SALISBURY — Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) is generally considered by many as the time to prune grapes. However, grapes can be pruned almost any time during the spring. Grapes benefit from judicial pruning and later throughout the growing season.
Pruning is a necessary part of maintenance that renews fruiting wood and prevents vines from becoming a tangled mass of unproductive and often diseased wood. Pruning permits light to come through, which is necessary for fruit set. Air movement from annual pruning reduces the incidence of fungal disease problems. Unfortunately, overgrown neglected vines cannot be miraculously cured with a single pruning. Conversely, overgrown vines often take years to recover from extreme pruning. With overgrown, neglected vines it is often easier to start over with planting new vines, correctly pruned and trained.
Muscadine grapes or scuppernong type grapes are the most commonly grown grape in Rowan County. Most home gardeners like this type of grape because it is much easier to train and prune on an annual basis than bunch grapes. Endogenous to North Carolina, muscadine grapes have less disease and insect problems than bunch type grapes.
Muscadine grapes are often initially trained on a single wire trellis. Some homeowners use a double wire or clothesline type for two rows. A single wire trellis requires less labor in pruning and is generally easier to pick.
Lateral canes trained along the wire trellis remain as a permanent cane or structure of the vine. This permanent lateral may grow to be very large, up to 2 inches in diameter. Many shoots will develop along this lateral. Each cane or shoot is cut back annually, leaving two-three buds per spur. Approximately 20 spurs should be retained for each 10-foot permanent arm. The location of the spurs is not important in muscadine grapes. When the laterals are correctly pruned, the cut vines appear to have a hair brush effect, with spurs pointing up and down. These spurs will produce the fruit and new canes each season.
Freshly pruned grapes tend to bleed as the weather warms before the leaves begin to sprout. Excess bleeding does not injure the plant; it’s a normal part of the pruning process.
This type of vine is very easy to prune and maintain once permanent laterals are established. It is imperative that muscadine grapes be severely pruned each year to control growth, increase fruit set and keep vines healthy. For more information go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/muscadines/muscadine/production.html for more in-depth muscadine grape production.