Growing Grapes

Also see our other pages on Growing Grapes:

      Pruning             Propagation       

We've found that growing grapes is one of the most reliable ways to produce your own fruit in our region (central Pennsylvania - zone 5).  There have been many years were late frosts took our apple and cherry crops.  But grapes rarely lose their flowers to frost since the flowers are formed on new wood.  Even when the flowers get damaged, they simply form more flowers.  Established grapes grow fast and need minimal fertilizer.

Page Index:

Characteristics & Preferred Growing Conditions

Planting

Trellis Design

Grape Characteristics &
Preferred Growing Conditions

Life Cycle:  Grape vines are deciduous perennials.  In spring, they leaf out first, and grow new vines.  The pendulous flowers then form on these new vines.

Soil:  Sandy loam or silt loam.  Well draining. 

pH:  5.5 - 7.0

Light:  Full sun

Cultivation:  Keep the area around the grapes free of weeds for about 6 - 12 inches.  This is particularly important for young 1 - 3 year old plants.  Don't cultivate deeply.

Mulch It isn't necessary to mulch grapes but it does help improve soil condition and water retention.  Since they prefer slightly acid soil its OK to use oak leaves and brown pine needles as well as the usual bark mulch.  If your soil is high in clay, apply sand mixed with materials high in humus such as leaf litter or manure.  If your soil is sandy, just apply humus to help it hold water.  Mix into the top inch or two of soil but don't go too deep since grapes have a lot of long surface roots.  If you can't mix it in, don't worry, it will still help improve the soil quality over time.

Pruning:  Live grape vines are best pruned during winter while they are dormant.  Dead vines can be pruned anytime.  If you miss the window, and the plant is young, skip it this year.  They "bleed" when cut if they aren't dormant which is hard on young plants.  For mature vigorously growing grapes its less of an issue.  I prune the concords during the growing season as it is necessary for disease prevention.  For detailed instructions on pruning go to our Pruning page.

Water:  Once established they don't require watering unless you live in an arid climate or are experiencing a drought.  Young plants may need watered as often as weekly in the absence of rain.  Try to keep water off the leaves to prevent fungal diseases.

Growing Zones

Depends upon species and variety.  As a general rule the fine wine making grapes, Vitis vinifera, are more tender (6+). Species native to the US, Vitis labrusca, are tougher (4+).  Hybrids have been developed that are also quite tough (3+).

Zones of Some Popular Varieties

Canadice (labrusca):  zone 5 - 8
Catawba (labrusca):  zone 4 - 8
Chardonnay (vinifera): zone 6 - 9
Concord (labrusca): zone 5 - 9
Frontenac (vinifera hybrid): zone 3 - 7
Fry Muscadine (rotundifolia): zone 7 - 9
Golden Muscat (labrusca): zone 5 - 8
Merlot (vinifera): zone 6 - 10
Niagra (labrusca): zone 5 - 8
Pinot Noir (vinifera): zone 6 - 9
Reliance (labrusca): zone 5 - 8
Steuben (labrusca): zone 5 - 8

Propagation:  Softwood & hardwood cuttings, layering, and grafting.  Growing grapes from seed is difficult and is usually only done when developing hybrids.  We use layering since growing grapes this way is easy and foolproof.  Click for detailed instructions.

Planting Grapes

Grapes with a robust root stock like this will transplant well.

Grapes can be purchased and planted as bare root/dormant, potted/dormant or potted/leafed out.  If you purchase the latter, plant out when all danger of frost is past. 

Most roots in hole.  A few near surface.
  1. Water the vine if the soil is dry.
  2. Dig a hole slightly bigger than the pot.  If bare root, dig the hole as deep as the longest root.
  3. Mix some manure or slow release all purpose fertilizer with the soil that was removed from the hole.
  4. Un-pot the plant.  If in a peat pot, remove it.  We've dug up plants after 3 years in the ground that still hadn't grown through their peat pots!
  5. Hold over the hole with the top of the roots just below the top of the hole.  Most of the roots are placed to go straight down into the hole.  Grapes send out surface roots to increase nutrient uptake.  If there are enough roots, set a few to run a few inches below the surface.
  6. Replace the amended soil into the hole, with your other hand.  Try to avoid air pockets and make sure the soil is firmed against the roots.
  7. Water thoroughly
  8. Add mulch.  If you have chickens, they will scratch away all of the mulch to eat bugs.  To prevent this, use stones instead, or cover the mulch with wire mesh such as coated chicken wire or hardware cloth.  Pin the mesh to the soil.

Grape Trellis Design

Once vines reach 3 feet long, they will need support.  Mature grape vines get very heavy with vines and fruit.  The design shown above is simple but works really well.  The uprights are 8 foot pressure treated 2x4s buried 2 ft in the ground.  The cross pieces are 2x2s.  They were pre-drilled and screwed to the uprights with 2-3/4" drywall screws.  I use 2x2s since they don't block air circulation.  This is very important for reducing fungal diseases.

Many vineyards use high tension wire.  The uprights at the end of the rows must be braced so they can resist the pressure of the wire.  If you are planning a large vineyard or are going to grow grapes commercially, this is a successful and economical method of support.

We don't recommend wooden or plastic lattice.  It's pretty but blocks way too much air circulation.  The vines will eventually get damaged or break the lattice as they become wider than the lattice holes.