Pruning Backyard Grapevines

January 4, 2011

When we bought this house, it came with some grape vines. The house had been sitting empty for awhile, some say eight months, but the result was that the grapes grew up over the fence, into the dogwood tree, and into the neighbor’s maple tree. The grapes were really tasty and sweet, which now makes it hard for my husband to eat storebought grapes. We have been told that wine makers withhold water from grapes to reduce the water in the grape and therefore concentrate the sugar, whereas table grape growers give the vines lots of water to make the grapes grow faster and bigger. Well, it was a record hot summer, and with an empty house, these grapes didn’t get water, and they were delicious because of it.

Anyway, I cut them back a little bit, at least to get them out of the trees and off of the fence, but I didn’t really know what to do next. There is lots of literature out there, but they all talk about what to do with a newly planted grapevine, and here I had something established that was not property taken care of. The previous owners encouraged the vines to figure eight over the trellis instead of a single vine that the publications talk about. The publications also talk about buds, and I had no idea what I was looking for or if I would get a bud near the base if I cut it back that far.

One of my wine drinking friends thought that the vineyards hacked their grapes back pretty far. When we were at Willamette Valley Vineyards that winter, our pourer was actually a founding member of the vineyard. I explained to her what we had going on. “Cut it back,” she said without hestiation. “It’s a vine.” She implied that vines rebound from being pruned and that I shouldn’t worry.

So I went home and I cut the vines back to basically the main vines. It looked really cleaned up. The next summer was a wet and cool summer, and vineyards had a hard time getting fruit set and then ripening. I had two clusters that I could see. At first, I thought it was because of the way I pruned, but I know that is not the case now. The plant did rebound, and put out plenty of new vines which attempted to grow up over the fence again. I hacked on what ever vine made it that far, as I didn’t want it to damage the fence or prevent the gate from opening.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we basically have a rainy season starting late October/early November that runs usually into June. In the dead of winter, usually in January or February, we get two weeks of clear weather that is usually freezing. I’ve had coworkers in the past complain about the cold, and I’m like, “Hey, I get sun instead of rain for a few days, which is a nice change. I can put up with the cold if it means I get a break from the rain.” We are currently in one of those weather patterns, so I asked a member of a winemaking club I attend if it was safe yet to prune grapes, as I wouldn’t be wet and miserable while doing the work. He said yes, so long as the leaves were gone, which they were. He said the pruning would help the vines go dormant. So in my jeans, sweatshirt, hat, scarf, ski coat, and gardening gloves, I was pretty warm as I pruned the grapes in 15 minutes. Having observed what happens, I was not so afraid this year to cut the vines back.

Grapevines before pruning. Photographed January 2, 2011

Grapevines after pruning. Photographed January 4, 2011

I will say that the vines were pretty soft and easy to use hand pruners on, and they would bend nicely when doubled. They would not snap, so they actually filled up my yard debris bucket unless I cut them down. I understand now why they make wreaths from grapevines sometimes. I also told my husband that since they don’t branch out all that much, I think it would feed quite nicely though a wood chipper and then find uses for the chips.

As you can see from the photos, the trellis system is shot. Now that the grapes are mostly pruned back, I hope to replace this trellis before the weather turns rainy, but the ground may be too frozen to dig into right now. When the new trellis is in, I’ll actually cut the vines back more, but I just wanted to make sure there was something to work with.

Further reading:

2 Responses to “Pruning Backyard Grapevines”

  1. […] 9, 2011 So the question posed last week when I got done pruning the grapes was, could I build a new trellis before the weather turned? Answer: […]

  2. […] I think are Thompson seedless grapes in my back yard also did alright this year with it being warmer, and I am still learning how to prune and manage […]

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