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 to grow grapes confidently.
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.
How to Grow Grapes in 5 Easy Steps
1. Find the best place to plant your grapes
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 helps ward against fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
2. Choose the best grape variety for your climate
There are three basic types of grapes—American, European, and Muscadine, as well as hybrids (like our favorite Zestful grapes) made by combining American and European varieties.
American (Vitis labrusca)grapes 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 vinifera)grapes prefer a warm and dry Mediterranean-type climate (zones 7-10) with a longer growing season. Depending on the variety, these are used for winemaking and as table grapes.
Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia)grapes are native to North America and grow well in the humid South (zones 7-9). These are most often used for winemaking as well as table grapes.
Choose carefully according to your USDA zone. Some varieties like cooler temperatures, while others thrive in the heat. Consult your localIndependent Garden Centerfor the best varieties for your particular area and needs
Here are a few of our favorite varieties of Hybrid, American, and European table grapes.
A sweet dessert variety with large clusters of small to medium seedless, red to reddish-black berries that ripen mid-season. Zones 7-9.
Photo: Hort Printers
3. Properly plant your new grape vine
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 for 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.
How Many Grape Vines Should I Plant?
Mature table grapes can produce 15 to 30 pounds per vine. You may only want to plant a couple of vines.
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.
4. Maintain and prune your grapevines
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. The most common mistake made with grape pruning is not pruning hard enough. Once a grapevine is fully established, you will actually be cutting off more plant than you leave behind.
Grapes can be trained in a couple of different ways, depending on your garden goals and the structure you plan on using for support. 1) Vineyard style- The classic system of two wires strung between posts has the benefits of keeping your grapes where they are easy to harvest, and only requiring a narrow space, such as along a fence or wall. This method has one central trunk and a one-year-old cane with about 8 buds going out horizontally on each wire. If you want to see how the professionals prune their grapevines, you can find more information here.
2) Onto a trellis or pergola- A great way to incorporate edible plants in a decorative manner. Grapes can be trained onto arches or used to provide seasonal shade on a pergola. How lovely would it be to reach up and grab a snack while relaxing on your patio?! You can find detailed instructions on training and pruning grapes on a pergola here.
Looking for a simpler, more casual method? Here’s how to keep your grapes under control and produce fruit without becoming a pruning expert: Prune your grapes in late winter or early spring. When you are done pruning your grapevine, there should only be two things left: A permanent main trunk or trunks, and growth that is a year old. You won’t want to keep all the year-old growth- there might be a lot! Get rid of unneeded older wood, and thin out and shorten the year-old wood: you can leave anywhere from 2 to 8 buds on a cane. Pruning can be done in summer to tidy up the vines if you find they are getting a little wilder than you like. Thinning can also help the fruit get more sun, and increase airflow to prevent powdery mildew. If you find the fruit is growing in dense shade, you might want to do some thinning.
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.
5. Occasionally feed your grapes
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. Adding a layer of high-quality compost to the base of your grapes in early spring can often provide the right amount of nutrients to the soil for your grapes to grow and produce annually.