Planning to put in a few vines to sweeten your table or make into wine? Growing grapes isn’t difficult to do, but to get bushels of succulent fruit, the secret is in planning.
When growing grapes, the first season should be devoted to two things: getting strong root systems and setting up your trellis system.
Choose your planting location carefully, because grapes like it dry, but not too dry. Put in a drip line that delivers water slowly, encouraging deep rooting. If planting in sandy soil, more frequent water may be needed.
Avoid planting grapes in the lawn. Though they like it dry, they’ll also take all the water you give them; the result is vines that grow so rapidly they take over the neighborhood, snatching at anything that isn’t quick enough to move out of the way. This is perfect if you have a rusty, old Buick to hide, but smothering to nearby plants.
Plan ahead for supporting the vines and think long-term – pretty lattices and lightweight twine isn’t enough to hold a plant that can live 100 years or more. Take it from me, these plants get heavy when they’re in fruit; one good wind and they tear from the wall, collapsing in a tangled heap of vine and crushed fruit. Putting it back up is nigh-on impossible without a machete, a crane, and a spotter to ensure you come back alive.
I’ve tried three types of trellising, and one thing I’m sure of is that grape arbors over seating areas are a recipe for disaster. As grapes ripen, many vines shed the fruit, which falls on the furniture below. Offer a seat to Aunt Bessie and she could end up with clusters under her keester if you’re not careful to clean up the fruit.
Instead of the arbor, go for the vineyard look with a heavy duty cable and turnbuckle system. Cable and turnbuckle systems use 10 or 13 gauge galvanized wire or 1/8 inch wire rope fastened to posts. The wire is fixed at one end and attached to a turnbuckle at the other, to take up slack as the wires are stretched over time. Run two lengths of wire, 12 feet or longer, on sturdy posts, putting three feet between the upper and lower lines. The lower line should be 18 inches from the ground.
Once your irrigation and trellising is installed, new grapes don’t need much attention the first year. In following years the training begins to keep them well behaved in the garden. For now, let the grapes ramble a bit, and lift stray vines away from places they shouldn’t be grabbing.
Here are some tips for those who want to get the most from their vines:
– Fertilize once in spring with a 10-10-10 solution. First year grapes don’t need to be fed at all.
– Protect fruit from animals by netting the entire plant. Stake the netting to the ground at each end and cinch together along the underside of the vines.
– Remove weeds from around the roots.
This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.