Photo by Nick.Allen
When your picture grape vines, you may envision them in rows and rows along rolling, hillside vineyards. I have to agree that these plantings are lovely. But, did you know that grapes tend to fit neatly into backyard gardens? much the way that espaliers do. Grapes can be easily trained against a wall or fence — just like espaliered fruit trees.
In fact, the bright-green leaves turn an ugly, cyclone fence into an attractive, fruit-producing living wall. Grapes have no problem making large containers their home. And if you underplant them with a ground-hugging annual or perennial, they make a handsome statement worthy of the front yard.
The simplest way to acquire them is to find year old, bare-root grapes at your local nursery or garden center. You can always purchase them online or through a catalog as bareroot plants. Later in the year, you may find the more expensive, leafed-out plants grown in containers, as well.
While you’re perusing the possibilities, you’ll notice that grapes fall into these three categories: European, American, and American Hybrids (crosses between American and European grapes). Let your garden center or master gardeners at the Cooperative Extension Office know what you’re looking for in a grape and they’ll steer you to the right category.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
Planting Grape Vines
If your region experiences mild winters, such as California, you’ll want to plant your grape vines during the winter. But, if you’re in a colder zone and have deep snow, you’ll want to wait to plant them until about three weeks before your frost date.
In the home garden, grapes are usually planted against a support such as a fence or arbor. Choose a place that has full sun and well-draining soil. Dig the holes 1-1 1/2′ away from the support structure and 8″-10″ apart from each other. If there’s any top growth on the plant, cut it back so that it has 2 or three buds.
You’ll want the plants leaning slightly towards the supports. So while you’re planting, position them at an angle to guide them. Usually, they’re planted just as deep as they were in their original containers. However, this may depend on your growing zone, so check with your local nursery because they’re often planted deeper. When you slide them out of their containers, gently tease (pull and straighten) the roots so that they’ll spread out inside their planting hole.
Photo by sjsharktank
Grapes don’t need extremely rich soil because they aren’t heavy feeders. A moderately fertile soil is just fine with them. Their leaves are prone to fungal disease, so do your best to water them at the soil line — drip irrigation is your best bet. The vines should be pruned every year every year because the fruit is produced on the new growth. Plus, it’ll help restrict the plant’s mature size, as well. Pruning the old wood to two or three buds will stimulate the necessary new growth.
As far as how many plants you’ll need to produce a crop, nearly all grape varieties are self-fruitful, so go ahead and plant a mini-vineyard or just one as a focal point. The best advice here is to simply be sure that it’s a variety that likes your area.