You’d think after all thee years living in Italy I’d have already taken a stab at growing grapes — they are certainly easy enough to grow but like anything else, grapes demand a certain amount of time,attention, the right climate, and environment. I figure I finally have the time, it’s generally sunny in Southern Italy and if I can’t grow grapes here I better pick another country to live in. I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same success as me because I don’t know where you live.
Anyway let me start by saying that grapes — fortunately for me and weekend gardeners everywhere — grow all over the world in virtually any climate or soil type. They are especially easy to grow when planted from grape vine cuttings taken during the off season (also known as the “dormant season“). So actually my little story began last year. But at that time who knew if I would have a story to tell? In early spring, before the grape buds begin to bud, you can vine cuttings and place them in a prepared 24-inch deep hole, allowing two buds to remain above the soil surface (I have actually planted cuttings with more than two buds above the surface but I’m trying to simplify things here).
I’m at possibly a slight advantage because I was able to get grape vine cuttings from friends who already had grape vines. If you are not so lucky you can purchase pre-potted grape vines and plant those. As far as transplanting the vine cuttings, you’ll be happy to know that grapevines aren’t fussy about planting depth. In fact, it’s impossible to plant them too deeply. If you plant vines sold in cardboard sleeves, there’s no need to remove the container, as it will soon rot in the soil. It’s recommended, however, that you leave the top of the sleeve just above the surface of the soil.
Once the grapes are planted, it’s a matter of regularly watering them. If you can set up a drip-irrigation system for your vines you go to the head of the class. If you can’t do that, let’s say you’re just trying to grow some vines up and around a trellis, than you have to maintain a schedule to water the vine cuttings on a regular basis.
Based on what I have learned and what I have experienced, I can attest that if the cuttings take root and make it through the first year (which they probably will as grape vines are quite durable) then I humble suggest that you allow your grapes to grow wild during the first year. Don’t even think about pruning until the second season. As a rule, grapes should be pruned in winter or very early spring, before the buds begin to swell. Grapes don’t grow on vines less than a year-old. And wouldn’t you know it, as I write this its just about time for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work on this.
And now a few words about pruning: there are two common pruning techniquesfor grapes: spur pruning and cane pruning. As I just mentioned, you don’t want to do anything the first year — do no pruning at all. But the following winter you’ll want to select the longest, strongest vines, and remove all other growth.
According to the site Bunchgrapes.com — which is a lot more eloquent when it comes to pruning than I could ever be — for spur pruning, let two shoots grow just below the tip of the trunk. Pinch out the tip. The second winter, remove the side shoots from the arms (branches) formed the first season. The third winter, prune off weak side shoots from the arms, and leave strong stems (spurs) spaced 6″ to 10″ apart along the arms. Cut these spurs back to two buds each. Each winter following, leave two more buds on the spurs.
For cane pruning, in the second winter pinch off the tip of the main stem when it grows 1′ above the top of the support. Remove side shoots on the lower half of the trunk. During the second winter, leave four side shoots for permanent canes; cut them back to two buds. Thereafter, remove the canes that bore fruit to two buds.
And a now a few tips I picked up from Ehow.com:
Use a sturdy metal trellis if you want to grow plants in your garden. These plants are vigorous and heavy once established.
Make sure there is something for the grapes to climb on, and don’t allow the roots to dry out while you’re planting.
Red roses are often used as companion plantings for grapes. The roses attract bees, which pollinate the grapes. Select a climbing variety of rose to dress up your trellis. So there you go – as you can see, grape vines are easy to plant and easy to prune. And you’ll find that if you remain patient through the first year, all that waiting will pay off in year two and beyond and before you know it you’ll have vines growing all over the place. One thing all grapes have in common is the way they grow. Grapes love full sun. In closing let me just say that fortunately planting grape cuttings is the easy part of growing grapes. Again, grapevines usually need no fertilization and it’s near impossible to plant a grapevine too deep. Dig a hole, get it good and wet, saturate the root ball of your grapevine, plant it and sit back to watch and water and don’t about making wine for at least another years or two.