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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14 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. http://berrygrape.org/an-illustrated-guide-to-field-grafting-grapevines/ 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.

      JES
      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.

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  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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