Grape Pruning

I have almost finished pruning the grapes. This task has dragged on longer than I’d hoped, partly due to all the rain we’ve been having, and partly because it has taken me a long time to fight my way through the tangled mass of vines. Last winter, we were foolish enough to neglect this task, and ended up with a mass of rampant grape vines bearing hardly any fruit. What a waste! When we moved onto the Farmlet, one white grape and three purple grapes were already well established along the fence bordering the house paddock. They are good varieties, and should bear lots of delicious fruit if we look after them properly! This year, we were determined to do our best with them.

Pruned grape vine

Having never pruned grapes before, I looked out the window a couple of weeks ago at the overgrown mass of vines, and felt very conscious of my inexperience in this matter. The following excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Country Living made me feel more hopeful about the probable outcome of the pruning:

An early settler planted a grape vineyard. It grew fine for several years, but eventually the settler moved on and the vines were left and the vines were left unpruned and neglected. Eventually they grew out of site and rambled along the ground. The grapes were poor in quality and out of reach. A new owner bought the property with the intent of raising livestock and pack animals in the forgotten fields. A year or two later the animals had nibbled back all of the vines. Thereafter the vines returned and fruited magnificently. The moral: Any ass can prune a grapevine.

Based on advice from a neighbour, and the instructions in The Encyclopedia of Country Living (which are beautifully simple and to-the-point), I set out with a rough idea of how to prune “European variety” grapes. The goats have been the happy recipients of any grape prunings that still had leaves on them. Of course, I’ve been finding that my nice neat pruning intentions are rather challenged by the tangle of vines I’m working with. They have snaked their way up trees and through the grass. I’ve heard that it is possible to over-prune grapevines, resulting in increased leafy growth and less fruit the following season. For that reason, I’m not pruning the grapes quite as hard as I might. Perhaps the vines will fruit better if I put off the last of the “taming and renovation” project until next winter? In any case, we hope that eventually the effort of pruning will be rewarded with an abundant harvest of delicious grapes.

5 Responses to “Grape Pruning”

  1. rich says:

    It is possible to overprune them, but it takes some doing. I’ve seen great recovery if you leave no more than 10 bud pairs per plant (5 per side if you’re going symmetrical). Winery growers leave even less sometimes.

    Sadly, we don’t have grapes yet…we’ll see how much time we have this winter with the new wee one, and if not then, the following year.



  2. Christopher says:

    Think like a wine-maker. They prune for fruit all the time. Only except you want to have more fruit than them (they focus on quality, which means less fruit).

    Check out wine making books and sites.

    I’m enjoying your posts, although I was worried about the effect of that rain and wind up there…


  3. Rebecca says:

    Hi, and thanks for the comments and suggestions. In light of what Rich says, perhaps I could have pruned a lot harder! If this year’s crop is disappointing, I’ll keep that approach up my sleeve for next year. Kevin has a wine making/ grape growing book called “From Vines to Wines,” which has a lot of information about grape pruning in it. To be honest, I was a bit daunted by the volume of information in the book, and felt that the pruning instructions were not very well geared to a situation like ours. The aim in the vineyards seems to be fitting more vines per area, whereas we are happy for the ones we have to take up the entire fence. They also assume (not very surprisingly!) that you are starting off with a well-trained vine to prune, rather than a tanged mess. Anyway, I’ve finished pruning for now, so we’ll just have to wait and see if we get any grapes.
    We are thankful that our Farmlet is well up above the flood levels.
    Cheers to you both, and (@ Rich) all the best with baby and tree/vine planting.

  4. Kurt says:

    At my former residence I had some blue-black ‘Concord’ style grapes… every year I would hack them back to something like four 6-foot-long year-old wood leaders, and every year they would produce loads of fruit. The pile of cuttings would be huge. The cut branches would weep sap. But it would always come back, just as vigorous as before, and send out 15 foot vines the next summer. I think that you can safely err on the side of over-pruning.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Hi Kurt,
    As far as I’ve heard, Concord is an American grape, which needs to be caned pruned — as opposed to “European” grapes, which need to be spur pruned. So your pruning method is a bit different from what I’ve been instructed to do. As far as taking out lots of cuttings, your advice sounds good for any kind of grapes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Our neighbour (who has the same kind of grapes that we do) told me that he thinks he probably cuts off 80 percent of the vine each winter. He also told me to watch out that I didn’t cut off all the younger fruiting wood in my effort to tidy up the overgrown vine. Actually, I think I might have ended up butchering a lot of younger wood (much of which was climbing up into trees) — and the young wood I have left still seems pretty far out from the centre of the vine!
    The grape is almost budding by now, so I guess there’s nothing to do but wait and see what happens.