If you've always wanted to plant a vine or two, build and grow an extensive grape arbor, or start your own vineyard, January's the month to get it started with bare root plants from the nursery center (in cold areas timing may differ, check with your local agriculture extension office), or starting your own cuttings using (often free) grape cuttings!
First, Do Your Homework
What types of grapes are you interested in? Varieties are divided into table grapes and wine grapes according to their normal use. Some species are suitable for multiple uses and can also make wonderful jelly and juices. Table grapes and multiple-use type varieties are the ones most commonly grown by home gardeners. You may want to talk to your agriculture extension office about best verities in your area.
Own-rooted vines (rooted cuttings that are not grafted) are typically what is sold in retail nurseries. Own-rooted vines work fine in most home gardens. However, there are some areas where grapes struggle to be grown on their own roots because of heavy nematode and grape phylloxera infestation - both these pests are small insects that feeds on the roots of the grapevine.
Nematodes and grape phylloxera infestation are particularly crippling to wine grape varieties from Vitis vinifera, or "Old World" grape, parentage. Commercial wine growers almost always use grafted vines when growing a Vitis vinifera vine species. Note that some table grapes, like Thompson Seedless, are also in this species. Grafted vines can generally be ordered for less than $10 a vine depending on the number ordered.
Other species of grapes to be aware of:
Vitis labrusca: the American or Fox-type grape, grown mainly east of the Rockies. Concord grapes are of this type, but be aware there are different types of concord grapes that have been developed for different areas of the country. American and American hybrids are typically grown for table grapes, juice, or jelly.
Vitis rotundifolia: found mostly in the south Atlantic and Gulf states. This species includes the muscadine and scuppernong varieties.
Vitis riparia: Wild American grape used as root stock of some grafted grapes and in grape breading programs for its cold tolerance and resistance to phylloxera.
My Personal Favorite Grape for Jelly Making
The newer Blueberry grape variety with its complex flavor makes wonderful jelly. It is mostly cultivated in home gardens and specialty farms. The Blueberry grape will grow well in many climes from hot, and dry, to more coastal areas in U.S. zones 6 - 10. Blueberry grapes are a member of the Vitis labrusca species like the Concord grape variety. This species characteristically has a thicker skin than most grapes found in the commercial markets, a “slip-skin,” that will easily slip off when squeezed. The skin imparts a lot of flavor to the juice. The Blueberry grapes have a bright, slightly tart, mild blueberry flavor and are very juicy. They are robust plants and heavy producers. Our one plant produces more jelly and syrup than we can use ourselves.
Do You Want Free Grape Vines? Now is the Time!
Do you know someone with a nice grape vine that you like? Offer to help prune the vine with them in exchange for some cuttings. You can take cuttings any time the plant is dormant (leaves fall off). Grape canes propagation is straightforward and you can grow a large number of vines from one existing plant with ease.
- Gather one-year-old prunings - these canes are about the diameter of a pencil. Choose canes with moderate to close node (bud) spacing; ones that grew in the sun and have closer spacing are preferred. Cut off and discard the thin terminal end of the cane that may have been damaged by frost and are of thinner diameter. If you will be taking cuttings of more than one variety make sure you bundle and label the different canes separately.
- Organize all your cane's growth directionally by identifying the wider bottom end of the cutting from the thinner top (growth direction) to prevent planting upside down. To achieve this we will cut the wider base of our cane(s) straight across and the more slander top end at an angle.
Trim cuttings to size
- Make a horizontal cut 1/4” below the lowest bud at the base. Make cuttings with 3-4 total buds for each cutting. Make the tip cut about 1 1/2 inches above the last bud taking care to cut at an angle. This type of cutting is called a Hardwood Cutting.
Dip the base of the cutting into rooting hormone (optional)
- Use of rooting hormone will greatly increase the chances of rooting success. Expect about a 50% success rate with larger more vigorous roots if you used hormone. Without hormone expect about 30% success with shorter less vigorous roots.
- Dip the base bud into liquid rooting hormone following manufacturer's instructions for hardwood cuttings. If using root hormone powder, and be sure to tap the cuttings to remove excess powder.
Propagating in Medium
- Fill a container or pot with a suitable propagating medium. I use sand.
- If you are planting a three bud cutting - put cuttings in sand so that one bud is under the sand and two buds are above ground. If you are planting a four bud cutting plant two buds under the sand and two buds above ground.
- I use a pencil to make a hole for my cuttings. Plant all cuttings 2” apart and press the propagating medium down around them.
- Water the soil around the cuttings. Keep the propagating medium slightly damp but not soggy or cuttings could rot.
- Place cuttings in a cool shaded area to develop and grow until they are ready. The cuttings will be ready to transplant into their own pot with fresh potting soil in the spring when they leaf out.
- Young vines can grow in their own pots for a year, and can be transplanted to their permanent location the following spring as two year old vines.