Grapes For Edible Landscaping

How about landscaping with grapevines and a spacious arbor you can have cool shade in your yard the second season after planting. Or grapes could give you a hedge or screen shielding your yard from the street or some unwelcome view. Use grapevines to soften the look of a fence or keep the wall of a building cool.

Ok, so to grow grapes, you're going to have to build something to keep them off the ground. You'll also have to cut the grapes back regularly, not just to keep it from running wild but to get a full crop of sweet fruit. Taken together, the trellis and the pruning technique add up to what I call "the Training system."

Grapes produce fruit on one-year-old wood only. Without pruning, the fruitful wood gets farther and farther out from the trunk with each passing season. Another good reason to prune is that grapes tend to produce-too much fruit, which stresses the plant. Bud development for the following year suffers, and the weaken vine is more vulnerable to winter injury. Proper pruning removes most of the previous season's growth and with it up to 90% of the fruit buds. That channels the plants energy into producing strong new growth and increases the sugar content of the remaining grapes.

One-year-old branches on grapes are called canes The ones you leave to produce fruit are shortened to various lengths: long canes to 8 to 12-buds each, short canes to 4 to 7-buds each, or spurs to just 2 or 3-buds.

When pruning, save only the healthiest canes. Ideal cane thickness is about pencil size, with 3 to 6-inches between the buds. Spindly canes are weal and unproductive, while overly thick, bull canes are too vegetative. Healthy canes are red-brown for American varieties, tan for hybrids, neither too light (which means they haven't received enough sun) nor blackened (indicating disease or winter damage).

The safest time to prune is late winter just as the buds begin to swell. That way you can assess the extent of winter damage. It doesn't hurt the

vine to prune while the sap is flowing, even though the amount of bleeding may seem extreme.

There's romance to many of the popular ways to use grapevines in the landscape: an arbor shading a patio, a bower over a bench, a leafy tunnel. But there are practical advantages to trellises as well. Keeping the vines with the fruit buds high off the ground reduces the risk of frost damage, a big advantage with seedless varieties, which are usually more vulnerable

to cold. If the structure is near the house or where people gather or pass frequently, bird damage will be reduced. Grapes often live 75-years or more, so your trellis will serve as a near-permanent landscape attraction. It's worth the trouble of careful planning and high-quality construction.

The curtain method of training is the system currently favored by most commercial growers. In the home landscape the curtain system is perfect if you want to make a dense-looking hedge about 6-feet tall or grow the greatest number of varieties in the least amount of space. Yields and sugar levels will be high, and pruning, spraying and picking are easier.

The trellis is a single wire running 6-feet above the ground, supported by sturdy posts. The grapevine's trunk goes straight up to the wire, then two shoots extend horizontally along the wire in opposite directions to make cordons. Fruiting canes arise every 8 to 10-inches along the cordons, and shoots drape down on either side forming the curtain.

A pergola is a series of sturdy poles that carry rafters and support the vines. Pergolas have open sides so you can see through them, with the grape foliage overhead. They're usually built to shade patios and major walkways. The structure's openness allows breezes to pass through and creates an island of comfort in a hot summer landscape.

Grape yields can be as high as or higher than with the curtain system, but grapes may not be as sweet because the jumbled shoots will shade each other.

Depending on the size of the pergola, you may be able to plant more than one vine. Each vine should have at least an 8 by 8-foot square area to cover; 10-feet by 10-feet would be even better. Of course you could eventually train one vine to shade an immense area, but coverage would take several seasons. And why not get some flavor variety into the grape crop and stretch the harvest with early and late varieties ?

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