Growing grapes at home is well worth the effort and whether growing for dessert or wine there are two main pruning and training systems which should be followed to maximise the cropping of the plants and to keep them under control. Grapes can grow fearsomely quickly if not strictly managed!
The two main pruning and training systems are:
- The Guyot system which is used for wine and dessert grapes grown outdoors. This system has one or two fruiting arms growing away from the main stem (single or double Guyot systems respectively) and this basically is the way that vineyards grow their grapes.
- The Rod and Spur System which is used for grapes grown against walls, fences and pergolas etc. and grapes grown in greenhouses. This essentially is a cordon system.
Before you plant any grapes a supporting structure must be put into place to train the vines along. For grapes that are going to be grown in open ground (The Guyot System) you need to construct a post and wire support structure using 2m x preferably 10cm timber posts which have been pressure treated. Each post is anchored into the ground by either using a proprietary post support (such as Metpost) or digging a hole 45cm deep and then backfilling the hole with concrete. The posts should be spaced around 4m to 4.5m apart and 2/3mm diameter galvanised wire or Gripple Wire (a non-metallic wire obtainable from Pomona Fruits) should be stretched along the posts fixing the wire with vine eyes to each post. The bottom two wires should be 40cm and 55cm above ground level. Subsequent wires should be doubled up at each side of the posts and then at 30cm spacing.
For grapes which are going to be grown along walls, pergolas or in a greenhouse (The Rod and Spur System) use 2/3mm diameter galvanised wire stretched horizontally 30cm apart. For walls and pergolas use proprietary vine eyes which can be screwed into brickwork or wood, to support the wires. These vine eyes keep the wires away from the structure that the wires are to be attached to. You can also buy vine eyes or similar fixings for clipping into the aluminium bars within greenhouses).
The Guyot System
Having set up a supporting structure as detailed above you can plant pot grown vines at any time or bare root vines between November and March. Space the plants approximately 75cm apart if you are going to use the single Guyot system and approximately 1.5 m apart if you are going for the double Guyot system. When planting more than one row of grapes keep them approximately 2m apart. If you are planting pot grown vines, as soon as you have finished planting train one shoot vertically up a cane attached to the wires cutting this shoot back to a strong bud at the level of the lowest wire removing any side shoots. If you are planting bare root vines, cut the main stem back to two strong buds above the graft level if the vine has been grafted or two buds above ground level otherwise. Sometimes bare rooted vines are supplied from the nursery pre-pruned and sealed with wax. In this case initial pruning is not required.
In the first year of growth for bare rooted vines train just one strong shoot vertically up the cane attached to the wires and remove any other shoots. During the season as the plant grows cut back any side shoots to one leaf. In December/January cut the main stem back to two strong buds at the level of the lowest wire if you are growing on the single Guyot system or three strong buds if you are growing on the double Guyot system.
In the second year of growth for either bare rooted or pot grown vines train the two or three shoots growing from the buds up the cane. Once again any side shoots growing off these vertical shoots should be cut back to one leaf. In November/December tie down one shoot, either to the left or to the right along the lowest wire for the single Guyot system and one shoot to the left and one shoot to the right if using the double Guyot system. Cut these shoots back to between 60 and 90cm long depending on the amount of growth available. Finally cut the remaining shoot back to two or three strong buds as in the previous year.
From the third year onwards your vines will start producing fruit and it is important that the following procedures are followed annually if you are to keep the vines fruiting well. During the growing season train two or three shoots up the cane as required for single or double Guyot training and continue to pinch back any side shoots to one leaf. Tuck all vertical fruit carrying stems through the double wires and then cut them back to two or three leaves above the top wires. In November/December completely remove any branches that fruited the previous summer and then tie down vertical shoots along the lowest wires as in the previous winter.
The Rod and Spur System
Having set up a supporting structure as detailed above you can plant pot grown vines at any time or bare root vines between November and March. Ensure you leave a space of at least 15cm from the wall or greenhouse side. After planting cut the main stem back by two thirds and any side shoots back to one bud. Sometimes bare rooted vines are supplied pre-pruned and sealed with wax. In this case initial pruning is not required.
In the first year of growth when the main stem reaches either the top of the greenhouse or wall or when it reaches 3m in length cut back any side branches to five leaves and any side shoots growing from these branches to one leaf. When this is done tie the main stem and branches to the supporting wires. In December/January cut the main stem back by two thirds and the side branches back to one strong bud.
In the second year of growth let the main stem grow. Let one or two of the side branches produce a bunch of grapes and then pinch back the tips of these branches to two leaves past the bunch of grapes. Cut back any side branches not bearing any fruit to five leaves. In December/January cut the main stem back by half to a bud on old (brown) wood and cut back the side branches to 2.5cm or two strong buds.
In its third year untie the top two thirds of your vine and let it bend down and almost touch the ground. As with tying top fruit branches to produce fruit buds down this will encourage side branches to break along the vine stem.
As soon as buds begin to grow from where the side branches were cut back tie the main stem up again to its supporting structure. Pinch out the growing tips to two leaves from the flower cluster of any branches that have flowers on allowing on one flower cluster to develop per side branch for dessert grapes although you can allow more for wine grapes. Now tie in each flowering side branch to a wire. Pinch out non flowering side branches to five leaves and pinch out any side shoots growing from side branches to one leaf. In December cut back the side branches from the main stem to one or two large, plump buds.
If you have a vigorous vine that needs to cover a large space, you could consider training it as a double or multiple cordon as follows:
- Allow the newly planted vine to grow two strong vertical shoots from near its base, removing any weak or excess shoots.
- Lay the two selected shoots horizontally to each side of the lowest support wire.
- Side branches will grow from the horizontal arms. Select vertical side branches to form the multiple rods or cordons that will make up your structure.
- Each rod or cordon is pruned as per the instructions above for rod and spur pruning.
- Pinch out excess shoots developing from the two horizontal arms and the tender tips beyond the rods.
All of this training and pruning does seem complicated but it is not I can assure you! The method is logical when thought about and quickly becomes second nature. Providing you follow the steps that I have outlined you will grow grapes successfully and it is most certainly worth all of the effort.
6th July 2013
Gerry is an experienced amateur fruit grower who is Chairman of the RHS Fruit Group, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Committee and also their Fruit Trials Panel. Gerry judges fruit nationally for the Royal Horticultural Society and is also a qualified National Vegetable Society judge.