It may surprise you to learn that you don’t have to have a large amount of space to grow a grape vine. You can successfully produce grapes in a small bed or even a container. The trick is to use the Umbrella Kniffen training method. Don’t worry; it’s not some highfalutin regimen that you have to have a botany degree to understand. It’s a way to prune your grape into a standard form so that the vine will fit into a small space.
There are many, many different training systems for growing grapes and some of them have some pretty fancy sounding names. The Umbrella Kniffen method creates a single or double trunk and weeping canes. A grape vine trained this way looks sort of like a stripped umbrella. Hence the name.
- Grape vine
- Bed space or large container in full sun
- Four foot stake
Basic Steps for Growing Grapes in a Container or Small Bed
During the first growing season your goals are to establish the trunk and allow the vine to develop a healthy root system. After planting the vine, select the strongest cane (or two if you want a double trunk) and remove the rest. Cut the cane back so that there are only two or three buds left. New shoots will emerge from these buds.
When the shoots reach 6 to 10 inches in length, select the best one and remove the others. Tie the shoot gently to a training stake. I like to use a wooden stake about 4 feet tall to give the vine extra support and protection. As the summer progresses pinch off lateral shoots to allow the main shoot to grow to the top of the stake. You’ll need to keep tying it to the stake as it grows.
When the shoot reaches the top firmly tie it to the stake and cut the tip off. Don’t worry if the vine does not reach the top by the end of this first season. Just continue the process the next spring.
The next year new shoots will emerge from the top of the trunk. Remove any that appear lower down. You want the growth concentrated at the top.
Okay. So now you’ve made it through two or three growing seasons, depending on how long it took the vine to reach the top of the stake. In late winter you are ready select a few fruiting canes. Pick one cane on either side of the trunk, near the top and remove all others. If the canes are long and strong they can be left with six to 10 buds on them. Otherwise shorten each cane to three or four buds. In the coming summer you should be able to enjoy the first of your homegrown grapes.
To maintain the shape and health of your grape vine prune it every year in late winter. Select three or four of the best canes and prune them back to six to 10 buds. Pick two additional canes as renewal spurs. Cut them back to two buds. These can replace any of the main stems if they get damaged. Remove all the other canes and your set!