Ever daydreamed of picking huge clusters of sun-warmed, juicy grapes from your own backyard vines? Growing grapes is easier than you think. Here’s how.
Grapes can be grown in USDA zones 4-10, which is to say almost anywhere in the continental United States. If you have good soil, some space to spare and don’t mind a bit of annual pruning, growing grapes is no more difficult than any other backyard crop.
The keys to success are first deciding what sort of crop you want (grow to eat or to make wine) and then choosing the right varieties that will grow and produce well in your area (we’ve listed some of our favorite varieties). Once you have this locked down, follow the steps below for planting, tending, and harvesting. You can expect to harvest delicious fruits in the third or fourth year, around late summer or early fall. Ready? Let’s get growing.
Step One: Select the best spot
Basically, you need a large, open, sunny space with good soil. Grapes need about 50 to 100 square feet per vine if growing vertically on a trellis or arbor and about 8 feet between rows if planting horizontally in rows, and seven to eight hours of direct sun each day. While they’ll grow in a range of soils, they’ll thrive in well-drained, rich, organic soil (grapes cannot tolerate wet feet) that has been mixed deep-down with ample compost or soil conditioner. Air circulation on all sides of the vine helps ward against fungal disease such as powdery mildew.
Step Two: Pick a variety that suits your conditions
Know your climate. Some varieties like cooler temperatures, while others thrive in heat. There are three basic types of grapes (as well as hybrids made by combining American and European varieties); choose carefully according to your USDA zone. Here are a few of our favorite varieties (consult your local Independent Garden Center for the best varieties for your particular area and needs).
- American (Vitis labrusca) grapes which are the most cold-hardy (zones 4-7) and thrive in short season growing areas such as the Northeast. These are most often used for table grapes, juices and jellies.
- European (Vitis viniferia) grapes which prefer a warm and dry Mediterranean-type climate (zones 7-10) with a longer growing season. Depending on the variety, these are used for wine making and as table grapes.
- Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) grapes which are native to North American and grow well in the humid South (zones 7-9). These are most often used for wine making as well as table grapes.
Step Three: Prepare for planting
Table grapes don’t need a fancy support system, but it is good to get them off the ground and onto a trellis where you can more easily prune and harvest. Wine grapes will require a horizontal structure that gives them the support they need and allows you to train them. In mild winter areas (USDA Zone 7 and warmer) you can plant your grapevines in early winter; in colder regions, wait early spring. Grapevines set deep roots (as much as 15 feet) so dig a planting hole about two feet deep and wide, and enrich with compost.
Step Four: Get out the clippers
Grapes produce on growth that is a year old, making it important that a pruning schedule is kept to remove older growth and ensure new growth develops. Grapes need to be pruned twice a year, once during dormancy and once in the spring or summer to tidy up the vines. Grapes can be either cane pruned or spur pruned. Generally, table grapes are cane pruned and wine are spur, but it depends on the variety. More information on pruning can be found here.
Step Five: Fertilizing
Grapevines generally don’t require much fertilizer, so fertilize sparingly. In early spring, apply about eight to ten ounces of 10-10-10 or 10-20-20 fertilizer.
Step Six: Dealing with spoilers
Powdery mildew is the most common disease affecting grapes but it can be controlled by improving air circulation and by regularly spraying in the spring. Birds? Try covering with netting.
Tip: How much to grow?
- Mature table grapes can produce 15 to 30 pounds per vine. You may only want to plant a couple.
- Mature wine grapes produce about 12 pounds per vine, and it takes 40 pounds to make 12 bottles. If you’re serious about making wine, you’re going to need a lot of vines.
Wine grapes vs table grapes?
When ripe, most wine grapes will be much sweeter, softer and juicier than table grapes. They’ll also have thicker, chewier skins and more prominent seeds. Table grapes are often bigger, more crispy and crunchy, with much thinner skins and smaller seeds or none at all.
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