Thursday, October 14, 2010

Planting Grape Vines in Spring or Fall

All of our vines we have started from cuttings. They are usually 2 or 3 bud cuttings about 8" to 14" long. We have had great success with propagating the vines this way in the spring. We've even started vines with 1 bud cutting no more than 1.5"-2" long with some success. However, once the vines are growing well and the roots are taking hold in the 4" x 4" propagation pots, the next step is to decide when to plant the vines into the ground.

We've planted our grape vines in the spring and in the fall. Those we have planted in the spring are transplanted from the propagation pots to the vineyard when the soil and air temperature are warm and frost danger has passed. We do this usually in June. These vines have to be nurtured and you have to ensure they are kept watered, weed free, pest and animal free and to add nutrients as they need them. By the end of the season they usually have grown several feet if not 5 or 6 feet high. Many have reached the fruit wire height of 5 feet by the end of the season. However, we often get enough cane die-back in these first year vines to knock them back to the ground or within a foot of it. The following year they send out new shoots from the base or from buds that survived near the base and these will make cordon height by mid summer.

We've also planted vines in the fall, usually mid to late September when the vines would be headed towards dormancy. In this case we transfer the vines from the propagation pots to larger 1 gallon pots in the spring. We grow them in the 1 gallon pot all summer and this way we can control the growth a little better as we know exactly how much water they are getting, we can easily keep all weeds and pests away, and we can control the nutrients as we know exactly how much is reaching the roots. In the fall we plant the vines out in the vineyard and they will have a huge root ball by then that is too tight from being confined to the 1 gallon pot. So as we plant it in the hole we stretch out the root ball a bit. In the spring we find that the canes die back to the ground or close to the ground. However, because of the massive root ball the vine has, we have seen that these vines usually have excellent growth in the spring on the one main shoot (trunk) that we allow to grow.

Perhaps the greatest reason for us to plant in the fall is that there is a cost saving on the irrigation equipment if we do a fall planting and a uniformity in growth of the vines the following year. Right now in the experimental vineyard we have a drip style irrigation system that works ok but some plants receive more water than others. With growing the vines in the pots all summer they can be watered with a garden hose very quickly when it is needed, they all get the same amount of water, and there is virtually no cost to this. Those that are planted in the spring and irrigated have variations in their vigor and growth rate due to differences in nutrients and water they are getting. (better irrigation equipment and nutrient/soil management would help this).

We have not needed to irrigate our second year vines as they establish a large enough root system in the first year to support a single primary shoot in the second year. We also seem to get enough rain at our site to supply their needs over the summer. I believe this summer from May 1st to September 30th we have received about 10-12 inches, about the same as in 2009, maybe a bit less. Therefore, we've found that if you grow the vines in pots all summer then transfer them to the vineyard in the fall, we have not needed to irrigate those vines at all and we get better, more uniform and more vigorous growth the following spring.

The first vines we planted were Leon Millot in the fall of 2008 after growing them in pots all summer. We have not had to irrigate them to date and they are healthy and vigorous.

This last method (fall planting from large pots) is mentioned in the Organic Grape Grower, (see the links list on the blog), and this is where we got the idea to try it for our site. After three years of experimenting we're starting to see what works, what works well, and what doesn't. Planting 1 year old vines in the fall at our site works well.