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How to Prune Grapevines – A Tutorial

How to Prune Grapevines – A Tutorial

Lucky enough to be enjoying the beautiful backdrop to your garden that a grapevine can provide? You are blessed indeed! 

Grapevines not only offer delicious fruit but also can provide a gorgeous alternative to an awning in the summer months, a beautiful climbing decoration on a trellis, or even a stunning feature plant on your balcony. 

But just how do you grow grapes – and most importantly – how and when do you prune them for optimal growth, coverage, and continued delivery of fruit?

Find out more in this guide on how to go about pruning grapevines.


How to prune grapevines?

Less is more when pruning your grapevines! Do not be afraid to remove most of the sections of wood, especially those growing away from the structure you have defined. Aim to remove 80-90% of last year’s wood from the plant. This will create enough new growth to give you a great harvest! Pruning should be done in the winter when the plant is dormant. Do it towards the end of the season to avoid frost damage to the new growth. Conduct additional maintenance pruning throughout the year.


The importance of pruning your grapevine correctly

Grapes are produced on the plant on canes that are around 1 year old. This means that, if you have many old exhausted canes, you will not get fruit from them. This will naturally restrict your harvest. 

Likewise, if you cut the canes back too far and do not have regular, annual new growth appearing consistently, you could end up in a one-year limbo period with no grapes at all! 

So, it is really important to get pruning right on a grapevine. 


The best time for pruning grapevines

The best time for the main pruning of the vine is in the late winter. Aim to complete the task towards the end of the winter season. 

This will mean the plant is still dormant but will also be protected from the risk of any late frost. 

Dormancy has arrived when the leaves begin to fall from the vines. The wood exposed during this period is known as a cane. 

If you prune any earlier than late winter towards the beginning of spring, you are at risk of exposing new buds and exposed canes to frost, which will cause damage to the structure of the plant. 

Note however that you will be required to perform pruning “maintenance” throughout the year.

In addition, you may need to pay extra attention to the foliage in the summer to ensure it is not too thick so that any developing fruit is hindered from receives light. 


When to start pruning

In the late spring and early summer, undertake some additional pruning and remove the growth that does not fit with your designed structure. 

Although it is tempting to leave all signs of bunches of grapes appearing, you should limit to just two per each side shoot. This is necessary to produce the best quality grapes.

If you do not limit the number of bunches appearing, you will likely produce a plentiful supply, but it is not likely to be of the best quality, nor will grapes be of a decent size. 

Aim to have fewer grapes coming off your vine.

As summer progresses, the harvest will also benefit if you reduce the size of each bunch by half. 


Pruning methods for grapevines

If you are growing your grapes on a trellis, you may have already topped out the cane at the top of the trellis and started the process of training the cane sideways. 

In the wintertime, prune off the canes that had borne fruit the previous year. You will want to leave a few buds on each cane, but remove any weak or damaged parts or thinner canes. 

Certainly, those that look “spindly” should be removed. 

Two methods can be used – cane pruning (whereby you select about 2 or 3 canes on one vine as targets and leave a few buds on each) or spur pruning (where you leave spurs on the canes about 4 inches apart) whilst removing all other dead wood in between. 

You may find you use a mixture of both methods on your plant. But, cane pruning is the method of choice as it offers greater frost protection and tends to bear a higher fruit yield. 


Selecting the best cane to keep

As you remove the old wood – or canes – you will need to decide which canes to keep. You will want to pick new growth canes that look healthy. 

Ideally, they should be about the diameter of a pencil. Any spindly wood growth should be removed. 

The pencil-sized cane will produce and support around 2 buds. If you are lucky enough to have new growth thicker than pencil size you may be able to get away with 3, even 4 buds. 


How much wood should be removed?

You may be shocked to hear that you will actually need to remove about 80%-90% of the wood that produced fruit during the summer months. 

It is OK to remove as much as you can, leaving only the main structure of the vine. 

The goal here is to remove enough canes so that new growth is promoted.

The structure of the plant needs to remain and will develop the beautiful foliage in summer that we all love. 

In addition to the structured pruning method described above, you will also need to remove damaged parts that have been affected by weather or insect attacks. 


Necessary equipment for pruning grapevines

For the amateur vine grower, a pair of shears and gloves will usually do the job. If you have well-established vines with thicker canes, you may also need a small saw. 

A helpful equipment tip – brightly covered strips of old cloth can be lightly tied around your newly identified cane of choice so you can identify it next year for pruning. 


Frequently asked questions about pruning grapevines


When should I prune my grapevine?

Pruning should be done towards the end of winter when there is lesser chances of frost for the grapevine. Depending on your region, this can be December through March. 


Why is my grapevine not producing grapes this year?

If you had a harvest last year, the most likely reason is your vine is carrying too many old canes, which will no longer bear any fruit. You need to remove these by pruning to promote the new growth needed for grapes.

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