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Grapes

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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Introduction

Grapes are a welcome addition to any garden or allotment. They can be trained up walls, on trellis or over arches and need very little space if pruned carefully and kept under control. Vines need reasonably deep, free-draining soil and plenty of sunlight to ripen properly and will happily grow on any good garden soil and sunny site in southern Britain. Indoor cultivation gives better and more reliable crops, especially in northern regions.

Plant

There are two basic types of grapes - dessert and wine.

Dessert grapes need to be grown in a greenhouse to ripen properly or, if planted in a container, grown in a conservatory and put outdoors in winter. They can also be planted outside with the trunk and stems trained inside (as at Hampton Court Palace). Vines grown this way rarely need extra watering and are easy to feed and manage. Grapes do best at about 16°C (61°F) from early spring.

Wine grapes are grown outdoors, in a warm, sheltered, sunny site, such as a south- or southwest-facing wall or fence. Grapevines grow on any soil, providing it is well drained.

When planting a row of vines, a south-facing slope is desirable with the rows running north to south. Avoid frost pockets - frosts damage young shoots. Choose a variety to suit your climate and soil. 

Buying and planting

Do not buy plants that are ‘pot bound’ (with a mass of roots running round the inside of the pot). If buying in summer, the foliage should be healthy green, not yellow.

Dig over the soil, break up any compaction and enrich borders, especially those for indoor grapes, with manure, compost or fertiliser.

Ideally plant between October and March, in weed-free ground. Plant vines against walls and fences 1.2m (4ft) apart and 12.5cm (9in) away from the wall.

Plant vines in the open 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart in rows 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) apart.

Grow

In their first year, water grapevines before the onset of drought. Indoor grapes will need careful watering, but outdoor-grown grapes will only need watering in severe and prolonged dry spells.

Remove all flowers for the first two years after planting.

Allow three bunches of grapes on three-year-old vines and about five on a four-year-old vine – slightly more if growing well. Allow full cropping thereafter.

Mulch in spring when the soil is moist, to suppresses weeds, placing stones or gravel, 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep around the base of the plants. White gravel reflects sunlight into the canopy of the grapevine; black gravel or recycled slate absorbs sunlight, warming the soil. Do not use manure.

Read more information on cultivating outdoor grapes in our advice profile.

Indoor cultivation

Ventilate the glasshouse or conservatory on bright days during spring and summer and ‘damp down’ the floor, except during flowering or when the fruit are ripening.

Pollination needs a dry atmosphere. Gently shaking branches aids pollination.

Water frequently during the growing season, and feed with a high potash liquid fertiliser (such as tomato feed) once growth starts in spring.

Use scissors to thin the bunches, usually one in three grapes per bunch, this improves ripening and air circulation. Special scissors can be bought for this purpose. Outdoor wine grapes do not need thinning. Check grapes two-three times a week and remove any that are diseased or damaged.

Do not heat the greenhouse and ventilate freely in still, cold dry weather until early spring, as dessert grapes need a period of dormancy. Place potted vines outdoors in winter to get sufficient cold.

In September, gradually remove the leaves to expose the branches to sunlight and improve air circulation.

Read more information on cultivating grapes indoors in our advice profile.

Pruning and training grapes

Install a supporting system: for vines against a wall space wires 25-30cm apart (10-12in).

For vines in open ground: drive 1.92m (61/2ft) stakes, 60cm (2ft) into the ground, 3-3.6m (10 -12ft) apart; wire should be at 30cm (12in) spacing.

The main pruning time is early winter (late November - December). Training and pinching out of new shoots, as well as fruit thinning, takes place in spring and summer.

We have more advice on pruning and training grapes and on the various methods of training grapevines.

Read more about the Guyot system, where young fruiting growth develops from one or two horizontal arms.

The rod and spur pruning system, often used for grapes growing indoors or against walls outdoors, is also called the cordon system. Read more information on the rod and spur system, (also called the cordon system) where fruiting side shoots grow from a main vertical stem, like an espalier.

The main pruning time is early winter (late November-December). 

Training and pinching out of new shoots and thinning of fruits is carried out in spring and summer.

Harvest

Grapes are ready for picking when they feel soft to the touch and taste sugary. The skins on white grapes often change from deep green to a translucent yellow and become much thinner. The best way to tell when grapes are mature is by tasting them – only when they’re at their sweetest, will they be ready.

Cut them in bunches with the stalk still attached.

Dessert grapes are best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting, but they will keep for about two weeks if stored in the fridge.

Although wine grapes can be eaten fresh, they are better when pulped and made into wine. 

Varieties

Dessert grapes

‘Buckland Sweetwater’: Early ripening, tasty and high yielding. It is suitable for a small greenhouse but may need extra feeding. Keeps well.

‘Foster’ Seedling’: A white, prolific, early ripening variety, with large bunches of grapes and a superb flavour. Eat immediately after picking.

‘Muscat of Alexandria’:  A delicious white Muscat, which needs heat to do well.

‘Schiava Grossa’ (syn. ‘Black Hamburg’ and ‘Trollinger’): A superbly flavoured, heavy yielding black cultivar, ideal for an unheated greenhouse.

White wine grapes

‘Chardonnay’: This early ripening, highly scented, dark golden grape is excellent as a dessert or for wine.

‘Muller Thurgau’ (syn. ‘Reisling – Sylvaner’): High yielding and tasty with an aromatic riesling flavour. In cool-temperate areas, however, it often does not ripen and suffers from botrytis.

‘Phonix’: makes good quality wine and is good for juicing.

‘Seyval Blanc’ (syn. 'Seyve Villard 5276'): Good resistance to powdery and downy mildew. It is a reliable cropper and is useful in blended wine or sparkling wines.

Red wine grapes

‘Pinot Noir’: Needs a cool climate to fully develop its flavours - prone to botrytis, so avoid damp conditions.

‘Regent’: Has good disease resistance and makes good-quality wine. It is high yielding and sweet.

‘Boskoop Glory’ AGM:  An ideal dual purpose vine for the amateur, it crops reliably and is disease-resistant. Moderately good flavour.

‘New York Muscat’ AGM: A good, pink to dark, red skinned, blackcurrant flavoured dessert Muscat. Disease resistant - best grown in a warm position. Good autumn colour.

Problems

Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite: Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves drop prematurely.

Remedy: They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use sprays based on soft soap and plant oils or extracts. Use the biological control Phytoseiulus persimilis in the greenhouse.

Read more information on red spider mite 

Mealybug: Small creatures covered in a white ‘meal’ cluster in inaccessible spaces like leaf joints or under loose bark. They suck sap and secrete ‘honeydew’ which causes black sooty mould on the leaves.

Remedy: Use sprays based on plant oils or soft soap. Use biological controls, the Parasitic wasps Leptomastix spp. or the ladybird, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri

Read more information on mealybug

Botrytis: A grey, fuzzy mould grows on affected shoots, leaves and stems, these and the fruit, shrivel and die.

Remedy: Improve ventilation, thin out the stems, do not plant vines too close together.

Read more information on botrytis

Powdery mildew: A powdery deposit covers the leaves and stems.

Remedy: Water, mulch and remove infected leaves. Keep the soil moist. Spray with plant and fish oils or use sulphur.

Read more information on powdery mildew

Birds and wasps: They attack outdoor-grown fruits as they ripen.

Remedy: Protect bunches individually by wrapping them in muslin bags or old nylon tights. Magnesium deficiency can be a problem on some soils.

Magnesium deficiency: yellowing between the leaf veins, with reddish brown tints.

Remedy: Foliar feed with 20g of Epsom salts per litre of water (1/3oz per pint) plus a few drops of liquid detergent. Apply two or three times at fortnightly intervals, spraying in dull weather to avoid leaf scorch.

Read more information on nutrient deficiency

Buy grapevines

Buy grapevines from the RHS plant shop. 

Buy now

Further reading

The RHS book Grapes: Inside and Out, price £7.99, is available from the RHS book shop.

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Do Now

  • Tie in and pinch out shoots
  • Mulch when soil is moist
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