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Grow Your Own Grapes

Grapes prefer a warm, sunny site that offers protection from wind and late frosts and has good air-circulation to reduce the chance of mildew and other fungus diseases. Soak roots 8 to 12 hours before planting and set 8 to 10 feet apart in rows 8 to 10 feet apart. If possible, run the vines east-west to reduce shade caused by the trellis. Work in compost before planting, but do not over-fertilize. Do not set the plants too deep. After planting, select the largest, strongest cane and cut it back so that two nodes or buds remain. Cut off all other canes. For the first year, allow the main stem to grow unchecked and train the vines on a trellis using two support wires. It will take about 3 years to get into full production.

PRUNING. Proper pruning is the only way to insure a good crop each year. Incorrect or no pruning will cause a rapid decline in production. Prune in late winter or early spring (February-March) before the buds begin to swell. Sap may run freely from the cut cane. This ‘bleeding’ does not harm the plant. Once established on an arbor or trellis, grape vines must be pruned each year. Grapes are produced on vines from the previous season. These one-year old canes are about the size of a lead pencil with nodes where the buds are located about 5 to 6 inches apart. When pruning, select 4 to 6 canes with 10 to 12 buds each. Once fruiting canes have been selected, cut off all other vines, but be sure to leave several two-bud spurs (canes) near the main stem for the next year. Tie all canes loosely to the arbor or trellis. In spring when growth begins, the main bud on each node will begin to swell. As the bud breaks, a single vine will develop which may be 3 to 6 feet long. From the bud at each node will come the fruit and foliage. Three or more bunches of grapes may develop on each new cane. It’s not uncommon for the first 1 or 2 buds on each cane to fail to grow.

FERTILIZER. Productive grape vines are heavy feeders. Apply a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or about one bushel of rotted manure to the soil under the vines of each plant in late fall or very early spring. If vines are growing excessively, stop fertilization as late season growth can lead to winter damage.

DISEASE & INSECT CONTROL. Good sanitation is key to controlling insects and diseases. Be sure to remove and destroy any dried fruits or leaves from the vines. A dormant spray is very effective and should be applied in early spring before the dormant buds swell and leaves appear. When used with good sanitation practices, much less spraying is needed during the growing season.

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