Over the last 25 years trying to live close to the land in West Virginia, I have had several adventures with grape vines. I love the vines for their wildness. I sometimes wonder if the wild muscadine vines here are kin to roaches or coyotes because of their staying power. I think one day they will take over the world after some crazy annihilation of the human race. They are truly the winding, twirling, fast growing vines of folktales and do real destruction if left on their own.
They also produce an easy to grow fruit that almost everyone likes, grapes. Grapes make so many wonderful tasting things that is almost impossible for me to picture my country life with out them. So when we bought the “new to us house” last year, one of the things I wanted to grow was concord grapes. We had been able to take care of the family farm for several years and Tom’s dad had several concord grape vines established when we moved in. I quickly learned how to make grape jelly and concord grape juice from the old vines. So, some kind of grape vines were on my wish list when we were looking for a new home. The exciting part for me is that this house had a grapevine… what kind of grapes no one knew. The vine was over grown and not well staked. So I had part of my wish answered but a lot of work to get it into shape.
I started my pruning at the recommended time ( late fall to late winter) after the vine had gone dormant. The temperature outside was around 50 degrees when I started working on getting the single vine back in shape. The vine had been let go so long that I found several vine tendrils had re-rooted on their own over the years.These sprouts needed to stay attached to the ground if I wanted over half the vine to remain alive. This complicates things, none of the gardening guides or books said anything about this problem.It often happens and is natures way to reproduce another grapevine. I did the best I could with the off shoot and attempted what the guides offered for advice(not much on old vines by the way). I followed the main vine and marked off with tape three main branches from the original root-stock and tried to keep them and remove the rest. One of the re-rooted shoots was from the main three branches so I really needed to keep it. That shoot was going to make trellising the vine almost impossible.
The vine had grown so long that it was actually attacking a small ornamental tree in the yard. When we moved in I had cut all of the vine from the little tree in the early spring to stop it from covering it and knew I would need to do more work this winter. In the course of 6 months the tree was under attack again. Tendrils had reached to top of the 10 foot tree and covered half of the trees branches.In a matter of 3 years the tree would die from lack of light reaching the leaves and the choking action of the vine. Even domestic grapevines can be destructive if not maintained.
Knowing grapevines only fruit on year old stems, I had to keep some the young shoots if I wanted any fruit at all next year. I literally pulled, tugged and untwisted most of the vine on to the ground to find were each branch went. Most of the vine had no outside support so this made pruning easy. I started to cut back everything that was old, dead or just to long. I removed about 3/4 of the old growth off the vine. The photo below shows the freed end of the arbor, ready for new growth.
I will likely only get five or six bunches of grapes this year because I removed so much of the vine this winter. Then the following year ( year 2) I should have 20 bunches of grapes if the weather allows. After the third year I will be back to prune the vine again. My local extension office suggests pruning almost every year on wine grapes or grapes that have been well-tended. I think in my case every two or three years should keep the vine healthy and looking full.
I plan to add another vine to the other end of the arbor this summer. A grape that could be used for fresh eating and wine making. Concord grapes are hardy in the cold but grow small and sour fruit. Just try eating the beautiful purple fruit raw…ooo… it takes a heck of a person to chew the tart skin and chew up the large seeds. I am hoping that adding a pink or red grape will add to what I can do with them.
In the future I hope to write a post about my home-made concord grape jelly made from the fruit of this very vine. I will be working hard to remove all the weeds and briers that moved in under the vines.I will be using our bunnies for fertilizer to help them grow stronger.I just hope the summer proves my pruning was a successful, that the vine is now healthy and providing my family with fresh fruit and juices.