The Q&A Archives: How to propagate a grape vine outdoors

Question: Hi me and my partner are in the mist of restoring his grandparents old home and one of our major undertakings is the restoration of the yard (3 city lots) which at one time was a show place. We have managed to revive many old rose bushes and hundreds of flowers that have with time been neglected and overgrown. The property at one time had arbors covered with many different varieties of grapes. One of these vines over the past 50 years I am guessing had grown into a very old apple tree that we wanted to save for sentimental reasons. Removing the vine proved to be a real challenge. With that done I cut the thicket (6

Answer: First of all, I admire your vision and your willingness to do whatever it takes to restore the property to its former glory. You can propagate that special grapevine without too much trouble. Here's how:
Most of the grape varieties grown in Michigan will root readily from dormant hardwood cuttings. This system of propagation is easy to do, requires no special equipment, and is usually quite successful. Select healthy vines that are growing in full sunlight for stock plants. Vines growing in partial shade may be spindly and may not have enough stored food to support the cutting until it has developed leaves and roots.

Dormant hardwood cuttings may be taken from the late fall just after the leaves have dropped until the early spring just before the buds begin to swell. The best time to take cuttings depends on the winter cold and the ability to store cuttings. Cold can injure canes and buds from fall until spring. Severe injury is usually readily apparent but less severe injury to a cane can affect the ability of the cutting taken fromthat cane to root and grow.

Varieties differ in their cold hardiness, and the severity of the winters is not the same. Fluctuating fall and winter temperatures can also cause cold injury even though the cold is not severe. This is especially true if unseasonably warm weather is followed by a sudden cold spell. Therefore, it is safer to take cuttings in late fall and store them until the early spring.

One method of storage is to place the cuttings in damp (not soggy wet) peat moss or sand in a plastic bag, keeping them at 30 to 40F. Put them in the refrigerator or a root cellar. Cuttings may also be stored in the ground. Select a well-drained area and dig a hole 12 to 18 inches deep. Place 2 inches of sand or peat moss in the bottom of the hole, place the cuttings on the peat moss or sand, cover the cuttings with 2 more inches of sand or peat moss, then overfill with soil making a mound. A straw or sawdust mulch over the mound will keep the cuttings at a uniformly cold temperature.

Select 1-year-old canes (ones that were new shoots the previous summer) of moderate vigor. They should be 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Cuttings from excessively vigorous canes and from weak ones do not root as readily as others. Cuttings from 1-year-old canes should have 3 buds. When planting, the end of the cutting that was closest to the trunk (the basal end) should be placed in the ground. The end of the cutting that was nearest the tip of the cane (the tip end) should be above the ground. To prevent mixups in terms of which end should be up and which is down, the following system of cutting is a convenient one. Make a straight cut just above the tip end bud and a slant cut just below the basal end bud for each cutting. Place the cuttings in the early spring before growth starts, regardless of when they were taken. It is advisable to plow or spade up the area in the fall so it will be ready when needed in the spring. A row, or a partial row, in the garden is usually a convenient place. Avoid a heavily shaded area.

Cuttings can be planted 1 foot apart. The basal bud and the center bud should be below ground. The tip bud should be 2 to 3 inches above ground. Rooting hormones are not very helpful in promoting the rooting of grapes. The use of such materials is not suggested. Cuttings are also very susceptible to drought until they develop a good root system. They should be watered thoroughly during dry periods.Usually half or more of the cuttings will take root and grow. The next spring, the new plants can be dug up and moved to their permanent location.

Best wishes with your ongoing project!

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