By SARAH MCCLELLAN-WELCH
Grapes are hardy plants that produce delicious, nutritious fruits. Wild grapes are common in our mountains and juice grapes were historically grown here in Cherokee. Successfully growing grapes requires a little effort to keep them going.
Build a trellis before you plant: Your grape will need something to climb on. Install a trellis before you plant the grape to avoid damaging its roots. A single wire trellis is recommend to prevent leaf and fruit disease by promoting air flow around the plant. To build: Set 2, 8’ posts 20’ apart. Sink the posts 3’ deep to give enough support to hold the vines up. String No. 9 gauge wire between the posts. Tie the vines to the wire as they grow.
Apply lime or wood ashes to the soil: Grapes are sensitive to the acidity of the soil. Our soils are slightly too acid for grapes to thrive. Apply lime or wood ashes to the planting soil and till it into the rooting soil to neutralize the pH and raise it to a level of pH 6.0 to 6.5.
The general rule of thumb for our soils is to till-in 1 pound of lime or 2 pounds of wood ashes into the planting hole. After planting, evenly spread another 1 pound of lime or 2 pounds of wood ashes around the outside of the planting hole. Reapply this treatment every 2 years spreading it out further each year as the roots extend.
Prune the vines every spring: A grape plant grows out from a main trunk. The side-branches are called “arms”. Spurs are the next set of branches off of the arms. These are where the leaves and fruits are formed. The spurs are pruned off every spring in March leaving only about 4” of growth. You want the spurs to be spaced at least 4” apart.
Prevent diseases & pests: Annual pruning will help reduce diseases on the leaves and the fruit. Copper spray is a common, organic, preventative treatment In our area growers usually apply three treatments with a copper spray: #1 Just as the tiny clusters flowers begin to form, #2 Two weeks after bloom and, #3 Four weeks after bloom. Do not spray if the outside temperature outside is above 85 deg. F because it might burn the leaves. As the weather warms, watch for Japanese beetles. Traps, hand-picking and soapy water will deter the beetles.
Grape Growing Basics:
Sunshine requirement – Grapes need to grow in full sun.
Soil – If soil is compacted till in a small amount of compost to loosen it.
Water – Grape roots will easily rot if standing in water. They thrive in well-drained soil.
Fertilizer – Grapes in the home garden generally do not need additional fertilizer.
Spacing – Set plants 3-6’ apart and rows 6-8’ apart.
Adapted by Sarah McClellan-Welch EBCI Cooperative Extension (828) 554-6935 from: Home Garden Muscadines by the University of Georgia , Grape Growing in the Home Garden by Cornell University, and Integrated Management of Grape Diseases by The Ohio State University.
Sarah is the EBCI agriculture extension agent with EBCI Cooperative Extension.