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Growing Grapes for Beginners

Grapes are cultivated crops dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. These small fruits not only can be enjoyed in the kitchen, but also can be aesthetically pleasing in the landscape. Grapes can be enjoyed as table grapes or processed into products, such as jellies, juice, wine and raisins.

Variety Selection

There are thousands of grape varieties, and there are three classifications in which we group grapes – European, American and hybrids. Each group has their own characteristics that may or may not make them suitable for your particular needs. Consult your local WVU Extension Service agent to find out the specific varieties that are suitable for your area and needs.

European, Vitis vinifera

European varieties are best known for their use in the winemaking industry. Their high sugar content at maturity and moderate pH make them favorable for wine. European grapes are the most widely grown grape in the world, contributing to most of the world's wine production. They are very susceptible to cold injury, but they can be grown in West Virginia up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. The Greenbriar Valley has the best climate and soil conditions for grape production. These varieties need long, warm summers for fruit to mature and have high sensitivity to pests and disease. All species in this group need to be grafted to resistant rootstock because of their high susceptibility to phylloxera. These grapes grow in tight clusters, have thin skins and a subtle aroma and flavor.

Varieties include: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

American, Vitis labrusca

American varieties are winter hardy and disease-resistant. Most of the grapes grown east of the Rocky Mountains belong to this category. The most iconic variety in this category is the Concord. Clusters can vary from tight to loose and fruit can be small or large, depending on cultivars. This variety shows resistance to Phylloxera and is used mostly for juice, jellies, pies and wine.

Muscadine grapes are sensitive to cold temperatures and are grown mainly in the Southeast, where temperatures do not fall below 10 F. Due to their sensitivity to cold, they are only able to be grown in certain places in West Virginia with winter protection.

Varieties include: Concord, Catawba, Elvira, Niagara and Muscadine.

French Hybrids

French hybrids are a cross between the European species and native, American species, such as Vitis riparia. These were developed primarily in response to a Phylloxera outbreak across Europe in the 1800s. Hybrids tend to be more disease-resistant and winter hardy than American varieties. They are known for their low tannins, high acid and musky aroma.

Varieties include: Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc and Baco Noir.

Site Preparation and Selection

Select a location with full sun to allow grapes to fully ripen. Grapes require a minimum of 155 to 160 frost-free growing days to have a bountiful harvest. It is recommended to soil test your preferred site location several weeks prior to planting and apply the appropriate fertilizer amendments – grape vines require high potassium levels. The site needs to be weed-free and have a pH of 6.5. Vines grow best in deep, well-drained soils, as most root systems are at least 36 inches deep. Choose a north-facing location if an early spring frost is typical in the region. There is a delay in soil warming on north-facing sites and the vegetation starts positioning the grapes later to avoid late spring frosts. If an early frost is not an issue, a south-facing location will allow for early ripening of grapes.

Planting

Planting can be accomplished either early fall or early spring. Fall planting should occur at least six weeks prior to frost to get sufficient root development. Remember, roots will continue to grow as long as the ground does not freeze. Spring plantings should occur after the last killing frost. Fall planting is preferred over spring planting – roots will establish faster in fall plantings as the shoot-root competition will be slower. Plants can be purchased as bare root, dormant plants from online nurseries or potted growing vines from local nurseries. Plant rows in a north-south orientation if possible, this allows for the most sunlight interception.

Always purchase your grape vines from a reputable source for disease-free plants.

Steps to Planting Bare Root Vines

  • Prior to planting, soak the roots in water for three to four hours or overnight.
  • At planting, remove all canes except the most vigorous ones.
  • Plant vines with the lowest bud on the cane 2 to 3 inches above the soil surface.
  • Trim off any broken or excessively long roots.
  • Dig a hole two or three times larger than the root system so you are able to spread the root system out.
  • Backfill with soil and water immediately to fill any air pockets that may have formed.

After planting, water the vines regularly throughout the first year. This will encourage the development of a strong root system, creating the desired first-year shoot growth. It is preferred to plant on a trellis system. If a trellis system has not been constructed by the time of planting, one will need to be constructed within the first year. Plant hybrid and American varieties 8 feet apart and European varieties 6 feet apart.

Care and Maintenance

To achieve optimum yields, you will need to provide routine care and maintenance throughout the year. Grapes require yearly pruning, trellis system maintenance, fertilizing and regular weeding.

Pruning

The primary goal of pruning is to encourage new growth and to increase the amount of one-year-old wood. Yearly pruning allows for optimal sunlight, increased air circulation (aids in disease prevention) and better row management for equipment use.

Pruning is done when vines are dormant, typically December through March.

Year One: The goal is to establish the main trunk of the vine and establish a strong root system. Prune the vine back to one cane, this will be the main trunk, and tie to a vertical wire or stake. The goal is to get the cane to grow straight as possible; therefore, the cane may have to be tied a few times throughout the first year to keep it straight (Figure 1-A).

If pruning to a bi-lateral cordon system, when the vine reaches the wire, remove an inch of the terminal growth to force the vine to branch laterally. Train the branches that grow out along the top of the fence in opposite directions by tying them horizontally to wire (Figure 1-B).

Year Two: The lateral branches, or cordons, will serve as the framework for future fruit production. Prune back to these cordons every dormant season to encourage downward growth of spurs (future fruiting branches). Prune before growth begins to ensure there is enough air movement to decrease disease pressure (Figure 1-C).

Year Three: The first fruit harvest will occur (Figure 1-D). After fruit harvest, dormant prune back to cordons, leaving three or four spurs for next season's growth. Keep in mind that fruit is produced on one-year-old wood, use this concept in your pruning.

Chart showing the growing seasons for grapes

Figure 1. (A) First growing season. (B) Second growing season. (C) Dormant spur pruning. (D) Third growing season. (Home Fruit Production: Grape Training Systems, University of Missouri Extension)

Trellis Systems

Grapes need to be supported by a trellis system to achieve optimum management and production. Grape vines can be pruned and trained to any desired trellis system, typically an arbor or wired trellis. The trellis system must be durable to withstand the weight of the vines and fruit and require minimal maintenance.

Hobbyists and event enthusiasts prefer the arbor trellis as it provides fruit, shade, and is aesthetically pleasing for the owners (Figure 2). However, an arbor trellis will produce lesser quality fruit and have a higher disease pressure.

Grapes trained and pruned on an arbor

Figure 2. Grapes trained and pruned on an arbor.

When using a wired trellis, be sure to use galvanized wire as it's durable and doesn’t cause wire chafing to young growth (Figure 3). Number 9,10 or 11 galvanized wire is recommended.

A typical commercial trellis system is 5 to 6 feet tall with wires to support the grapes. This is completed by setting a post that is 7 to 8 feet long (4-inch diameter), 2 feet into the ground, with one end of the post braced. The brace is commonly another post set within a few feet on one end post and attached with a heavy piece of wood or another post. One or two wires, one above the other, are run parallel to the ground for the cordons to be trained onto.

Construction details of a one-wire trellis and alternative methods of bracing end posts

Figure 3. Construction details of a one-wire trellis and alternative methods of bracing end posts.

Fertilizer, Mulch & Weeding

For the first several years, a compost should be applied around the base of your vines in the spring. This will add organic matter, increasing drainage and the nutritional profile of the soil. If your vines show vigorous growth and look healthy you will not need to add any organic matter or fertilizer. A routine soil test is recommended to monitor pH and nutrient status.

Unlike other orchard-friendly plants, grapes do not need mulched. Grape roots thrive in warm soil, mulching will create an undesirable cool environment. Keeping grass and other weeds from growing under your vines can assist in maintaining a higher soil temperature.

Insect Management

Insect

Description

Control

Damage

Timing of Application

Japanese Beetles

Metallic-green abdomen with copper-colored wings

Carbaryl, IRAC 1A (Sevin)

Malathion, IRAC 1B

Organic:

Neem oil-based insecticides

Mechanical: Hand remove and place in soapy water

Damage visible late June through August in the form of skeletonized leaves. Young vines most susceptible. Stop control measures after August.

When insects are noticed; no established thresholds.

Trapping is not recommended.

European Red Mites (Spider Mites)

Small dark red mites with eight legs

Abamectin, IRAC 6 (Agri-Mek 0.15 EC), many other formulations

Fenbutatin-oxide, IRAC 12B (Vendex 50WP)

Organic: Horticultural oils (SAF-T-SIDE or Glacial Spray Fluid)

Yellowing/bronzing of leaves.

Concord is highly susceptible. Monitor weekly for mite population using a 10x hand lens. If greater than 50% infestation, treatment is warranted.

Rotate between IRACs.

Post-bloom (immediately after bloom)

Grape Phylloxera

Yellow-brown, oval or pear-shaped, microscopic aphid-like insects

Acetamiprid, IRAC 4A (Assail WSP)

Imidacloprid, IRAC 4A (Admire Pro)

Fenpropathrin, IRAC 3 (Danitol 2.4 EC)

Causes galls on underside of leaves and on roots; severe root damage can lead to vine death. European and American are susceptible. Only “crawlers” are affected by insecticide treatment.

Pre-bloom through post-bloom

Grapevine Flea Beetles

Small, bluish-black beetles

Carbaryl, IRAC 1A (Sevin XLR Plus)

Fenpropathrin, IRAC 3 (Danitol 2.4 EC)

Damage caused by feeding on the small grape buds. Treatment is warranted when damage exceeds 4% of the buds.

Peak adult activity during mid-summer.

Bud swell

Red-banded Leafroller

Grayish-brown mottled moth with a V-shaped, reddish-brown band across the fore wings

Fenpropathrin, IRAC 3 (Danitol 2.4 EC)

Carbaryl, IRAC 1A (Sevin XLR Plus)

Organic: Traps

Larvae occasionally attack grape clusters.

When damage is noticed

Spotted Wing Drosophila

Male flies have distinct black spots on each wing tip and two distinct black spots on front legs

Beta-cyfluthrin, IRAC 3A (Baythroid XL 1EC)

Fenpropathrin, IRAC 3A (Danitol 2.4EC)

Organic: Traps and sticky cards

Mature adults lay eggs in berries, causing fruit damage and bacterial infections.

Don’t necessarily cause issues with wine grapes. Monitor and treat when necessary. 

Pre-harvest (10 to 14 days before harvest)

Spotted Lanternfly

 

(Invasive, if observed call WVDA at 304-558-2212 or email bugbuster@wvda.us)

Black and gray spotted top wing and a hindwing that is black and red, legs and head are black, the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands; immature stages are black with white spots and develop red patches as they grow

Bifenthrin, IRAC 3A (Brigade 10WSB)

Thiamethoxam, IRAC 4A (Actara 25WDG)

Dinotefuran, IRAC 4A (Scorpion 35SL)

Carbaryl, IRAC 1A (Carbaryl 4L)

Zeta-cypermethrin, IRAC 3A (Mustang Maxx 0.8 EC)

Adults are sap feeders, using their piercing-sucking mouthparts. Black sooty mold will be noticed growing on the high sugar excrement, called honeydew. Adults are noticed in August and September. All insecticides showed excellent knockdown in trial and showed seven-day residual time (60% mortality).

When insect is noticed

Controlling weeds around the crop will help in the reduction of insect populations. Well managed cover crops will encourage beneficial insects.  

IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee) code. Indicates the Mode of Action. It is recommended to rotate IRAC codes to manage insecticide resistance.

The feeding pattern of adult beetles giving leaves a lacy or skeletonized appearance.

The feeding pattern of adult beetles gives leaves a lacy or “skeletonized” appearance. Photo credit: USDA ARS , USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Phylloxera causes galls on the underside of leaves caused

Galls on the underside of leaves caused by Phylloxera. Photo credit: University of Kentucky Entomology.

Disease Management

Disease

Description

Control

Comment

Timing of Application

Anthracnose

(Fungus)

Small brown spots on leaves creating a shot-hole effect; lesions along the leaf veins may cause curling and distortion.

Liquid lime sulfur, FRAC M2

 

Sovran,

Abound,

Endura,

Pristine,

Topsin M,

Captan,

Mancozeb

Fruit symptoms are also known as birds eye rot. Varieties Marquis and Mars are susceptible.

 

Purchase from a reputable source.

 

Dormant

Black Rot

(Fungus)

Brown spots on leaves, grapes turn brown, shrivel and become mummified. Mummies are a source of inoculum.

Lime sulfur (pre bud-break),

Ziram,

Abound,

Mancozeb,

Rally,

Pristine (two weeks after petal fall),

Sovran (two weeks after petal fall)

 

Sanitation, proper air circulation and pruning;

remove diseased fallen leaves, shoots and mummies.

 

Bloom and shoots are susceptible; developed fruit is resistant. Treatment should be targeted during bloom.

 

Select moderately resistant varieties, such as Cayuga White, Chancellor, Chelois, Vidal 256 or Vignoles.

 

Susceptible varieties include Concord, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Dormant (pruning out cankers), pre-bloom and early fruit set

Phomopsis Cane and Leaf Spot

(Fungus)

Oblong black spots or striations on canes, shoots and leaves. Infected berries shrivel and fall off.

Mancozeb, FRAC M3

 

Flutriafol (Rhyme),

FRAC 3

 

 


 

Disease is favored by cool and wet conditions. Goes dormant in the summer, when it is hot and dry. Resembles black rot.

Pre-bloom

Powdery Mildew

(Fungus)

Yellow spots on upper leaf surfaces and white, cottony growth on the undersides of the spots.

Mancozeb, FRAC M3, + Sulfur, FRAC M2

 

Overwinters in previous year’s infected tissues. High humidity promotes infection. Infected areas should be pruned and destroyed.

Pre-bloom, bloom and post-bloom

Downy Mildew

(Fungus)

Brown lesions on leaves, wilt and drop off.

Vines become distorted with a white downy appearance. Grapes will fall off vines.

Mancozeb, FRAC M3

 

Phosphonate (e.g. fosetyl aluminum), phenylamides (e.g. melalaxyl), Qol (azoxystrobin),

Carboxylic acid amides (CAA; mandipropamid)

 

Overwinters as oospores in the lesions on dead leaves. High humidity promotes infection. Infected areas should be pruned and destroyed.

Pre-bloom and post-bloom

Refer to the most updated version of the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide

FRAC (Fungicide Resistance Action Committee) code. Indicates the Mode of Action. It is recommended to rotate IRAC codes to manage insecticide resistance.

Considerations

  • Avoid using 2,4-D herbicide around grapes, as they are very susceptible to herbicide damage.
  • Birds may become problematic, use netting to cover ripening fruit.
  • In the fall, clean up leaves, fruit and other debris on the ground to aid in prevention of disease.

Harvest and Storage

Many grapes will turn color before they are actually ripe, while some varieties will ripen before they change color. The best way to ensure they are ready to harvest is to try a few of them. When harvesting grapes, you will clip full clusters off the vine using pruning shears .Remove any discolored or injured berries. Cover your grapes to help reduce moisture loss. They can be stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

References

Bulatovic-Danilovich, M. (2020). Small Fruits [PowerPoint]. Morgantown: WVU Extension.

Bulatovic-Danilovich, M. (2020). A Few Points About Grapes [PowerPoint]. Morgantown: WVU Extension.

Burrack, H., Villian, S., & Cline, W. (2020). Chapter 6: Bunch Grape Insect & Disease

Management. In 2020 North Carolina agricultural chemicals manual (pp. 202-212). Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Centinari, M., & Mark Chen Former Penn State Viticulture Educator. (2020, September 28).

Backyard Grape Growing. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://extension.psu.edu/backyard-grape-growing

Tepe, E. S., & Hoover, E. E. (2019). Growing grapes in the home garden. Retrieved

September 29, 2020, from https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-grapes-home-garden

Strik, B. (2011, May 01). Growing Table Grapes. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1639/html

Biddinger, Dave; Leach, L. Heather. 2019, January 11. Updated Insecticide Recommendations for Spotted Lanternfly on Tree Fruit, PennState Extension.

Leach, L. Heather; Biddinger, Dave; Krawczyk, Grzegorz; Centinari, Michela.2019, August 20. Spotted Lanternfly Management in Vineyards. PennState Extension.


Jody Carpenter, WVU Extension Service Agent – Barbour and Randolph Counties

Tasha Harris, WVU Extension Service Agent – Upshur County

Jesica Streets, WVU Extension Service Agent – Tucker County

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