Monday, March 1, 2010

Pruning grapes

The abundant and still-falling snow has lulled me into winter complacency, so much so that I was startled to be facing the first day of March this morning. I probably should have pruned my grapevine in February. The grapevine must be pruned while still dormant, before early spring when the sap rises. One must find the ephemeral pruning window between the last of the bitter cold and the first hint of spring in the air. Here is the state of the concord grapevine pre-pruning, and admittedly I did some gentle debulking earlier in the winter:

As with most garden projects, I am forced to rely on books, the Internet and youtube videos for instructions on how to complete the task of pruning. So many books advise the new gardener to find an experienced person and watch them, learn from them. Unfortunately, I don't know a lot of wise old gardeners, and those I do know live far away. I could pay for the classes and workshops that pop up around the Chicago area, and I've done so before, but I have found I dislike the group learning scenario for garden topics. These workshops are usually packed with many people with even more beginning questions then me, or who are just *thinking* about gardening and haven't tried yet. I find it puzzling that some of these folks haven't done their homework beforehand (seriously, who pays $15 bucks for a seed starting workshop and then shows up not knowing that seeds come in different sizes?). Most irritatingly, I sign up for classes to watch a master at work, and it is usually hard to see the instructor. This is where I think belonging to a garden club would be a good idea -- I could easily find some willing mentors in the group. The problem for me with this, as with any club, is time: I work a very demanding job and have a small kid. The midweek daytime club gatherings just ain't gonna work, and weekends are for my own family and garden, not driving to yet another meeting.

Anyway, youtube is probably the best teacher for pruning grapes, outside of a real, living human being. Most of the book diagrams are designed for a more traditional wire trellis set-up, and I find many of the drawings quite difficult to decipher. I found the Dave's Nursery videos to be of particular use on youtube. Again, it did make me feel guilty about the flimsiness of my grape arbor...I should really have built a much sturdier structure along the side of my garage. I have compensated by keeping it tightly pruned to a few canes. At my next home, or if we wind up staying here past next summer, I will build a good strong arbor 5 or 6 feet deep, one ready to be well-laden with heavy bunches of fruit.

I read that Concord grape-type vines like long canes rather than short spurs, so I cut back to a few long canes, with 10 or 15 buds on each. This is the concord grape vine post pruning:

I should have been even harsher than this, but I left an extra branch of the central trunk, mostly because it served a structural purpose by tethering down my lightweight arbor. I pruned off all the canes though, so it should not tax the fruit growth on the other branches.

Finally, I realized I had a second forgotten grapevine stuck about four feet away from the concord. I am always startled to find that I have forgotten anything in my garden, since it is so small. There are days when I swear I know the contours of every leaf on every plant, since I have such a small space. When I put in the concord grapevine, I also bought another grapevine -- if memory serves, this was a buy-one-get-one bargain deal. I think it was a Niagara green grape; I can't be sure, since I lost the label. I stuck it in a suboptimal spot on the other side of the arbor and forgot about it while my concord took off like gangbusters. Last year, this three-year-old mystery vine took some serious damage in a windstorm, and I cut it back severely. I forgot I left it in-ground, and was surprised to see today that it had actually come back nicely. It didn't produce any grapes last season -- it didn't even prior to the damage -- so we'll see what happens this year. I decided to lean it back away from the arbor and train it along the neighboring fence, as the arbor can barely support the concord. This redirection again risked trunk damage -- looks okay for now, we'll see how it holds up. Per Martha Stewart's website, I pruned the branches of this one more severely, to only 3-4 buds.

If the Niagara grapes grow this season, it will be a nice bonus to have some table grapes in addition to the concords, which I use for jelly. A few sites state that it is commonly used for wines...maybe I can produce a bottle or two from my mini-vineyard!

1 comment:

  1. I do not have grapevines anymore but I understand what you mean by the timeliness of pruning.

    I worked full time for thirty-five years and could not join a garden club. It was frustrating and nights and weekends were filled with family.

    I do not work full time now so I joined two Garden Clubs. I am enjoying both for different reasons. I guess you could say I was self taught with many workshops.

    It sure looks like you know what you're doing!