How to Prune Grape Vines

Grape vine pruning is a bit of a long lost art, but if you have grape vines, you must learn how to properly prune them.

If you want your grape vine to produce an abundance of really good fruit, then you have to properly prune your grape vines. Grape vines are very vigorous and produce an incredible amount of vegetation in a single growing season.

(I once worked at a nursery that made 500,000 grape vine cuttings each winter and sold them.)

Grape vines can produce as much as 13 feet of new growth on a single vine in one growing season. Left un-pruned it would not be unusual for a grape vine to have as many as 300 fruit producing buds at the beginning of the growing season. That's way too many buds for the plant to support. The majority of those have to be removed. In most cases proper grape vine pruning requires that you remove as much as 75% of that vegetative growth so the plant can properly develop and ripen the fruit it produces.

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Proper pruning starts with proper training of the grape vine. Grape vines need to be supported, and they need to be groomed throughout the growing season so when it comes time to prune them you don't have a huge tangled mess to deal with. The easiest way to train your grape vines is to stretch a piece of fairly rigid wire between two posts. much like a clothes line. If your posts are eight feet apart, plant your grape plant right in the middle, about four feet from each post as in the drawing below.

Grape Vine

In the above drawing I show two posts with just one wire stretched between them, but you can actually stretch two wires and have grape producing vines on both the upper and lower wire. During the growing season you can groom your grape vines by training them to grow along the wires. You can tie them in place with twist ties, or just a piece of cloth. That way they are pretty much where you want them for the next growing season.

Late winter is the ideal time to prune your grape vines while they are completely dormant. Notice in the drawing I show both producing grape vines and replenishing grape vines. The producing grape vines are actually the fruit producing producing vines.

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Because grape wood that is more than two years old will no longer produce fruit, you have to prune in such a way that you have replenishing vines growing that can replace the older wood. In this drawing I show leaving just two buds on each replenishing vine. That is more than enough for the plant to produce new grape vines for the following growing season.

As you train your grape vines to the wire keep in mind that the following year when the plant actually produces fruit you want that fruit to receive as much sunlight and air circulation as possible.

During the winter when you are pruning your grape vines you need to remove all or almost all of the canes that are one year old or older, keeping only the canes produced during the previous growing season. Ideally, if you are using a two wire trellis you will leave two grape vines on each side of the plant. One tied along the top wire, and one tied along the bottom wire. Cut the end of each vine where the diameter of the vine is smaller than a pencil. Anything smaller than a pencil serves no usual purpose for producing fruit.

In addition to these four grape vines you should also leave two renewal spurs one on each side of the plant for a total of four renewal spurs. Leave just two or three buds on each renewal spur. Keep in mind, these renewal spurs will provide new growth that will replace the old growth tied to the wires.

So exactly how many buds do your leave on your grape vine? Well, that depends on how much wood you remove from the plant. For the first pound of wood that you remove during this pruning process you should leave approximately 30 buds on the vine. For each additional pound of wood that you remove you should increase the number of buds you leave by 10 buds. So if you remove two pounds of wood you'll leave 40 buds, if you remove three pounds of wood you'll leave 50 buds. But if you only remove one pound of wood you should leave 30 buds.

Sounds kinda crazy huh?

Technically that's how it's done. For me and you? If nothing else prune your grape vines in late winter, removing all of the old wood and leaving enough of the newer wood to produce some really nice grapes.

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog...