How to Grow Grapes:
Growing Grapevines Organically

Learning how to grow grapes is relatively simple, even for first-time gardeners. In addition to yielding plump, juicy treats, growing grapevines will also bring height, structure and a romantic feel to your garden.

Depending on your climate and growing space, your grapevines may even yield grapes that are suitable for wine-making.

How to Grow Grapes (vitis vinifera): Plant Snapshot

How to Grow Grapes
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • ‘Canadice’ - seedless, hardy variety
    • ‘Catawba’ - red cultivar needing a long growing season
    • ‘Concord’ - good hardiness
    • ‘Delaware’ - great for eating and wine making
    • ‘Einset’ - seedless, stores well
    • ‘Himrod’ - seedless grapes from a vigorous vine
    • ‘Niagra’ - leading white grape variety
    • ‘Ontario’ - early ripening white variety
  • Group with crops from: n/a (perennial)
  • Low winter temperatures that damage fruit plants: -15 F (-26 C)
  • Time until plant bears fruit after planting: 3 years from planting two year old rooted cane
  • Approximate yield per plant: 50 to 100 quarts per 100 foot row (47 to 94 liters per 30 meter row); 20 to 30 lbs (9 to 14 kg) per established vine (9 to 14 kg)
  • Life of plant: 20 to 30 years
  • Companion plants:
    • Companions: Chives, clover, hyssop, mustards
    • Avoid: n/a
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Planting Grape Vines

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Grapes are self-pollinating, so you can start with a single plant if you have limited space.

For best results, plant a dormant, rooted two-year old cane. Do this in early or mid spring when ground frost is not a problem.

You’ll need to choose a space that is open and exposed to full sunlight.

Preparing a supporting trellis or arbor at the time of planting is essential. A simple, successful method is to plant your vine or vines as a single curtain cordon, sometimes called a bilateral cordon. To create this…

  1. Plant posts about eight feet (2.4m) apart and aim to have 2 feet (60cm) of the post below soil level and 3 feet (90cm) above
  2. Run a wire between the posts
  3. Dig a hole mid-way between posts
  4. Plant your rooted cane so it is level with the soil
  5. Apply a light dressing of organic bone meal and fork in
  6. Follow the organic bone meal fertilizer instructions for volume to apply.
  7. Immediately after planting, cut the vine back to a single shoot that has two buds
  8. Tie a string that runs from the wire above the vine to the base of the plant.
  9. Once the vine starts to grow, train the strongest shoot up the string. This is going to become the vine’s central trunk which may take a year or two for it to reach the wire.
  10. Once the vine has reached the wire, pinch the top of the vine to prevent further vertical growth. Choose the two strongest shoots that emerge and begin to train these along the wire.
  11. Your vine is now established.

It’s very important that your vine doesn’t dry out as it is becoming established, so keep it well watered.

Mulch with organic well rotted compost in late fall or early winter to improve your soil’s water retention and structure.

Snapshot: Planting Grape Vines

  • Easiest to grow from: two year old rooted cane plants
  • Planting timeframe range (varies by climate): From early to mid spring
  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.5 to 6.5
  • Spacing in rows: 8 feet apart with 10 to 12 feet between rows (2.4m with 3.6m between rows)
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Care of & Pruning Grape Vines

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Grapevines need pruning while they are dormant from mid-winter to very early spring. Once your cordon is established, you can prune all growth except one-year old canes and spurs that are growing along the wire.

Use sharp, clean pruning shears and cut canes back to leave around 15 buds per cane. You may want to leave a few more if you’re using your grapes for wine production.

Grape vines are usually hardy plants. Late, hard frosts may damage emerging buds and reduce fruit for a single year but are unlikely to damage the vine overall.

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Harvesting Grapes

Grapes need picking when they’re ripe as they don’t improve once off the vine.

You will see your grapes change color as they mature. This could be from green to blue, red or white, but this may not mean they are fully ripe. If you lightly squeeze the fruit between your fingers you should feel that they have become slightly less firm. This means they’re ripe and ready to be picked.

Cut clusters of grapes with sharp shears or a knife and put bunches into perforated plastic bags or invest in reusable green produce storage bags for a more sustainable solution.

After picking, discard any fruit that appears moldy or wet from decay.

Snapshot: Harvesting Grapes

  • Time to harvest: Fall
  • Yield per plant/tree: 50 to 100 quarts per 100 foot row (47 to 94 liters per 30 meter row); 20 to 30 lbs (9 to 14 kg) per established vine (9 to 14 kg)
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Storing Grapes and Freezing Grapes

You can store your fresh grapes in the refrigerator for about two weeks after you’ve picked them.

For longer-term storage it’s best to freeze grapes in syrup.

  1. Remove stems and wash grapes
  2. If your grapes have seeds, you’ll need to slice them in half and remove the seeds.
  3. To make a syrup, add 2/3 cup (158 ml) of sugar for each 1 cup (237 ml) of water.
  4. Pack the grapes into the container and fill the packed container with 40% syrup.

If you’re not using syrup, pack into a freezer container remembering to leave a half inch (2 cm) space at the top for expansion during freezing.

Snapshot: Storing Grape Vines & Freezing Grape Vines

  • Storage temperature: Refrigerate at 32 to 36 F (0 to 2 C) or Freeze at 0 F (-17 C)
  • Storage life (refrigerator): Up to 2 weeks
  • Storage life (frozen): 8 to 12 months
  • Storage humidity: 85-95%
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Pests & Diseases Affecting Grape Vines

To avoid diseases in warm, wet weather, your grapevines need good air circulation. Effective pruning is essential to keep grapevines disease free as warm and humid conditions encourage fungus to develop.

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing grape vines. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Grape berry moth
  • Grape cane girdler
  • Grape leafhoppers
  • Japanese Beetles

Common Diseases

  • Black rot
  • Botrytis
  • Downy mildew
  • Powdery mildew
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