Growing Grapevines (And Grapes) At Home

Growing Grapevines (And Grapes) At Home

By Michael Jenkins

Growing fruit and berry plants at home can have a number of benefits for your garden. Many of these plants are beautiful, and can add a unique touch to your aesthetic and landscaping. Depending on where you live, you may have an opportunity to showcase and support native plants by using them in your edible landscaping. While blueberry bushes, blackberry brambles, and various fruit trees are all quite popular, many gardeners overlook grape vines as a possible garden plant. As it turns out, growing grapevines at home can be fairly easy—with some caveats. Let’s dig in and take a look at growing grape vines at home and what you’ll need to do it.

A couple of quick notes before we begin: we’ll be using the words “grape” and “grapes” to refer to both the plant and the fruit, relying on context to make it clear which one in particular we mean. We’ll be using “grapevines” to refer to the vining plant. We’d also like to note that whole books, and indeed entire libraries, have been written about viticulture (growing grapes), so this is just an introduction and enough information to get you started. There’s always more to learn!

Kinds of Grapes to Grow at Home

Let’s start by talking about the various kinds of grapes available for the home garden, and why you might choose one over another. While we may often think about grapes as coming in “red” and “white”, the reality is that there are a huge number of grape species out there. Various kinds of grapes are found all over the northern hemisphere. Some produce usable fruit, some don’t, but they all have similar leaves, vines, and other structure. They’ve adapted to different conditions, however, so you’ll need to do some research and find the kind that’s right for you. Most garden grapes—the kinds you’ll find at your local nursery or garden store—come in one of these varieties:

  • European grapes (Vitis vinifera) includes the classic wine grapes of Europe and is the most popular “Old World” grape varietal. Used for wine making among other things, this varietal prefers warmer conditions and is far less cold hardy than some other options.
  • American grapes (Vitis labrusca)are the New World grapes native to the Americas, with dozens of wild varieties found growing feral across the continent. In the garden, they have many sub-varietals with many names—Catawba, Scuppernong, and Muscadine among the most popular. While they can be used to make wine, they’re also popular for snacking, or making jams, jellies, and preserves. These are typically much hardier than classical European grapevines, and can often withstand colder conditions.
  • Hybrid grapesare as the name suggests cross-breeds between American and European varietals, and may contain traits from both depending on the hybrid varietal in question.

So, which is right for you? That’s going to depend on your goals, location, and other factors, so it’s probably best to talk to your local nursery, garden club, or county extension office for local information. While in general American varietals are going to be easiest to grow in most places around the US, creative gardeners are growing European grapes in a surprising number of places these days, so don’t rule them out just yet. There’s almost certainly a variety of grape suited for your climate and location, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Planting Grapes in the Home Garden

So now that we’ve talked about what kind of grapes you might be able to grow, let’s talk about how to plant and grow them successfully! One of the challenges of growing grapes at home is space—most grape varietals need a fair amount of room to produce mature vines and fruit. Grapes are vining plants, and those vines will need support in the form of a trellis, arbor, or sturdy fence. Even a post or two in the ground can help your grapes thrive, so don’t feel like you have to do anything fancy. Arbors are popular options, as you can train your vines to grow up and over them. This creates a visual interesting feature in your garden and can make harvesting the grapes easier when the time comes.

Planting grapes is fairly easy. It’s best to start in early spring, with a rooted cutting purchased from a nursery/garden center or acquired from a friendly gardener. The planting hole should be roughly 12 inches/30cm wide and deep, in rich, well-drained soil that’s free of grass and weeds. Grape vines, especially young ones, do not like competition!. Grapes need full sun, so please take that into account while selecting your planting site.  Newly planted grapevines need a nitrogen fertilizer applied periodically for the first two or three years, and then a more balanced fertilizer and some compost when they start flowering and fruiting.

Pruning and Caring for Grape Vines

There’s a whole lot to be said about pruning grape vines—while it’s not particularly complicated, there are a great many different approaches and a number of things to consider. This is another place where local conditions and your particular variety of grape can make a difference, and it’s best to check with your local resources. In general: grapes should be pruned early in the spring before new growth starts. You should remove vines and canes that produced the previous seasons, because grapes only produce on new growth. Leave a few strong central canes and vines, and let the new grow stem from there. Keep central canes/vines that grew up or over the support you provided—you may be surprised by how much you remove, and that’s OK! Grapes are pretty hardy when it comes to pruning, and they’ll l likely grow back just fine. The new growth is where you’ll find buds, flowers, and eventually fruit, so that’s what you’re trying to encourage.

Pruning grapes is a great chance to take cuttings and give them to friends, following the basic guidelines for taking cuttings from any vining plant. Start with sharp pruning shears for all pruning task, and remember to keep everything clean so as to prevent infection and preserve the health of the plant!

Grapes aren’t especially prone to pests or problems, but some can occur. Powdery mildew, downy mildew, and similar issues are the most common, and can be treated by insuring good air circulation and removing infected growth. A fine mesh cover can prevent pests like moths, beetles, and the like from infesting your grape vines, while a heavier garden mesh can also help keep birds and squirrels from feasting on your grapes!

How to Harvest Grapes

Harvesting your home-grown grapes is one of the best parts about having them, and it’s generally pretty simple. Most grape varietals are ready to go when the fruits are mature, in late summer through the autumn of the year. While signs of ripeness depend on varietal, grape fruits are generally ready when they’re full, juicy, and richly, uniformly colored. It’s absolutely OK to try a few fruits and see if they taste ripe before you pick them, so don’t be afraid to sample!

Grapes can be used in a number of ways—almost all varieties are tasty when eaten fresh, and they can be processed into wine, or used in any number of recipes. This may be the subject of a future blog, so stay tuned!

The Joys of Home-Grown Grapes

Grapes are a fantastic, fascinating plant, and can become a particular interest or even obsession for some gardeners! They add visual delight to you garden throughout the growing season, can provide tasty and useful fruit, and are both interesting and fun to grow. We hope this inspires you to consider growing grapes at home, so let us know when you take the plunge! If you already grow your own grapes, please share your experiences with us! Gardzen is all about community, and we love to hear from you!

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