Grapes

Growing your backyard vineyard

Although gardening in Central Texas can be a challenge, we are fortunate that it is quite easy to grow a few varieties of grapes!  All varieties we carry can be used for fresh eating, juicing, jelly-making, and wine, and all are seeded.

All varieties are resistant to Pierce’s disease.

Black Spanish (a.k.a. Lenoir)

  • Medium to large, blackish-blue, round berry
  • Very tannic and acidic, makes an outstanding port or table wine
  • Medium to large loose cluster
  • Harvest in late July or early August
  • Mildew resistant
  • Susceptible to black rot and downy mildew
  • Heavy and regular producer
  • Juice is very red rather than clear in color
  • Requires pruning to produce good fruit and avoid overcropping
  • Grown in Texas since the late 1800s

Blanc du Bois

  • White, round berry
  • Good flavored grape, makes a spicy and fruity wine
  • Medium size cluster
  • Harvest in late June or July
  • Resistant to downy mildew and nematodes
  • Susceptible to black rot and anthracnose especially in warm humid conditions
  • Vigorous vine developed at University of Florida and introduced in 1987.

Champanel

  • Large, black, round berry
  • Delicious fruit that is very acidic until fully ripe (2 weeks after turning purple) and makes a dry, fruity wine with a striking bouquet
  • Small cluster
  • Harvest in July
  • Resistant to black rot, downy mildew, anthracnose, powdery mildew, and all insects except the grape leaffolder
  • Tolerant of cotton root rot
  • Extremely vigorous
  • May get iron chlorosis
  • Great for growing over an arbor, since it requires little pruning, if any
  • Developed by the legendary T.V. Munson of Denison, TX

Grapes need to grow in full sun, and in soil that is very well-drained to a depth of at least three feet.  One way to test the soil drainage is by digging a hole three feet deep and filling it with water.  If all water drains out within 24 hours, the drainage is adequate.  Add decomposed granite, sand, and/or compost to increase drainage.  Do not plant in soil that stays wet or holds water for too long.  Grapes also need to grow in a soil of low to moderate fertility, of which Central Texas has plenty.  Too much fertility leads to a multitude of problems including excess vigor, poor bud fruitfulness, excessive berry drop, bud necrosis, delayed crop maturity, etc.  To prevent Pierce’s disease, locate your grape vine away from water sources, such as rivers, ponds, or creeks.

Grapes do not need a highly fertile soil to grow; compost contains enough nitrogen to give the grapes a good start, although a good mineral supplement can also be beneficial.  New vines should be planted 8’ apart, and trellised rows should be 8’ apart.  See our page on Planting and Maintenance of Fruit, Pecans and Berries for more detailed information.

Once the grapes have been planted, the key to good production and vine health is training and pruning.  The goals are to:

  • enhance sunlight penetration and air circulation;
  • maximize fruit production over leaf and stem growth;
  • keep fruit production closer to the main stem so that sap doesn’t have to travel far to grow the fruit, and the grapes remain easily accessible.

Vines can be trained onto a trellis, over an arbor, along an open fence, or using any number of commercial training and pruning systems.  We use the Kniffen method, which is ideal for personal gardening.

After initial planting, use either a light organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate or compost every spring and fall.  Regular foliar sprays with compost tea can also improve overall vigor and disease resistance.

Pierce’s disease is caused by a bacterium that is transmitted by the sharpshooter insect and is a common dilemma with grape vines.  We only carry grape varieties that are Pierce’s disease resistant. However, it is important to use cultural practices that minimize possible infection.  First, limit sharpshooter habitat by removing bermuda grass, perennial rye, fescue grass, blackberry, willow, native grape vines and elderberry that may harbor the bacterium. Locate your grape vine away from water sources, such as rivers, ponds, or creeks.

Set up the fence

  • Set at least two posts, about 6ft tall, solidly in the ground about eight feet apart.
  • Run two strands of 9 or 10 gauge wire between the posts and staple them into place.  One wire should be about 3ft above the ground and the second about 2ft above the first.
  • Brace the posts at the ends so that the wires won’t sag when loaded with vines and grapes.
  • Plant your grapevine(s) midway between the posts.

Year one

During the first summer, allow the vine to grow naturally. 

This diagram illustrates typical growth for a grapevine’s first year in the ground.  Towards the end of summer, prune any side shoots as indicated with sharp pruners as close as possible to the main stem.

Only a single stem growing vertically towards the wires should remain.

Year two

During the second summer, continuously pinch and prune such that only four vines are growing along each of the wires in opposite directions.  After a good growing season, the vines should cover the wires by the end of summer.  The grape’s tendrils should naturally grasp the wires, holding them securely, but the vines can be tied back on, should any fall off.

Year three

The first year of bearing fruit!

Allow four more new vines to grow adjacent to your existing vines, letting them droop parallel to wires.  Next year, the previous year’s vines will be pruned off, and these newcomers will be secured onto the wires in their place.

The year-old vines should bloom and set fruit all summer.  Don’t allow too many bunches to form, because overbearing will weaken the plant and jeopardize future crops.  Ideally, three or four bunches would remain on each vine.

Continue to pinch back any new growth heading in the wrong directions.

Year four

In late winter or very early spring, remove the four canes that fruited the previous year.  Take the four new vines and secure them to the wires in their place.

Similar to the previous year, allow the growth of four more new vines which will serve as the replacement of this year’s bearing vines.

Remember to pinch and prune throughout the growing season to keep growth tidy and in the proper directions.  Repeat this process every year!