Amy-Lynn Albertson: Time to prune muscadines

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2022

By Amy-Lynn Albertson
N.C. Cooperative Extension

As a rule, muscadines are very vigorous vines that require annual pruning to restrict growth and encourage yearly bearing. Be aware that the wounds may “bleed” or exude sap when pruning. The sap running looks life-threatening, but as documented by scientific research, it 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 need to take a lot of the vine off each year! So if State doesn’t beat Duke Saturday, I expect to see a lot of pruned vines out there.

You will want to develop a central trunk. The trunk is permanent on a muscadine vine. If the plant lives 100 years, this will always be the main trunk.

If the vines have been neglected for several years, you first need to return each vine to the basic framework of the 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 from the top of the trunk. Each should be three to six feet long. If you already have two established cordons, your goal is to cut back the young growth arising from these arms, leaving short shoots, called spurs, with two to four buds each. This year’s fruit will come from these buds, located on last year’s growth. 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 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.   

Contact Rowan County Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970, for more information on pruning and growing muscadine grapes or other horticulture topics.

Amy-Lynn Albertson is director of the Rowan County Extension.

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