There are two main types of grapes, black grapes and white grapes. Both are typically grown for eating (table grapes) or making wine. Other uses of grapes are raisins, jelly, grape juice and vinegar. Of the two types of grapes, there are 79 accepted species over 10,000 different known varieties of grapes according to Vino Critic.
Whether you are wanting to grow your own grapes for any of the reasons stated above or if you want to grow ornamental grape vines, caring for grape vines follow the same basic steps outlined below. The most important aspect is finding a grape vine that is winter hardy to your growing zone.
Growing Grape Vines
Yes, you can easily grow your own grapes at home! Many often grow their own grapes as a decorative vine that climbs up a trellis, arbor or pergola. But you can also grow grapes as well given you choose the right plant for your growing zone. To find out your growing zone, enter your zip code in the form on top of our website (in the menu on mobile devices).
Grapes grow on woody perennial vines that need some sort of support like a trellis or arbor. You should typically tie the plant to the trellis to help encourage where it grows. The plants bloom in the spring with tiny green & white flower clusters. The flowers are pollinated by either the wind or from insects. The blooms then turn into grapes in late spring/early summer and then ripen in the hot summer sun. Depending on your intentions for the grapes, they should be harvested in the fall typically.
Planting Grape Vines
You will need to choose a site that gets full sunlight if you want the grape vines to be healthy and the grapes to ripen correctly. Grape vines need well drained & sandy acidic soil (pH 5.0-6.5). If the soil is too fertile, it will encourage too much vine growth and prevent the vines from producing grapes effectively.
The plant will need some type of support as mentioned above (like a trellis or arbor). Space the plants at least 6 feet apart, center on center. This ensures there is enough air flow between the plants. The best time to plant grape vines is in the spring. No need to put mulch around the plant, as grape vines like to completely dry out between waterings. But you will want to pull out any weeds growing at the base of the vines so the plants don’t have to compete.
Watering Grape Vines
To help new plants get established, watering once per week is recommended. About an inch per week is all the vines will need. Once the grape vines are established, they should seldom need watered. If the plant is getting too much water, the leaves may turn yellow and die off. Do not spray or mist the plants, getting the leaves wet. That will encourage fungus and disease to grow on the leaves. Instead, water at the base of the vines, while keeping the leaves as dry as possible.
Fertilizing Grape Vines
In general, grape vines will not need to be fertilized very often if at all. If you do decide to fertilize, use a well balanced slow release fertilizer like a 10-10-10. Only fertilize in the early spring. Applying too much fertilizer may encourage the plant to grow too much foliage instead of producing grapes. It may also prevent the vine from going dormant in the winter if applied too late in the year. That is why you should only apply in early spring.
Pruning Grape Vines
This is the most difficult part of growing and caring for grape vines. Gardeners are often surprised by how much you should prune the vines (usually anywhere between 50-80%). Here are some steps to follow:
1. Prune every winter or spring before new growth appears.
2. Prune more if you want more fruit production. Prune less if you want shade under a pergola or trellis.
3. The grapes are produced on old growth (last year’s vines).
4. Pick the best looking 1-2 main canes, prune the rest. Also cut down any suckers that grow throughout the year.
5. Prune the top part of the main cane(s) to encourage lateral growth.
6. These are only the basics for pruning grape vines, and the guidelines change drastically depending on your goals.
Caring For Grape Vines in Pots
It is possible to grow grape vines in containers. However, the container will need to be very large. Other than that, follow the same care instructions listed above to grow grapes in pots. Remember that the root systems are pretty large, so it’s best to only do 1 plant per large container, and then prune that plant to only have 1 cane growing from it. This is also a great alternative for growing grape vines in areas that get harsh winters, because you can move the plants in the garage during the winter.
Winter Care for Grape Vines
Grapevines can be very susceptible to harsh winter conditions. Even in growing zones the plant is related to, if a winter is harsh enough the plant could die back all the way to the ground. The good news is that grape vines are vigorous growers and will quickly come back if the plant does die back to the ground.
In areas with harsh winters, you may want to put additional dirt (up to 8 inches) around the canes to help protect the roots. You can also put straw and mulch around the base of the canes to help protect the roots from the cold. You can also protect the vines by lightly wrapping with old blankets or burlap. In most areas that shouldn’t be needed though.
You will pick your grapes at different times, depending on if you are planning on making your own wine or just picking grapes to eat as table grapes. If you plan on making your own wine, then you should get a hygrometer and measure the sugar content (BRIX) of your grapes before picking. If you are growing table grapes, then the best way to determine if they are ripe is to taste a grape and see if it tastes right. Another way to tell when to pick a grape is by looking at the color. Black grapes will darken from green to dark purple. White (green) grapes will turn lighter in color and almost be more yellow than green.
The best time of the day to pick table grapes is to wait for a warm sunny day and pick them then. This is when the grapes will have the highest sugar content during the day. It is also best to pick them when the surface of the grapes is dry, because they will store longer in the fridge that way.
Common Care Questions About Grape Vines
Are Grape Vines Deer Resistant?
No, grape vines and grapes are not deer resistant. Most fruit producing plants are loved by deer. So take proper precautions when growing grape vines unless you want deer to decimate your crop. Deer love both the grapes, the woody vines and foliage.
Are Grape Vines Poisonous?
Grape vines, leaves, stems and the fruit are non-toxic to children and adults. However, all parts are poisonous to dogs, cats and some other animals. Birds and deer are safe to eat grapes though.
Are Grape Vines Invasive?
In general grape vines are not considered invasive, because their roots do not typically cause damage to any nearby structures. If the vines grow up a tree, then it could damage the tree due to the additional weight the plant adds to the branches of the tree. Grape vine roots will typically only grow 5-6 feet wide and don’t spread further than that. In some rare occurrences, the root system can get much larger than that though.
Are Grape Vines an Annual or Perennial?
Grape vines are a cold hard woody perennial vine, that come back each year if grown in a location that the plant is winter hardy to. Make sure to know your growing zone and which growing zones the grape vine can survive before planting.
What Is A Grape Vine Growth Rate?
Grape vines are very vigorous growers and new shoots of growth can grow as much as an inch per day. Grape vines have a very rapid growth rate, especially as temperatures first start to warm up in the year.
Are Grape Vines Drought Tolerant?
The vines themselves could be considered to be drought tolerant. And the plants require less water than other fruit producing plants in general. However, if you want the plants to produce grapes, then it will require regular watering throughout the growing season.
Author Chris Link - Published 6-01-2023