Tag: grapes

Growing Grapes in a Small Space

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
  • Pruners
  • Ties

Sketch of Grape Vine Trained in Umbrella Kniffen

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!

Growing Grapes

Sometimes my grand plans just don’t turn out as I envision. No matter how well prepared I am, Mother Nature always holds the wildcard. As a fellow gardener I think you know what I mean.

Last year I developed a design for a two espaliered pear tree tunnels that would sit on either end of the vegetable garden at the Garden Home Retreat. It was an industrious project that involved installing two metal tunnel-shaped arbors planted with 8 espaliered pear trees. Given a few years for the trees to mature, I just knew it was going to be stunning.

Unfortunately the pears had other ideas. The branches wanted to grow straight up and were too stiff to bend and attach to the curve of the arbor. My vision just wasn’t going to happen.

Grapes Climbing Up a Trellis
Because of all the work that went into the project, this wasn’t a case where I was willing to go with the flow so I made a mid-course correction. I moved the pears to the vegetable garden proper and planted grapes in their place. The pliable grape vines will be much easier to train and the open, sunny location is perfect for growing these fruits.

One big problem gardeners often face when growing grapes is fungal diseases. This tendency coupled with the hot, humid-summer climate typical at the Retreat could equal a whole lot of extra work. I’m hoping to circumvent the situation by selecting varieties that are reliably disease resistant.

Varieties Planted at the Garden Home Retreat (mid-south, hardiness zone 7)

‘Mars’ – Mars is a blue, seedless table grape with labrusca flavor similar to Concord grapes. Compact clusters of mid-sized berries are ready to harvest mid-season or sometime in late August. It’s a slipskin, which means the outer skin is easy to remove from the pulp. It is highly disease resistant, but may require a certain amount of spraying. Very vigorous.

‘Sunbelt’ – This is a selection of Concord that is recommended for warm climate gardens because of its ability to ripen evenly in hot weather. Plus it is highly resistant to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew and mildly resistant to black rot and anthracnose. Large, blue, seeded berries in small clusters are ready for harvest mid-season.

‘Reliance’ – ‘Reliance’ is a pink, seedless table grape with medium to small berries in medium to large clusters. It is very hardy with moderate resistance to fungal diseases. Very flavorful. It’s an early to mid season variety so it might work in areas where summers are short.

The Grape Tunnel

Baby Grapes

Baby Pears

Grapes aren’t really any more difficult to grow than other plants. A little research into the best varieties for your area, planting techniques and training will go a long way toward success.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Preparation – The fall before you will be planting the grapes is the best time to create your bed space.

Varieties – Most grapes will grow in zones 5 – 8. In addition to winter hardiness, gardeners should consider their growing season and typical weather conditions. Northern regions with short summers should select early maturing varieties and gardeners in hot, humid climates should look for disease resistant varieties.

Planting – The best time to plant grapes is early spring, 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. Select healthy, one-year old plants. Choose an area that receives full sun and is sheltered from prevailing winds. The soil should be well-drained and slightly acidic.

Water – Grapes need 1-inch of water per week the first year after planting. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant.

Training – There are several methods of training grapes to support systems. Select a method that is best suited to your site and enthusiasm. Although young plants may not need to be supported until the second year, go ahead and install your trellis support system when you plant them. This way you won’t have to worry about disturbing the roots.

Prune – As you plant, cut the vine down to a single cane and reduce the height to two buds. Prune annually in late winter or early spring according to the training plan you choose.

Fertilizer – Grapes don’t need much feeding. About 3 weeks after planting apply 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer in a circle around the base of the vine, about 4 feet out. The following spring, just before the plants break dormancy, repeat the application using 1/2 pound of fertilizer. This should do it. If the plants begin to lose vigor, get the soil tested and apply the appropriate blend of fertilizer in spring.

Harvesting – Wait until grapes are completely ripe to harvest. The best way to judge is by taste.


Propagating Grape Vines from Cuttings

A friend of mine grows a seedless grape vine that produces the sweetest, dark purple grapes I have ever tasted. My question is how do I start a new vine or vines from a seedless grape?

You are in luck because grape vines are easy to propagate from cuttings. With this method a section of the stem is cut, inserted into a potting medium and new roots sprout from the planted end of the stem. Here is how to do it.

  • Take the cutting in early spring while the vine is still dormant.
  • Make sure the stem cutting has at least 3 leaf nodes. A node is a slight bump on the stem. Cut the stem right below the bottom node and about 1 inch above the top node.
  • Dip the bottom end of the stem in rooting hormone. You can purchase rooting hormone at a garden center or nursery. This step is optional since grapes root easily, but it helps to promote new root growth.
  • Insert the stem in a 4 to 6 inch pot filled with sterile potting soil or sand. The stem should be inserted deep enough that the second node from the bottom is at soil level.
  • Water and place in a frost free, humid location with bright, indirect light.
  • Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Move the cutting outdoors after the last frost date in your area. Place it in a shady spot for a week before planting it in a sunny location where you want it to grow. Keep it well watered the first year until it is fully established. As it develops, give the vine some support, such as a trellis or fence.

Grapes are a Superfood

One cup of grapes a day will keep the doctor away.

If you want to give yourself a healthy boost, look no further than the sweet, juicy goodness of grapes. Red and purple grapes are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that actually help you stay healthy. When you eat grapes you get a dose of resveratrol, manganese, thiamin, potassium and vitamins B6, C, and K.

So what does that mean for you? The antioxidants and nutrients in grapes lower your chances of heart disease, heart attack and stroke by decreasing LDL cholesterol, help prevent blood clots and high blood pressure and strengthen connective tissues.

5 Super Grapes to Grow

Imported grapes are also on the Dirty Dozen list created by The Environmental Working Group. They’ve compiled a list of produce with the highest pesticide load. To diminish the risk they recommend buying organic grapes or those grown in the United States. I say avoid the issue all together by growing your own. Here are five possibilities.

Concord – dark purple, zones 4 – 9, sweet, ripens in early fall, seedless variety available

Glenora – blue-black, zones 5 – 8, extra juicy with rich flavor, ripens in late summer, very cold tolerant, seedless variety available

Mars – blue, zones 5 – 9, huge fruits, ripens in late summer, seedless, disease resistant

Reliance – deep red, zones 4 – 8, sweet with a firm texture, ripens in late summer, seedless variety available

Valiant – blue, zones 4 – 8, tangy flavor, ripens in early fall, very cold tolerant