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Pruning Grapes – Sherman’s Vineyard

Pruning grapes is not that hard!

If you train your grape vine the correct way from day one, then it will make the task of pruning grapes much easier.

With this article, I will proof to you that pruning grapes is easy and will also show you the correct way of pruning grapes on an arbor or pergola.

I received the following email from Sherman:

Pruning Grapes On An Arbor

pruning grapes

Hi there, Attached is a photo of my vine structure. In the photo, the red line represents the stem from the ground to the wire, the yellow lines represent the 2 arms that forked off from the stem, and from the yellow lines (arms) there are several vines that extend out from the fence. I would like to know if and where I should prune the vines as it is getting close to spring.
– Should I not prune and leave as it is in the photo?
– Should I prune back to the arms that run along the fence?
This will leave the red and yellow lines.If you need more information, please ask
I hope going by the photo I am doing things right, fingers crossed :)Thanks in advance
Sherman (member of the Complete Grape Growing System)

First of all; Sherman you did a great job training the grape vine on the arbor – well done.  From the picture, you guys can see how he developed the horizontal arm first and then used the laterals to cover the canopy of the arbor.  For those of you who didn’t watch the video about training a grape vine on an arbor, should do it before reading on – here’s the link (it will open in a new window)

Okay, so let’s get down to business and discuss Sherman’s questions about pruning grapes.

The first thing you need to understand is that pruning grapes the correct way, is one of the key elements to your success.  Without properly pruning grapes, the grape vine will not produce the desired crop and will most probably not cover the arbor the way you like.  I’ve seen this many times in my 20+ years since I started growing grapes.  One of the biggest mistakes I see with pruning grapes, is that new grape growers are afraid to prune hard (as is Sherman).

To properly structure a grape vine, you need to “force” the grape vine to grow the way you want it to and the only way to do that is to train the grape vine during the growing season and to prune it during the dormant season.  When pruning grapes that are older that 4 years, you will remove between 70% – 90% of the previous year’s wood!

If we look at Sherman’s grape vine, you will see that he trained the grape vine with a trunk (vertical) and two arms to each side (along the width of the arbor)  – he did a great job doing that, didn’t he?  From the horizontal arms, lateral shoots developed which he trained on the trellis wires that cover the arbor.

pruning grapes

pruning grapes

Now if Sherman wants to do this right, he will have to remove some of the lateral canes on the arbor, otherwise his canopy will be very compact the coming growing season which can lead to diseases, unfruitfulness and will make summer manipulations (suckering, leave pulling etc.) much harder.

There are normally two reasons why we grow grapes on an arbor:

  1. to provide shade and to look good (on a stoop)
  2. for the grapes

In Sherman’s case, I think it is both, so we will prune the grape vine to cover the pergola (which will look nice in summer) and to have some grapes as well.

To do that we will develop the structure of the vine like this.

pruning grapes

Pruning grapes:

On the horizontal arms, we will prune some renewal spurs which can be used to renew the grape vine in the future.  In other words; we will prune some of the canes back to two buds (like explained in the Complete Grape Growing System and in the pruning grapes article on my blog) The red lines represent the canes that will cover the canopy.  Each of these canes (red lines) should be spaced more or less 20 inches apart.  This will ensure that the new growth will cover the whole canopy with enough space or room for lateral growth.

When you look at the arbor from above, it should look something like this:

pruning grapes

If possible, the length of the canes should be long enough to reach the second last horizontal wire of the arbor.  If the canes are not long enough, then prune it back to where the diameter of the cane is the same as size of a pencil.

I hope this will help some of you to prune grapes the correct way.  Remember; pruning grapes and training grapes is very important.

Take care and good luck! :-)


Let me take you by the hand and walk you through every step of growing and pruning grapes.

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pruning grapes

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Grape Vine Flowers

Grape vine flowers appears as soon as the newly formed clusters starts “opening”.  What I mean by opening is explained in the following three images.

Grape Vine Flowers


Picture 1:  The grape vine flowers are not visible yet because it is covered with flower caps, so in other words; what looks like berries in this picture, isn’t actually berries!  This is still early days in the growing season, and as soon as the temperature rises, the grape vine flowers will become visible.  However, at this stage,  you will notice that the “berries” are compact, small and soft.

Picture 2:  The grape vine flowers are still not visible in this picture, because it is the early stage of grape vine flowering.  The grape vine flowers start to develop underneath the flower caps and soon the flower caps will turn yellow/brown and crack open.  This in an important stage of berry development and mild temperatures, enough water, calm wind conditions and no rain, is the ideal climate for perfect grape vine flowers.

Picture 3:  In this picture you can clearly see the grape vine flowers, with pollen carries and stigma.  If you enlarge the pictures of the grape vine flowers, you will clearly see the flower caps that cracked open, revealing the grape vine flowers and pollen carries.

Grape Vine Flowers

Most wild grape vines you find in the woods are male or female plants and need cross pollination to produce grapes.  Nowadays, 99% of the commercially grown grapes  are self-pollinated and no cross-pollination is needed.

Another question I often receive about grape vine flowers, is about cross-pollination of different varieties.  Some grape growers are concerned that if they plant two or more varieties in the same vineyard, that the grape vines will produce grapes that are not “variety-true”.

If you grow grape vines of different varieties in one vineyard, and all of them are self-pollinated, then you will not have any trouble with cross-pollination.  The vines will only accept pollen from it’s own pollen carries.

Have a look at the picture and email from Eric below – I will reply below his email.

grape vine flowers


Can you tell me what’s wrong with my berries. This is the second year for my vines (they were probably 2 years old when I planted them. All the clusters are low on the vines and many of the berries in the clusters are dwindling away (see picture). Can you tell me what my problem is? I’m in a coastal region of Southern California.
Thanks for your help
Hi Eric, and thanks for your email.  If you have read the article about grape vine flowers, then you will now understand that the “berries” in the picture you send me (the ones on top left of the bunch), hasn’t bloomed (flowered) yet and the flower caps are still closed.  If you look closely, you will see that the flower caps are turning yellow and will soon open to reveal the pollen carries.  Once flowering is over, the new real berries will appear from the germ.
I hope this will answer some questions regarding grape vine flowering :-)
Talk to you soon

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Spring Frost Damage On Grapes

Spring frost damage is a common problem among grape growers!


spring frost damageAs you can see from the picture on the left, spring frost damage on grapes can cause severe damage and if you grow your grapes in colder climates, you will sooner or later have to deal with spring frost damage.

What makes spring frost damage a big problem is that preventing it, is not easy – economically and practically.  Some years you will have no spring frost damage and another year you can loose all your grapes due to spring frost damage.

Even here in South Africa, where temperatures are known to be mild to hot, we sometimes face dangerous Spring temperatures and many grape growers in the lower region of where I live, have suffered crop losses because of spring frost damage.

Most grape growers from the US who grow their grapes in climates colder than zone 6, will definitely know what I’m referring to.

When will spring frost damage occur on grapes?

Generally, there are two type of spring frost.  Advective and radiattion frost.

Radiation frost damage happens with clear night skies and calm airflow or wind conditions.  With clear skies, radiant heat from the earth moves up into the upper layers of the atmosphere and the calm wind conditions allow the air to mix.  An inversion occurs where the a layer of cold air is trapped below the layer of hot air from the dadiation.

Advective frost happens when a cold front moves into an area with gusty winds trapping the cold air on at ground leve.

Spring frost damage – what happens inside the grape vine?

I will not dig too deep into the physiology of the grape vine, but spring frost damage occurs when the water inside the plant cells of the grape vine cools down to temperatures below freezing.  Ice crystals form and damage the cell membrane of the plant cells, causing the sap flow to escape from the plant cells once the temperatures increase.

Choosing your site to prevent spring frost damage:

The most important factor that will influence spring frost damage is your site location – not even planting the correct variety, or using the correct pruning methods will fully safeguard your grape vines from spring frost damage.

Cold air is heavier than hot air and will form pockets of cold air in valleys, near rivers and even alongside a tree lines.  Avoid planting your grape vines on these location as far as possible; especially if spring frost damage is a problem in your area.

Planting your grape vines on a down slope, will force the cold air to move away from your grape vines, into the lower areas of the land – this could help prevent spring frost damage!.

Trellis & training systems to help prevent spring frost damage

As said earlier, cold air is heavier than hot air, so the temperature close the surface of the ground is colder than a few feet higher.  Using a higher trellis system could make the difference between light and severe frost damage.

Cultivation practices to help prevent spring frost damage

Here are a few tips that might just save your grape crop from spring frost damage.

  • If you grow grapes on a larger scale, it is advisable to get a frost alert system in place.
  • Keep your eye on the calendar for historical frost damage dates.  Knowing historical spring frost damage dates can help you plan ahead with irrigation or to cover your vines.
  • Use a cover crop on your soil and keep away from bare soil cultivation.  Bare soil will loose it’s latent heat much quicker than soils covered with organic material.
  • Manage your irrigation correctly – drought stressed grape vines are more susceptible to spring frost damage
  • Prune as late as possible.  Pruning later will prevent the basilar buds from opening too soon.
  • Use cane pruning method.

What to do after spring frost damage occured:

Come to terms with your losses – you will have a lighter crop but not necessarily no crop!

Do not cut off the damaged parts too soon.  A grape vine has a composite bud, meaning there are 3 buds within what looks like a singe bud.  Chances that the secondary and tertiary buds will open after spring frost damage is good.  These buds can produce grapes as well, although not as many as the primary bud.

If only sections of the shoots are damaged, new growing points will appear from buds situated near the base of the shoot.


All I can say; loosing your grapes to spring frost damage can happen within a few hours.  Keep a watchful eye on the weather channel and try identify climate conditions that may lead to spring frost damage.

Good luck my friend and hopefully your grape vine will have a better chance to survive the next spring frost!

Danie – The Grape Guy

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Growing Grapes On A Pergola

Growing Grapes On A Pergola is not that hard if you follow these instructions!

Hi friends,

In the previous post we spoke about summer pruning grapes vines and I showed you a picture I received from Lisa where she is growing grapes on a pergola.  Now, I received quite a few questions regarding the construction of pergolas and about growing grapes on a pergola.

As I said so many times before; growing grapes on a pergola or some sort of trellis is highly recommended, because of the following advantages:

  • It’s much easier to keep the grape vine under control during summer
  • Winter pruning will be much easier, because of an established frame work of the grape vine
  • The leaves of the grape vine are better exposed to the much needed sunlight – better photosynthesis and coloring
  • It allows for more effective summer treatments and spray coverage – less diseases
  • And finally, it will decorate you garden and most probably add value to you property as well!

As so many things in life; there are some disadvantage (con’s) as well:

  • When growing grapes on a pergola, you will have to work with your hands above your head
  • The cost of construction a pergola
  • Manual labor of constructing the pergola
  • And finally; how to train the grape vine to cover the pergola – this is where I come in :-)

1.  Growing Grapes On A Pergola – First Things First

It is recommended that you construct your pergola BEFORE you plant the grape vines.  Once you planted the grape vines, you would want to start training the vines to reach the roof or canopy of the pergola as soon as possible.

There are two very important question you will have to ask yourself before you plant the grape vines.

  1. Will you be growing grapes on a pergola for the grapes as well as for decoration?
  2. Or are you growing grapes on a pergola just for decorating the pergola and not interested in the grapes?

When you are growing grapes on a pergola for decorative purpose only, then choose a variety that will produce no grape – ask your nursery for decorative grapes and not fruit producing grapes.

Constructing a pergola can be a challenge to many, but I think with the right plans, the right equipment and some spare time, anyone who can drill a hole, use a hammer and circle saw can construct one.  This could even be a family project to spend some quality time with the boys (or girls – yes they can help as well!).

Start by planning the project beforehand.  Decide on where you will erect the pergola and what shape and size it will be.  There are free plans available on the internet, but most of the time they are either incomplete, poor quality or very difficult to follow.

2.  Growing Grapes On A Pergola – Planting The Grape Vines

Let’s get back to growing grapes on a pergola, shall we?

When you have constructed the pergola, it’s time to plant the grape vines and start growing grapes on a pergola!

The question remains; what size pergola and how many grape vines to plant?  How vigorous a grape vine grows, depends on many external factors like variety, soil, climate, fertilizer, etc.  For me to give you the exact number of vines per squire feet of canopy is not that easy!

What I can tell you is that, when growing grapes on a pergola, an average vigor variety like Concord, will easily cover an area of round about 32 squire feet arbor space.  Depending how large the pergola is, keep this in mind because planting too many grape vines on a smallish pergola, will make summer treatments and pruning much harder!  Although it will take more time to cover the pergola, I recommend you start with one or two vines for every 64 squire feet – you can always plant more in the future!

After planting the grape vines, you need to train the grape vine to reach the top of the pergola.  When I’m growing grapes on a pergola or on any flat surface, I prefer to use only one training shoot, because this will ensure your grape vine reach the top of the pergola in no time.  When you have achieved this, you will then train the grape vine along the width or the length of the canopy – depending on how many grape vines you plant and where you will plant them.

Important: Remember that when growing grapes on a pergola, you will need to construct a sturdy pergola that will withstand strong winds, snow, rain and the increasing weight of a grape crop.  30 to 50 Bunches of grapes can get quite heavy!

3.  Growing Grapes On A Pergola – Training The Grape Vine

Your goal during the first year of growing grapes on a pergola is to reach the canopy as soon as possible.  You will probably not cover the the surface of the pergola during the first year, but if you train the grape vine the correct year, you will be able to do that in the second year of growing grapes on a pergola.

I made this video for the members of The Complete Grape Growing System, but decided to upload it to a private YouTube channel for you to see – I’ve made a similar video a couple of years ago, and was actually one of the first YouTube videos I made – since then it has been viewed more than 45 000 times – amazing!

Anyway, I think you will get the bigger picture of what to do when you will be growing grapes on a pergola.

4.  Growing Grapes On A Pergola – Summer Manipulations and Winter Pruning

Growing grapes on a pergola is very popular among backyard or home grape growers.  So many of these grape growers fail miserably, because they think that once the grape vine covers the pergola, all is fine – NOT TRUE!

As with any other grape vine; when growing grapes on a pergola you must continue to look after the vines.  Believe me; working on a grape vine that is 6 to 8 feet above the surface of the soil is not very comfortable.  Where I live, the guys with commercial flat roof trellises tells me that the productivity of their farm workers is 50% lower than on normal trellis systems and that is understandable and that is also why so many home grape growers tends to neglect the grapes on a pergola.

Remember to keep on doing summer treatments.  Prune the grape vine EVERY year and prune hard, especially if it is a vigorous growing variety.

Growing Grapes On A Pergola – The Final Thoughts

I am growing grapes on a pergola next to my swimming poolTo sum this up:

– Construct a strong enough pergola BEFORE you plant the grape vine
– Plant the grape vines at strategic points so covering the canopy will be easier but DO NOT   plant too   many grape vines for your pergola size.
– Using proper training techniques when growing grapes on a pergola will ensure you cover the canopy in the second year
– Summer treatments like leave pulling, suckering, removal of water shoots etc. is still important
– Use proper pruning techniques



Thanks for reading this article and I hope you now understand the basics of growing grapes on a pergola.



Summer Pruning Grape Vines

Summer Pruning Grape Vines – The Forgotten Growing Season Manipulation!

Hi friends,

I hope you are all doing well.  Today I want to share with you a really important aspect of growing grapes: summer pruning grape vines!

As you probably know by now (or will soon find out, if you are new to this); there is more to growing grapes than simply watering and feeding your grape vines.  If you are serious about growing grapes and if want to be successful grape growers, then you need to learn more about what it takes to produce good, consistent, grape crops and today we look at summer pruning grape vines – a manipulation so many grape growers simply don’t do!

Summer pruning grape vines is where you will remove unnecessary green shoots or part of shoots from the grape vine during the active growing season.  The most important reason why we do summer pruning is to improve sunlight penetration into the grape vine as well as to improve airflow through the grape vine.

Proper sunlight penetration and airflow in a grape vine will improve the coloring, fruitfulness and disease control.

Summer Pruning Grape Vines – the 3 different methods

1.  Summer pruning grape vines – Removing extra shoots (suckering) and removing water shoots

What looks like a grape vine bud, is actually three buds in location (composite bud).  It sometimes happens that not only the primary bud develops, but the secondary and/or tertiary bud also develops.  Summer pruning grape vines or suckering, is where we remove the shoots that developed from the secondary and tertiary buds.  The reason why we do remove these buds, is to allow only the primary shoots to use the available water and nutrients.

summer pruning grape vines


summer pruning grape vines



Water shoots are shoots that grows from the framework (arms and stem) of the grape vine.  These shoots normally will not produce grapes and will only compact the grape vine canopy.  When we summer pruning grape vines, you need to remove these shoots except if you want to create a new pruning location for future spur pruning (see the grape growers guide).

2.  Summer pruning grape vines – Removing lateral (side) shoots

On each shoot, there are numerous buds that can also produce shoots.  These buds are situated between the leave stalk and the shoot itself and should be removed if your grape vine is too compact.  For the members of the Complete Grape Growing System – remember; it’s important to understand this when you train a young grape vine.

summer pruning grape vines

3.  Summer pruning grape vines – Opening up the canopy by cutting shoots to shorter lengths.

Close to harvest, I normally open up the canopy of my vineyards to allow more sunlight to penetrate the grape vines.  Don’t do this too early if you live in a climate where sunburn on grapes often occur.  Once the grape vines start to turn color, you can go ahead and open up the canopy.

summer pruning grape vines - crimson seedless

summer pruning grape vines

With the trellis I use (gable trellis), I simply prune the shoot-ends to leave a 1 to 2 foot “tunnel” where the sun shines through – this will dramatically improve coloring of the grapes (especially red and black varieties).  For sure, summer pruning grape vines will differ for other trellis systems, but I think you get the idea.

summer pruning grape vines Canopy pruned

summer pruning grape vines – open canopy

Okay, so I hope you understand that summer pruning grapes vines is important and remember, this MUST be done to ensure healthy, properly colored grapes like in the picture below

summer pruning grape vines

Crimson Seedless ready for harvest


Want PROOF that summer pruning grape vines really makes a difference? 

Then read Lisa’s email below

Hi Danie,

I just wanted to say thank you for your very clear instructions for tending my grape vines. I have grown them on a pergola for many years and they just rambled to the point where the concord grapes stopped producing entirely. The other two grape vines had many clusters with very small berries.

This year, I was able to harvest the biggest grape berries I have ever grown thanks to the summer pruning technique which seems to have been omitted in every pruning manual I have ever read, except yours! Here is a picture of my crop…it has been so long that I have forgotten the names of the grapes, but I have red, green and concord vines.

summer pruning grape vines

Not only did I have lovely grapes growing, but I was able to make a lovely wine from it all; the old fashioned kind, made with water, grapes, sugar and yeast and nothing else. Next year, the grapes should be even bigger! Thanks again for all your great advice on summer pruning grape vines!

Lisa P…….. (not displayed to protect her privacy)

Your Canadian friend

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More reasons to grow grapes

More Reasons To Grow Grapes Than Just The Fruit And Wine:

Since the last post, I received hundreds of emails from subscribers asking about how to grow grapes and answered as many as I could, but haven’t gone through half of it yet!  Anyway, I will make some time over the weekend to read a couple more.

One really interesting mail was from Marie, they grow grapes in the USA and she told me about the basket her husband made from canes they pruned off her grape vine.  Since it’s Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is on hands, you can decorate your house with these lovely grape vine wreaths.  Marie, thanks for sharing your pictures and the basket looks really nice.

Click on picture to enlarge

More reasons to grow grapes More reasons to grow grapes More reasons to grow grapes

When I did a search online for grape vine wreaths, I was shocked to see that these things sell for up to US$49 – more reasons to grow grapes?

Okay because I also grow grapes and have these thousands of canes lying around, I decided to make my own wreath.  I was surprised to learn how easy it really is!

My grape vine wreath

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Take about 8 to 10 long canes and cut them back to about 4 to 5 feet.
  2. Tie the ends of the first cane together to make a circle – as big is you want the wreath to be
  3. At the opposite side, tie one end of a cane to the wreath and start twisting it around the “circle”
  4. When finished, tie the other end to the wreath as well.
  5. Go on with this until the wreath is the size you like.
  6. Start each cane at a different position – this will ensure you have an even wreath, with cane-ends in different places (with my first attempt, I didn’t do that, and had to start over again)
  7. Decorate the wreath as you like – see the video below (I’ll let my wife decorate this one and post a picture on my blog)

More reasons to grow grapes?

I think so!  Anyway, except for the grapes itself, the wine, the gelly and so on, you can see that there are more reasons to grow grapes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Your grape growing friend, Danie


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My Grape Vine

Aquaponics at home

Aquaponics at home – I know this is not all grape growing related, but since most of you are either farmers or gardeners I want to share this with you.

We all know that growing your own crops can be a demanding task, even for those who love gardening.  Is a time consuming activity and requires lots of energy and dedication.  In addition to that, a traditional garden requires fertile land which will sustain your efforts of growing some corps. These are the main reasons why so many people give up their dream of growing their own fruit and vegetables.

With the world wide trend of living and eating healthier and the ongoing effort to save our planet, more and more people switch to organic farming. But gardening and farming organically is not that easy – up until they discovered aquaponics at home.

A friend of mine introduced me to a brand new way of producing organic veggies – it’s called aquaponics at home.  I must admit, although I’m still learning, aquaponics at home is a really an interesting field.  I’m in the process of educating myself on aquaponics at home and will eventually try it out someday to see if  grape vines can grow using only aquaponics at home!

Maybe some of you are already using aquaponics at home, and even use it for growing grapes, then we would definitely want to hear from you please!

The question is:  “What is the difference between aquaponics and the traditional hydroponics?

Hydroponics is where you will grow crops in a planting medium, using enriched water to feed the plants.  Hydroponic gardens are already highly popular among people of all ages and give satisfactory results.  However, because you will need to supply the water with necessary nutrients, which are most of the times chemical, it’s not really an organic way of growing crops.  Some people claim that the fruit and veggies are “tasteless” as well?

Aquaponics on the other hand is a totally new way of growing crops on small to medium scale.  An aquaponics at home system is a mixture between the aquaculture, as it requires growing fish in a special fish tank and hydroponics, as it involves growing plants with water and nutrients.

You will probably wonder what role the fish play in aquaponics at home. Well, things are quite easy: the fish excrement contain ammonia which is later decomposed in nitrites and nitrates. These nitrites and nitrates offering the plants enough nutrients to grow and develop normally.  Thus, there will be no need to supply your plants with chemical substances as they will already have all the food they need.

The plants will then “clean” the water by extracting the nitrites and nitrates for it’s own use.  The “clean” water is then pumped back into the fish tank and the whole process starts again.  Interesting isn’t it.

As you can see aquaponics at home does not require any type of land, fertilizers or chemical substances.  Just set up the system and make sure that the water has the normal PH so that the fish will live comfortably in there. Then, let nature follow its course!

Read This Aquaponics At Home Page

Aquaponics At Home

Take care and happy grape growing.



Managing Weeds, Grass and Mulches in a vineyard

Hi grape growing friends,

The 1st of September is the start of Spring here down south, and for the friends in the northern hemisphere, the start of Fall.  Most of my vineyards just started showing signs of bud break and new life, with new leaves popping up everywhere.  A brand new growing season on hand and most of the vineyards already show some grapes as well!

As I said, it is the start of a new growing season, but unfortunately, not only for the grape vines, but for the weeds and grass as well.  This is the time of the year to plant new grape vines by the way, as I did yesterday (1850 grape vines!), but this is not what I want to talk about.  I want to share some info regarding weeds, grass and mulches in new vineyard and I hope you enjoy this and will learn something from it.

Right, with that said, let’s get started…

After spring frost, the biggest enemy of a young grape vine is grass and weeds. Weed infested young vineyards normally struggle to reach the trellis wires in the first year, so you need to minimize competition for water and nutrients from weeds and grass growing adjacent to your young grape vines.

Not only is this true if you plant a vineyard, but when planting your grape vine in your backyard, or into an established lawn, it is recommended that you remove a square patch of sod, at least three feet around the vine, to keep the weeds away from the roots.

What I do in my vineyards, is to spray the land where I will plant, with weed killer round about 4 to 5 weeks before I plant the grape vines, to ensure there is no active growing weeds or grass for at least two months into the growing season. 

Controlling weeds in vineyards, while the grape vines are still young and close to the ground is not easy.  Remember, I wrote an article about how to protect young grape vines from weed killers earlier this year?

Mulches or ground covers:

Mulches or ground covers have several advantages. In addition to suppressing weed growth, they also reduce moisture loss, helping to keep the soil evenly moist.

Decomposing mulch will improve the soil structure and put some much-needed nutrients into the soil, making it very good agricultural practice.

But using mulches also has disadvantages!

For me, the biggest disadvantage of using mulch is the cost and the fact that it pose a fire hazard during the hot, dry summers. Depending on what type of mulch you use or where you get the mulch, it can also carry unwanted weed seeds, which will germinate and grow in the mulch itself.

In wet years or on poorly drained soils, mulches can hold excessive moisture, forcing growth that fails to harden off in the fall and resulting in winter injury or collar rot.

Apply a layer of mulch, at least 4 inches thick to cover all sides of the vine. If you have a row of vines, cover the whole ridge where most of the roots are to ensure proper moisture and weed management.

When laying out the mulch, keep it away from the stem of the vine because the decomposing material can harm the stem of the vine (especially when you plant new vines); this is called collar rot as mentioned above.

Where you will be using mulch or not, it is important to keep your vineyard weed-free, especially newly planted grape vines.

Here is a picture of one of my vineyards – this is more or less what you want.


Right I hope this article will help.

Take care


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How to use a refractometer when growing grapes

Refractometer is an instrument that measures the sugar content of grapes.

With this post I will show you how to use a refractometer.

I hope you are having a wonderful week!

With this article, I want to reply to an email I received from Suzanna, one of the subscribers of My Grape Vine.  Suzana became a member way back in 2007 when I first started the website and blog and established a great looking vineyard.  Her question is about the use of a refractometer to determine the ripeness of grapes.

With the help of the Complete Grape Growing System, Suzana and her friends at St Mark’s Presbyterian Church will be collecting the fruit of their labor soon!

To listen to an interview with the ladies, just click on the link below

Well done ladies!



Now, Suzana is thinking of buying a refractometer to help them determine the ripeness of their grapes, but she is not sure how to use a refractometer.

Okay, so before I tell her how to use one, I am sure there are some readers that don’t know what a refractometer is and how it works.


A refractometer is an instrument that measures the amount of sugar in an aqueous solution.  There are various models available on the market – from a digital refractometer to the traditional analog one’s.  It works on a basis of critical angle principle where light goes through a lens and prism in the refractometer, projecting a shadow on a glass reticle inside the instrument.

Without getting too technical – A sample of grape sap is pressed out on the prism of the refractometer and covered with the cover plate (the small perspex like thing on top of the refractometer).



Ensure that there are no solids, like pips on the prism of the refractometer when you close the cover plate, otherwise it will break and you can throw away the refractometer.


The amount of sucrose in the sap, either reflects the light or pass it through the prism, and then shines the amount of light coming through on a scale inside refractometer.

IMPORTANT: Because temperature plays a big role in this process, it is advisable that you get a refractometer that automatically compensate for the difference in temperature.  Although they are a bit more expensive, I really do recommend you get one of these refractometers .  For those who buy from, here is a link where you can order yours online –

Hand Held refractometer with Automatic Temperature Compensationrefractometer

When looking through the eye-piece of the refractometer, you will see a white and blue (some black) area on the scale.  The line between these two areas on the scale is what the sugar contents of the sap is.

This scale is measured in Brix (°Bx)- 1 degree Brix corresponds to 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams solution.  In the picture below, the reading is just below 17 on the scale.  This means that there are +- 17 grams of sucrose in every 100 grams of sap.  In other words; the higher the number, the more sugar there is in the sap.


Now, the question is:  At what Brix reading should I pick my grapes?

Mostly, it depends on what you will do with your grapes.  For making wine, a reading of 22 and above is the best as this will ensure enough sugar for good fermentation and flavour.  As for eating, I would say round about 17 to 19 degrees is more than enough.

The problem when waiting too long for the Brix reading to get higher, is that the berries become softer and loose it’s crispiness and chances of rotting becomes bigger as the sugar increase as well.

The old trustworthy method of tasting the grapes alongside using the refractometer, will help you decide when to pick your grapes.

I hope you enjoyed this article about using a refractometer and you will now know how to use one.

Take care and enjoy the rest of the week.


Find out why Suzana and thousands of other grape growers are successful

Join the The Complete Grape Growing System right now.


The Complete Grape Growing System is an online product.  All the grape growing info I have will be at the tips of your fingers within 5 minutes from now.
You will not receive any physical product with your order.

Suzana had some trouble with kids picking their grapes before they are ready.  Here is a sign she put up in her vineyard – LOL  :-)

Loved it …….


Growing Grapes In A Pot

Growing Grapes In A Pot – What to know…

Hi dear grape growing friends.

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend.  After the previous blog post, I received quite a few emails about planting distances and row directions, but one that often pops up is the question about growing grapes in a pot.

As I said in an earlier blog post; growing grapes in a pot, is not the ideal way of growing a grape vine, but I do understand that, in the city, available gardening space is limited,

I will try to give my opinion on growing grapes in a pot and what to do, and how to manipulate the grape vine to stay under control on a stoop or balcony, but first, here is an email and pictures from Alex.

Dear Danie:

I have a question about growing grapes in a pot.  I found your website while doing some research on grape growing.  I enjoyed your site, your newsletter and your “personal touch”.

Now for the rest of the story.  I have always enjoyed gardening and my hobby for many years was growing exotic tropical fruit trees when I lived in a house in Hialeah, Florida.  Now I live in an apartment in North Miami Beach, Florida but my love for plants has not diminished.

Last year on my way back from Europe, I bought a grape vine in upstate New York and wanted to start growing grapes in a pot.  I never had experience with grapes and did not know if they would even grow in Florida, but I wanted to try it anyways and of course, hoping for the best.

Last July I planted it in a large pot on my balcony in hoping to succeed with growing grapes in a pot.  Unfortunately, I had to plant it on the North side of the property, so it doesn’t get the full sun.  It only gets some sun it in the morning and in the late afternoon.

The variety that I planted is “MARS”.  As you can see by the pictures, the vine is growing nicely and this year it has given me a small cluster. 

growing grapes in a pot

growing grapes in a pot

Last year I did no trimming at all to the vine at all, because I had no knowledge of it and that is why I started researching.  This year I will trim it, but I need your advice on what or how to do it.

It now has three or four canes coming off the main vine right at the pot about 10 inches from the soil as you can see on the photo. 

growing grapes in a pot

I plan to cut all the canes off except for the biggest one so that it can become the main stem.  Is this appropriate?

Also, I do not know if the rest of the vine should be pruned using the cane method or the bud method.  Your comments on this will be greatly appreciated.  Because of the space limitation, I plan to prune it to where it only has 3 or 4 canes growing on the wires I have placed between the uprights on the balcony.

When would be the best time of the year for me to do this trimming?  Also, since I am brand new at grapes, I do not know when to pick the grapes that are now growing on the vine.  How can I tell when they are ready to pick.  Of course, this would be for table eating and not for wine making.

Again, I want you to know that I enjoy your newsletters and emailing with you and I thank you in advance for any help and information you can give me.


Growing Grapes In A Pot – My comments

Okay friends, I will start by thanking Alex for the email and the pictures.  As he rightfully said; his grape vine is doing great (although he’s growing grapes in a pot!)- there are no visible symptoms of diseases or anything out of the ordinary.

Growing Grapes In A Pot – Let’s quickly have a look at the variety he chose:

Mars is a black/blue seedless grape with big berries (for a seedless grape) and grows quite vigorously (as you can see from the picture).  One known problem with Mars is, it takes some time to become productive – Alex, that is why you didn’t get any grapes last year, and only one bunch this year.

However, as the variety grows older, it will produce more fruit (good news for Alex).

The grapes taste a bit assiduous, so it’s better to leave it on the vine until it has fully ripened and the berries are soft – normally about two to three weeks before Concord grapes ripen.

Growing rapes in a pot – Pruning:  I did some research on the variety and found that, because of it’s vigour and fruitfulness later on, it is best to prune with spurs (bud pruning as Alex called it).  Easier said than done?? :-)

Okay, let me try to explain what to do when growing grapes in a pot:

If it was my grape vine, I would move the vine to the middle of the balcony (luckily it is in a pot!), right next to one of the middle pillars and split the vine to grow to both the left and the right..  Why?

When you look at the pictures, you will notice there is quite a long distance from the one side of the balcony to the other.  The little light hanging from the roof indicates that that pillar is the middle of the balcony (right?).  If you are to make a cordon or arm from one side of the balcony to the other side, it would be quite a long cordon!  Remember, we must always try to keep the “old wood” on a grape vine as few as possible, as the sap flow to ripen canes and grapes and to feed the rest of the vine is much slower in old wood.  The longer the cordon or arm, the further is it is away from the main stem and the slower the sap flow will be.

If you split the vine or in Alex’s case, use two of the existing canes to develop two arms (one to each side) on the middle wire, the distance for each arm from the main stem is only half the length it would have been – does this make any sense?

Because of the limited space Alex have and most certainly most other grape growers who will be Growing Grapes In A Pot, I would only develop one arm to each side and prune spurs on the this arm.  These spurs will be the fruit bearers and the place where new shoots develop in the future.  Remember that space is limited here and the vine will become too big for his balcony with more than one arm to each side.  If however you have a more space, you can develop more than one arm to each side.

When Growing Grapes In A Pot The initial training of a cane on this wire is done in summer and then in winter (early spring), you need to prune a single cane on each of the two wires.  From these canes, shoots will develop and then in the next pruning season you can start to prune spurs from these shoots.  (For those of you who are members of the Complete Grape Growing System, refer to the pruning and training section – year 1 and 2)

Here is a picture that will explain it in more detail how Alex should be growing grapes in a pot.

growing grapes in a pot

I hope this will give you more ideas of what to do when you growing grapes in a pot.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.


Want to learn how to train and prune your grape vine the correct way?

Then join the hundreds of succesful grape growers using

The Complete Grape Growing System

growing grapes in a pot

The Complete Grape Growing System is an online product.  All the grape growing info I have will be at the tips of your fingers within 5 minutes from now.
You will not receive any physical product with your order.
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