Amy-Lynn Albertson: Time to prune muscadines

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 5, 2016

As a rule, muscadines are very vigorous vines that require annual pruning to restrict growth and to encourage annual bearing. Be aware that when pruning, the wounds may bleed or exude sap. This looks life-threatening, but as documented by scientific research, actually poses no harm to the vines.

The best time to prune is right after your favorite team loses or right after losing an argument. A little anger helps because you really need to take a lot of the vine off each year. So if the Panthers don’t win on Sunday, I expect to see a lot of pruned vines out there.

You will want to develop a main trunk. This is permanent on a muscadine vine. If the plant lives a hundred years, this will always be the main trunk.

If the vines have been neglected for a number of years, you first need to return each vine to the basic framework of a main trunk, branching into two permanent arms called cordons.

You may be able to find this basic scaffolding within your mass of vines. If not, create it anew by selecting a pair of young canes arising from the top of the trunk. Each should be three to six feet long.

If you already have two established cordons, your goal is simply to cut back the young growth arising from these arms, leaving short shoots, called spurs, with two to four buds each. It is from these buds, located on last year’s growth, that this year’s fruit will come. You may find that you have a thicket of spurs along your cordons, in which case you can thin them by removing every other spur cluster.

Next, remove any tendrils that have wrapped around the cordons or spurs. If they are not removed, the wiry tendrils can girdle and kill them. Also, remove old fruit stems since they are sites for overwintering diseases.

Muscadine grapes are a great addition to any home garden. They are native to the Southeast and have very few disease and insect problems. The muscadine is high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C. Research has shown that muscadines also promote digestion, aid in weight control and disease prevention.

If you are interested in trying to grow muscadines, you can place an order with the Rowan County 4-H program. They have Cowart for sale, which is a large black muscadine perfect for eating or making juice, jelly and wine. The other variety for sale is Triumph, a large, thin-skinned greenish bronze grape that has a high sugar content.

The deadline to place an order is Feb. 24. Contact Rowan County Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970, to order or for more information on pruning or other horticulture topics.

Amy Lynn Albertson is director of Rowan Cooperative Extension.