How to Grow Grapes

Imagine a warm summer’s day sitting under the dappled light of a pergola clothed with a grape vine; grapes hang in bunches above your head. A glass of wine, good food, your family and good friends all gathered for an alfresco meal, under your prolific vine - what could be better? The grape vine is one of the most popular fruits you can grow. 
Grapes tolerate cold when dormant (over winter) but not when in leaf when late frosts can be a problem. Their ideal climate is a warm, dry summer and a mild to cool winter. However there are varieties which have been bred which will tolerate very cold winters.

Grape vines are relatively easy to grow if you give them what they need: sunlight, air-movement, pH of the soil, good soil preparation before planting, water and correct pruning. 

Grapes are usually bought bare rooted, like roses or fruit trees, and planted in winter. They prefer a fairly heavy, not too acid soil (a pH of 6-6.5 is good), and a sunny position. 
Cut the vine back hard immediately after you plant it, and let it grow as it will in its first year. The first winter select the strongest shoot for training to the trellis or pergola, and remove all the others; train the leading shoot until it has reached the height at which it is to branch, and then train two or three branches along the trellis. 

The process of establishing the framework of the vine usually takes two or three years; after that it is cut back to the main branches every winter to encourage the strong growth that will bear the fruit. It is usually the vines third summer in the garden before it begins to crop. 

Pests and Diseases

Grapes may be attacked by botrytis if the weather is wet; birds are fond of grapes, and measures may have to be taken to discourage them. 

Caterpillars can attack the foliage, as can mildew, which needs a regular spraying for control. In dry summer areas, mildew is not a major problem, and most varieties will do well. In humid coastal gardens, a mildew resistant variety like ‘Isabella’ (better for jam than eating fresh) is the best choice. 

Harvest Times
The fruit matures according to the area you live in and also the variety you plant. Some will mature as early as mid-January, others in the late summer and others in autumn. When reading plant catalogues they are usually listed as early, mid-season, and late-season varieties so if you want grapes in summer then you would choose early varieties suited to your area.  If you want grapes for several months of the year then you can have this by planting several varieties to mature consecutively. 
Grape Varieties
The best varieties to choose are those that are best suited to your local climatic conditions, having said that many backyards create a micro-climate that is often warmer than prevailing conditions. In a sheltered garden you can grow more varieties than you could in an open large area. There is also a difference between table grapes and wine grapes. Wine grapes are not usually suited to the table. So if you want to make wine then you should choose suitable wine grape varieties (or you could try some of each!)
Following are the most popular varieties of table grape for the home gardener: 
  • Calmeria: green, late maturing, prefers a warm to hot climate. Tolerates rain better than other varieties. 
  • Cardinal: red, early maturing, prefers a dry and hot climate. Rampant grower.
  • Concord: black, mid-late maturing, prefers cooler areas. Good when eaten fresh.
  • Flame seedless: red, round grape, very early maturing variety from mid to late January.
  • Himrod: white seedless, early-mid maturing, prefers cooler areas. Almost seedless fruit. 
  • Muscat: black, matures mid-season, adaptable grower. Excellent for home gardens.
  • Sultana (Thompson seedless): white, mid-early maturing, prefers a warm and dry climate. Seedless and excellent fresh or dried. 
  • Waltham Cross: green, mid-maturing, prefers a mild to warm climate. Vigorous grower, large fruit. 
The following are some popular wine varieties:
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: red wine type fruit are small and black maturing mid-season. It is suited to temperate, cool and Mediterranean type climate areas.
  • Chardonnay: fruit is small and white maturing early – suited to cool, temperate and Mediterranean type climates.
  • Colombard: fruit is mid-sized and white, maturing mid-season. This is a white wine variety for dry white wines. It does best in warmer Mediterranean type climates. 
  • Grenache: fruit are small black and juicy and mature mid-season. A red wine type best suited to warmer temperate regions.
  • Merlot: fruit is small black and seeded, maturing mid-season. Suited to cool and Mediterranean type regions
  • Pinot Noir: excellent red wine variety. Small black fruit maturing early, great for cool areas
  • Rhine Riesling: fruit are small and white, maturing early to mid-season. It grows best in cool, temperate and Mediterranean type regions. 
  • Sangiovese: fruit is small and black maturing mid-season. Best in a Mediterranean type climate. 
  • Sauvignon Blanc: fruit is small and white maturing mid-season. It is suited to cool, temperate ad Mediterranean type climates. 
  • Semillon: fruit are white, small and maturing mid-season. It grows best in temperate regions. 
  • Shiraz: fruit is seeded, small and black maturing mid-season. Suited to cool, temperate and Mediterranean type regions (the taste of the wine differs from region to region)
  • Viognier: white fruit that matures to yellow when fully ripe - maturing early-season. It grows best in cool to temperate or Mediterranean type climates. 

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