How to Care for Grape Vines
- Full name: Vitis vinifera
- Habit: Climbing
- Hardiness: Mostly hardy. Should thrive across most of the UK and Ireland. Can survive winter temperatures of -10°C.
- Pollination: Self fertile
- Height: 4-8m / 13-26 feet when mature
- Flowering: June-July
- Harvest: September - October
- Suitable for: Planting and trellising
- Difficulty: Easy
When it comes to growing grapes, you will be forgiven for assuming that there's no point unless you’re lucky enough to enjoy a Mediterranean climate. In actual fact, it is possible to grow grapes in dear old Blighty, and what's more surprising is that it’s possible to grow them well. However, you will need a hardy grape variety, and we have chosen some of the best.
Lakemont, our white grape vine, is well considered for its sweet and heavy cropping fruit, great for eating and wine making. The Brandt grape variety (also known as the red grape vine), has been given an award of merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society and is both vigorous and hardy. It produces small, sweet black grapes that make good wine, and is also noted for its very attractive autumn colours.
In recent years, the British wine industry has been going from strength to strength. Although the industry is no where near the size of France or Italy, we do have a bit of a reputation as a promising new world producer. Why not get involved and create your own vintage!
In Southern locations, it is possible to grow grape vines outdoors. Choose somewhere that gets plenty of sunshine but is sheltered from strong wind and frost. Your grape vine will do best if planted into slightly gravelly, well draining soil, with a PH balance of 6.5 - 6.8. You can add grit to improve the drainage of heavy soils and lime to alkalise acidic soil.
In northern locations, it is possible to grow grape vines outdoors, especially with the aid of a warm south facing wall. However, to guarantee fruit, we would advise growing under the protection of a greenhouse or conservatory.
Now that you have got your grape vine, take it out of the packaging immediately and place it in a suitable place until you are ready to plant. We advise that you plant your grape vine in October or March, when the plant is dormant and the roots are not growing, but the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.
Being climbers, grape vines will need to be grown with a supporting structure in place. If you are growing your grapes against a wall or in a greenhouse, use lengths of strong horizontal wire, spaced about 30cm apart. If you are using a freestanding trellis or pergola structure, ensure it is in good condition and secure enough to support the full weight of the grape vine when it is mature.
An hour before planting your vine, water the pot thoroughly. Remove it from its container and gently tease out the roots. Dig a hole about 20cm from the supporting wall/structure and roughly twice the width of the vine roots, and plant at roughly the same depth as the vine was planted in the pot. Back fill any gaps with the soil mix you removed earlier. Add a layer of mulch immediately to protect the vine, as described below, which should be removed in spring to prevent disease.
Training and Pruning
Pruning is essential to the production of fruit and the productivity of the vine as grapes only grow on new wood. The most popular method of pruning grape vines is to train them into a rod and spur shape. Always prune in winter when it is dormant.
First Year Growing Season
In the first year of planting, allow the main stem to grow and establish itself without pruning, and tie it to the supporting structure. Pinch back any side branches (laterals) to five leaves, and any shoots growing from the side branches (sub laterals) to one leaf.
First Year Winter
Allow the main stem to establish itself without pruning, but trim back laterals to the first bud.
Second Year Growing Season
In the second year allow the main stem to grow and establish itself without pruning. Let two of the side branches produce a bunch of grapes each, and pinch back these laterals two leaves past the grapes. Pinch back any laterals not producing grapes to around five leaves.
Second Year Winter
Cut back the main stem to about half its height, ensuring there is at least one strong bud left. Cut back side shoots (sub laterals) to two leaves.
Third Year January Onwards
Untie the main stem at around a third of its heights, and let it droop towards the ground. This will encourage fruit bearing laterals to grow along the entire length of the main stem.
As soon as laterals begin to grow from last years pruning scars, tie the full length of the main stem back up against the supporting structure.
Third Year Growing Season Onwards
If you are growing your grapes for eating, only allow one bunch per lateral to grow, removing any other flower clusters before they can develop. More bunches of fruit can be allowed for wine grapes. Tie each flowering lateral to the supporting structure. Pinch back any lateral or sub-lateral that is not flowering to five leaves.
Third Year Winter
Cut back all laterals to one or two buds.
Your grape vines will need feeding both before and throughout the growing season. Use a general fertiliser in February. Then, when spring is well underway, begin feeding with a high potassium fertiliser, such as a tomato feed, until the grapes begin to ripen.
Mulching is the term used for the layer of organic material that is placed on top of the soil around your plants every year. It has a whole host of benefits, including keeping the soil moist throughout summer and discouraging blackspot and weeds. The best time to do this is in late spring (April-May) or autumn (October).
First, prepare the ground by removing debris and weeds and water the surface of the soil if it is dry. Apply a thin layer of well rotted manure or good garden compost all around the tree - we suggest using John Innes No. 3.
Water your grape vines regularly in spring and summer until they are established, and after that, if the weather is particularly dry.
Fruit and Flowers
Once the fruit is beginning to develop on your vines, it might be an idea to invest in a fruit cage or fruit netting to deter birds. The grapes should be ripe by September/October, but before picking test a few, as grapes will not continue to ripen off the vine.