Growing grapes is a complex and sometimes time-consuming project with several steps involved. There are entire books written on this subject. The basic grape growing steps are listed here; if you require additional information, please consult the other HowToDoThings articles devoted to individual steps of growing grapes. For an extensive guide, this eBook will help you grow grapes like a pro: The Complete Grape Grower’s Guide.
- The first step in the process is to select the type of grape you want to grow. There are several things to consider before you make your final selection. What are the climate and soil conditions in your area - are they conducive for growing grapes? What do you want to do with the grapes after you harvest them? Are you looking for grapes to make juice, wine, jelly, or are you growing them just for snacking? After you have asked yourself these questions, consult with a local nursery to select a grape variety (or a few varieties) suitable to your needs and location. Most varieties of grapes will not begin producing fruit until about two to four years after being planted - growing grapes isn't something that happens over night! For more information, consult How to Buy Grapevines.
- When you are handling your grape rootstock, it is very important to never let the roots dry out. If you have bare rootstock, and you cannot plant the vines as soon as you get them, place the roots in a bucket of water and soak them. Do not soak them for more than a day, or the roots can be ruined. If you will not be able to plant your grapes for more than a day after bringing them home, dig a shallow trench and bury the roots temporarily. You can store them like this until planting time; just be sure you keep the roots moist.
- The next step in the process is to plant the grapevines you have selected. You should plant your grapevines at least 8-10 feet apart in rich, well-drained soil so they will grow. Grapevines thrive in sandy or rocky soil. Fortunately, grapes can often grow in places where other crops cannot be grown, such as rocky, sloping land.
In order to thrive and grow, grapes require a location with good drainage, another great reason to plant them on rocky, sloping land. If you plant your grapes in a bottom-land where water does not drain around the roots, you will encounter more problems with grape disease. Proper drainage is a key point in growing grapes.
- Even though grapes require well-drained soil to grow, they still need plenty of water during the first month or so after they are planted. After planting, water your young grape vines well, soaking the entire root. Keep the roots moist for the first month if possible. This will help the roots settle in and establish themselves so the grapes can grow healthily.
You will want to cultivate a large area around the base of the plants (at least 8 feet around the base). The roots of a single grapevine can spread out three to six feet from the base of the plant.
Check the leaves in the first couple years as you grow grapes; if they are dark green and healthy, your vines are receiving enough nutrients. If your vines are not receiving enough nutrients or if the soil is poor, add about 6 inches of compost in around the base of the plant. The compost will improve the soil, and add valuable nutrients for healthy growth.
Train your grapevine on a trellis. The trellis can be made from wood, wrought iron or PVC pipe with wire strung across it, or a combination of any of these materials. Training the vines to climb the trellis can be tricky. It is sometimes difficult to get the young vines pointed in the right direction. You may have to move them often in the first season to get them going where you want them to grow. Once you have worked with them, and get them growing in the right direction, they are easier to maintain. For more on this topic, please visit How to Construct a Grape Trellis. Pruning grape vines will also help you in your quest to train your vines on the trellis.
Pruning diverts the energy from the roots and vines into the fruit. If you do not prune, you will have less fruit, and that fruit will be smaller in size. Pruning should be done in late February or early March in most areas (earlier in warm areas like California) - after the roughest part of winter is over, but before the vine starts to grow for the new season. New vines grow from buds on last year's vines. If left unchecked, the vines will become an unruly mess - which will be a big problem when you want to harvest the grapes you grew. There are many rules for pruning, so be sure to check out articles or books devoted specifically to pruning before diving in. The following are some general rules:
- You should always trim off lateral shoots (shoots growing out to the side). This type of shoot is not very fruitful and should always be removed, unless you want the vine to grow into a support cane on the trellis.
- Prune new shoots back hard the first couple years to encourage the main vine to grow.
- The best buds for fruit production on a cane are the sixth through twelfth buds. Buds after that are not as productive and should be pruned back, unless you need them to provide stabilization on the trellis.
- Look for winter damage on your vines. Buds that are brown and brittle have been damaged by the winter weather, and should be pruned off.
- Keep your vines pruned to allow maximum airflow and sunlight to reach the vines and fruit.
- You will also want to protect your grape plants from pests, such as insects, birds, and mildew or fungus. Birds will try to eat the grapes as they ripen. You can protect the fruit by throwing a net over the vines and fruit when it gets close to harvest time. Make sure the net is pulled tight to prevent the birds from getting caught under the net, and being injured. Growing grapes in a sunny location, with an abundance of air circulation can help cut down on powdery mildew and fungus growth. When checking with your local nursery, ask about grapevine species resistant to powdery mildew and fungus. There are several organic based products on the market today to help control both insects and fungus. A good source for organic pesticides and fungicides is Gardens Alive.
- Harvest your grapes when the bottom and middle of the cluster are ripe. Look for rich colors and taste to determine whether the fruit is ripe. There are also testing kits you can purchase from specialty grape and wine stores. These tests check the sugar levels and pH in the fruit to determine whether the fruit is ripe. When you are picking your grapes, trim the cluster off with shears to minimize damage. Check the bunch over and look for rotten or unripe fruit, and discard. Refer to the article, How To Harvest Grapes, for a more detailed instruction on harvesting.
Growing grapes can be a very rewarding experience, but it does take time and dedication. You can also take your grape production one step further; check out How To Make Wine for tips on turning your grape harvest into delicious wine.