Tips on Growing Grapes and Vines


Like many other fruits and vegetables, the growing of grapes in the UK has increased dramatically in recent years, mainly as a result of foreign travel and holidays abroad. However, the cultivation of dessert varieties outdoors is still something of a risky business; we just don’t get enough sun to ripen the top quality dessert varieties. There are, though, some adequately hardy ones that can be grown outside in the UK without too much bother, but they could never be considered to be in the same class as the imported grapes. There are even commercial wine-grape vineyards in the UK now, some even as far north as Yorkshire.

The alternative is a greenhouse, where it is perfectly possible to mature high quality dessert varieties.

vines growing in a greenhouseThe dessert variety Black Hamburgh, normally regarded as the best for growing under glass in this country, also does quite well outdoors. However, this really only applies to the south and, even there, it should be grown against a south or west-facing wall.

Buckland Sweetwater is another greenhouse dessert grape that will crop reasonably well outdoors in the south in a good summer. Elsewhere and in a bad summer it’s less reliable. Classified as ‘white’, it is a good variety with big bunches of large grapes when it does well. It’s a vigorous grower, and rather susceptible to mildew.

Royal Muscardine, although possibly not top for quality, is certainly the best of those that are hardy and can be expected to grow well outdoors south of Lancashire/ Yorkshire. The berries are white, quite large and of good quality with a Muscat flavour. However, the Rolls Royce of dessert greenhouse grapes is Muscat of Alexandria – once tasted, never forgotten.

The Strawberry vine is a smaller grape, pink and with a faint strawberry flavour. It comes from America and does very well in the south, but has a rather tough skin. It’s possibly the hardiest of them all.

Turning to grapes to grow outdoors for wine production, one of the most successful in the UK is Triomphe d’Alsace. It ripens early, crops heavily and produces an excellent red wine.

Madeleine Angevine is also good and dual-purpose, making a passable dessert grape. It does quite well in the cooler districts. The fruit is pale green and ripens in early October.

Another good variety is Brant, or Brandt. This has small, black fruits and is a prolific cropper As a bonus, the leaves often take on a good autumn colour

One that gives an excellent quality wine is MullerThurgau. It is a golden brown grape that ripens in mid-October.

A very popular one with amateurs is Seyve Villard 5276. It has regular and heavy crops which give a delicately flavoured wine.

Perlette is another dual-purpose variety, or rather triple-purpose as it’s good for wine, for dessert and even for drying.

As most of us will be concerned mainly with greenhouse grapes, it would be as well to look at the pruning in some detail because, if it is neglected, the results can be a jungle.

It is very much a two-phase operation. The main pruning takes place in the winter when the plants are dormant; this is followed by trimming and tying in the newly grown rods in the summer

It is very important that the rods are completely dormant when they are pruned or they will ‘bleed’ and this seriously weakens the plant. On average, Christmas is a good time and easy to remember

After planting, the vine is cut back so that only a short length, 6in (15cm) or so, is left above ground; or inside the greenhouse, if the roots are outside.

In the late spring, shoots will grow from the stump, but no more than five should be kept. All others are pinched out as soon as possible. In the winter, the strongest shoot is cut back by half and the others are removed.

During the summer, the rod will develop side-shoots (laterals). With the exception of the top one, the leader, all are stopped (the tips are nipped out) when 2-3ft (60-90cm) long.

The leader is cut back in the winter to the point that is to be the permanent end of the vine rod. Any laterals that have grown on this top section are cut back to the buds at their base. Those lower down the rod, on the year older section, are cut back to about two buds from their base; this is usually about an inch (2-3cm).

Although only one shoot will be kept from these newly formed fruiting spurs, keeping two buds will allow you to choose the stronger of the two shoots that grow.

This method of training and pruning is called the vertical rod system and is the one normally used in a small greenhouse.

The same routine is carried out every year from then on, the canes that have fruited being cut back in the winter to two buds and only the strongest of the two resulting shoots being kept in the spring.

The other pruning time, during the growing season, is necessary to prevent the whole thing getting out of hand and to encourage the vine to produce good grapes. Once the two (or more) shoots from each spur are long enough to see which is the strongest, all others are nipped out.

When a flower truss has formed, the lateral is normally stopped at two leaves beyond the truss; this varies a little with the variety though. Any side-shoots (sub-laterals) that grow from the fruiting canes should be stopped at one leaf. All tendrils should be removed.

As soon as the initial stopping beyond the flower truss has been done, tie the shoots in to the supporting wires regularly. This has to be done gently so that there are no breakages.

Turning to their outdoor cultivation, vines can perfectly well be grown outside in the southern half of the UK but they do need proper looking after with the right treatment being carried out at the right time of year. With that proviso, there isn’t the slightest reason why anyone with a sunny garden shouldn’t be very successful.

The decision to make early on is whether you want the grapes for dessert or wine; by and large, the wine varieties don’t need as much sunshine as the sweet ones do. As well as the sunshine, we also have to consider the rainfall because all grapes prefer it on the dry side. Anywhere that gets much over 30in (76cm) of rain a year is going to be difficult. Spring frosts can also be troublesome – not so much to the flowers, which don’t normally appear until June, but to the tender young shoots. At the other end of the season, early autumn frosts will soon put a stop to the fruit ripening.

fertile soil is best for growing grapesVines are tolerant of a wide range of soils but the warmer sands and gravels usually give the best results. These start the canes into growth early in the year and the drainage is usually good. This is all-important because vines simply won’t put up with wet feet Where the quality of the drainage is suspect make sure that the position is properly drained before planting by digging in plenty of bulky organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure. A chalky soil doesn’t worry them at all – in fact, they rather like it.

If possible, buy and plant one-year-old pot-grown plants and, rather than planting them straight out of the pot, tease the rootball apart and spread out the roots. Plant the roots about 6in (15cm) deep.

The distance between plants will vary according to the method of training chosen. For example, if you intend to have a permanent cane framework trained to a wall or wires, 5ft (1.5m) spaces would be about right. With the Guyot method, though (described below), 3ft (90cm) apart is usually enough.

Although vines are not gross feeders, they certainly need to be looked after if they are to perform well – 4oz of Growmore per square yard in March/April does them proud. On light soils, a good mulch of garden compost or manure can take the place of the Growmore — this helps with water retention and also provides nutrients.

Like all fruits, grapes crop heaviest when pollinated by another variety. They are partially self-fertile, so this isn’t vital. They are, however, notoriously bad at setting fruit so are best hand-pollinated.

Training and pruning are probably the most complicated parts of growing vines but even these procedures are really quite easy once you get the hang of them. Because there are several methods of training and pruning, and each has its followers, there’s no such thing as the best’ – outdoors, the Guyot probably comes near the top for all-round ease and efficiency, especially for wine vines.

Following winter planting, the vine is cut down to no more than three buds from the ground. In the first growing season, just one shoot is allowed to develop; all others are rubbed out as soon as they appear In the winter, this one shoot is cut back to about four buds, the object having been to build up a strong root system.

During the second growing season, the two top buds are allowed to grow out into shoots. As before, all others are rubbed out as they appear From here on each shoot is treated differently, as regards winter pruning. It doesn’t matter which shoot you choose, but one must be cut back to two buds. The other is to produce fruiting laterals the following year so is shortened to six buds. It is then bent down and tied to the supporting wire.

During the following (third) growing season, shoots will grow from most of the buds on this cane. These laterals will produce flower trusses and are stopped at two leaves beyond the truss. Any other shoots that appear on them, or on their parent cane, are pinched back to one leaf.

The cane that was reduced to two buds in the winter will send out a shoot from each. These two are allowed to grow unhindered but any others are removed.

In the winter, the laterals that have fruited, together with their parent cane, are removed completely. The other two are treated as were the original two in the previous winter. From then on, simply follow the same routine each year; cutting out the fruited laterals and parent cane and shortening back one of the two others to two buds and the other to six.


The Guyot Method

The support needed for this Guyot system consists of a horizontal wire 6-8in (15-20cm) from the ground to which will be tied the fruiting cane. You will also need a vertical bamboo to which you tie the two canes as they grow. We can make better use of the space if, instead of just one wire, another is stretched a foot above the first. If the vines are then planted 18in (45cm) apart, instead of the recommended 3ft (90cm), double the crop can be had by training alternate plants to the top wire.

16. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Featured | Comments Off on Tips on Growing Grapes and Vines


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