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Trellising and Pruning Vines

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Starting your own little vineyard can be very gratifying. We'll discuss how to trellis, train and prune your vines for the most bountiful harvests for years to come. It does take some time to get your vines up to the trellis, trained onto the wire, then pruned, but it is well worth the effort and wait. Grapes were one of the very first fruit bearing plants we put on our own little homestead and, to this day, are so very glad we did.


Once you have a trellis up (check out our guide to building your own trellis), mark out where you want to plant your vines. We recommend at least 10 ft between each plant. Remember to check whether your vine is self fruitful or whether it needs a second variety as a pollinator. plants that need a pollinator will benefit from being closer to that 10 ft spacing, whereas plants that are self fruitful may be stretched to 15 or 20 ft between plants depending on variety.


Use a mix of soil and plant compost, peat moss, or soil and coconut coir to plant your vines. Mulch to deter weeds, retain moisture and add beneficial nutrients over time. We've had great success with cardboard under pine bark, it takes a long time to break down and deters all but the most vigorous weeds. Water your vines weekly until they are well established.


To train your vines to the trellis, tie a string from one side of your trellis to the other. Tie another string in the center of each side and bring it down to where your freshly planted vine is. Tie the string off at the base of the plant using a stake. We don't recommend tying the string around the vine as it can constrict the vine if it's not removed or loosened in time.


Trim the vine down to one central leader. Secure the vine to the string using plant ties. Allow the vine to grow vertically this way for the first year of growth. Pruning off lateral growth throughout the year will encourage vertical growth.


Once the vine reaches to the top of the vertical string (this can happen in the first or second year of growth), prune off the top of the vine. This vertical growth will be the vines trunk. Topping the vine will then encourage lateral growth, which will become the cordons.


Choose the two top most growths and train these to grow in opposite directions along the lateral sting attaching one side of the trellis wire to the other. You want one vine branch reaching for one wire and the other reaching for the opposite wire. It'll start to resemble the "T" of your trellis supports. (If you are growing your vines along a fenceline or something similar, your pruned and trained vine will resemble a "T" and you don't need to continue training until the following year when you are pruning spurs.)


When the vines reach the end of the string and meet the wire, you'll once again prune off the ends to encourage more lateral growth(usually in year two or three). Choose the two best vine branches on either side to grow in opposite directions along the wire on each side. This is where your vines start to take on the "H" shape from a birds eye view.


All the while, you'll need to prune off any growth that does not adhere to the form of the trellis, allowing the plant to put most of its energy into the purposeful growth you need. If you allow the vines to take over then your harvest will not only be difficult, but yields will be much lower too.


In the third or fourth year, once the vines have grown along the support wire, you can FINALLY let the vines produce growth and set fruit. The first year or two of producing fruit, your yields will be a little lower. Consecutive years, with proper pruning, your fruit yields should increase and then level out.


Yearly Maintenance


Each year, towards the end of winter, while the vines are still dormant, The hard work really begins. We usually set aside a whole day just to prune, untangle, and burn our muscadine vines. If the pruned vines aren't burned, they readily take root wherever they land, whether it's in the middle of the yard or in the compost pile.


The first year of growth, after the vines have been trellised, you'll be pruning all the lateral growth down to two or three nodes or buds from the main vine. This will form the crown that will grow all the fruit for consecutive years. Keep in mind how the vines will grow out of this crown each year. Crowns that naturally point outward and slightly down will be best to make future harvests easy. Try to space each crown far enough apart to allow plenty of room for the vines and fruit to develop, usually 6-8 inches. The fruit will develop from the spurs that grow from the crown.


The following year, the vines or spurs will grow out from the crown that you are beginning to establish. Each year moving forward, you'll be pruning the newest growth back to the initial crown, leaving two to three nodes on the new growth being pruned.


Initially, you can space the crowns relatively close together. As your vines grow and become more vigorous, you can prune out crowns that are too close together, giving the fruit more room to develop and making for an easier harvest. if the crowns become too knobby and difficult to work with, prune the whole crown off down to the cordon.


It might seem like you are taking off a ton of vines and new growth, but this is normal. Even if you take off too much (which is unlikely) remember that most vines are very vigorous and will grow back very quickly. Just enjoy being out in the sunshine and tending to your garden, vineyard, or food forest. You'll get the knack of it in no time.




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