this winter but need to fix it now before they get killed. Is it ok to prunexpected and re wrap vines? What should I do to help them? There are so many dead vines in the live ones, they need help.

    • Christine May 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

      Hmmm… I think I would contact a vine growing company and ask their advice – this sounds a bit tricky. I swear by Double A Vineyards – they are super helpful.

  22. Chang April 30, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

    I have a kyoho grape in my backyard, are all grape same that grapes grow on the one year old cane? In my hometown where is in China, grapes are planted in 2 feet apart, just one main trunk, and people just let the grapes grow on the main trunk. After watching so many grape tree constructors, I am so confused, I don’t know which way to follow. If you have a email address, I can send you the pictures of their grapes.

    • Christine May 1, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

      I would contact Double A Vineyards – they are far more knowledgeable than I about pruning grapes.


  1. Spring Has Sprung – Here’s Your To-Do List For April 2014 | Right to Thrive - April 18, 2014

    […] to bloom later in the season, hopefully so they miss the late freezes.  As for your vines, your grape vines should have been pruned in February or March, so not much to do with those right now other than water if there’s no […]

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