It's a wonder more gardeners don't plant grapevines. Just 2 years after planting, you can be sampling your own grapes; in 3 years, you can be harvesting up to 15 pounds of grapes from each vine - plenty for eating and making jellies, juice, or wine. Two healthy vines are enough for most home growers. Many gardeners who raise everything from Brussels sprouts to plum trees have never tried grapes. Often, it isn't because they don't like them, but because they think grapes are difficult to prune properly. However, many home gardeners know that grapes are easy to grow. After the first year, you just need to give vines a simple annual pruning to keep them bearing well. There are three major groups of grapes. American grapes (Vitis labrusca) are generally quite winter hardy and grow well in most parts of the United States. European grapes (Vitis vinifera) grow best in warm, dry areas. Crosses between European- and American-type grapes have produced hybrids that are hardier and can be grown over a greater range. Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native grapes well adapted to growing conditions in southeastern United States.
Planning for Grapes
Choose grape varieties carefully. American-type grapes such as 'Concord' and 'Catawba' do well in the cool climate of New England, in the Midwest, and in the Northwest. The 'Concord', developed in the 1850s, is still a mainstay in many home gardens; it's vigorous, hardy, and easy to propagate from cuttings. European grapes (usually wine varieties such as 'Zinfandel' or 'Chardonnay') flourish in California where bright, dry summer days and mild winter temperatures provide a favorable environment. Tougher-skinned muscadine grapes do best in the Deep South.
Some of the new hybrid crosses between European and American types, such as the 'Baco Noir' and 'Seibel' varieties, are hardy and have extended the range in which wine grapes can be grown. Vineyards in New York State, where winter temperatures drop well below zero, produce high quality wines.
Over the years plant breeders have introduced earlier-ripening and more winter-hardy grapes. 'Swenson Red', for example, produces delicious medium to large red table grapes and is winter hardy to -25° F. Most grapes are self-fertile, but check to be sure when you place your order. A few will need pollinizing plants. Muscadines come in self-fertile and self-sterile lines. The best fruits are from the self-sterile vines; to assure pollination you have to grow a pollinizing vine, too. Whether a variety is from a self-fertile line or not should be noted in the mail-order catalog or at the nursery. Many garden centers sell grape plants in containers (in 8-inch pots, for example). There's usually a thin, 8- to 10 inch-tall stem that will develop over the years into a sturdy trunk. Vines grown in containers are easy to plant because the roots are less stressed in transplanting. Tap the plant out of the container and set the root ball, with as much of its soil as possible, into a prepared hole.
Buying container plants locally can be more expensive than ordering from a mail-order company. If you send away, your grapevines will probably arrive bare-root with a moist packing of peat moss or other material to keep the roots from drying out. The stem is usually cut back at planting. There is no advantage to buying a vine older than 1 year. Roots always have to be trimmed back at planting time, and no matter how old the vine is it takes a certain amount of time for the roots to reestablish themselves. Older vines won't necessarily give you earlier fruiting.
This article is a part of our Fruit Gardening Guide for Grapes.