How To Trellis, Plant, and Prune Muscadine Vines
If you remember, a couple of weeks ago we purchased our first grape vines, Scuppernong Muscadines, to be exact. I promised to show you how we planted and trellised them, so here it is. This is more of an “How We Did It” than it is advice from an expert (though I asked the vineyard owner we got them from a lot of questions, and have done a lot of reading online).
The first task was to build the trellis. We decided on a nice sunny spot in the front yard and got to work. First stop was the hardware store where we purchased two 6″x6″x8′ pressure treated posts, two 4″x4″x8′ pressure treated posts, and 75 ft of 9 gauge smooth galvanized cable. (This project cost about $100. If you can find scrap materials to build this from, or use metal stakes between the end posts instead of the wooden ones, you’ll save yourself some money.)
Each post needed to be three feet in the ground (though I think we only went two feet with the middle posts). We didn’t concrete them in, or reinforce them in any way. We only packed them in well. If, with time, they begin to lean in under the weight of the vines, we’ll have to do something to make them stronger. We’re hoping they’ll just stay where they are.
The posts are spaced 20′ apart, with the two smaller posts between the larger end posts. Each post is 5′ tall when sunk into its hole.
Once the posts were firmly in place, it was time to run the cable. We attached the cable on one side by wrapping it around the end post, stapling it with 1.5 inch staples, and securing it with two cable clamps.
Then, pulling it as tight as we could, we stretched it across to the other end post, loosely stapling the cord to the tops of the two center posts as we went. You need to make sure that the cord can still slide underneath the staple as you will eventually need to tighten the line again.
On the other end post we wrapped the cord once again, secured it in place with 1.5 inch staples, and attached it to a clothes line tightener using cord clamps. We screwed a heavy duty eye hook into the post, and hooked the cord to it. As the line gains slack, we will use this to tighten it up again. We may have to cut the line to tighten it as well, over time.
When we bought the plants they were in containers, and already trained up a 5 ft. bamboo shoot. Once our trellis was built, we planted each vine in its designated place, 10 ft from each post (or directly centered between the two posts which were set 20′ apart).
I read that you are not to use a post hole digger to dig the hole to plant them in, as it would create a hole with walls that are too tightly packed for the roots of the plant to be able to grow through. So, we dug with a shovel, and made a hole twice as big as we would need, just so that when we filled it back in around the roots it would be loose soil.
Once the hole was dug (only as deep as the root ball), we set the plant into the hole, and filled it in with potting soil. The vineyard man said not to use any compost or fertilizer during this process. When the hole was filled, we packed it in well. We left the bamboo stick in with the plant, to help keep it trained up to the line as it grows.
Muscadines need lots of care for the first two years especially. They need to be cleared of any grass or weeds around their base, and mulched with pine needles. Make sure that the pine needles don’t touch the base of the vine though, as it will cause more growth near the ground that you don’t want.
The man instructed us to remove all leaves from the trunk, and keep it free from growth so that all of the energy of the plant will go to the top instead. We were to prune all but two vines from the top of the plant, each going in the opposite direction to cover the cable on the trellis. We used some thin nylon rope to loosely tie the vines to the cord.
We planted three of them this way, with the female plant placed between the two male plants. At some point, in Spring I think, we will need to fertilize with 10-10-10. The man said not to use bug spray, that the Japanese Beetles might eat some of the leaves, but that they would not kill the plant or ruin the fruits.
As you can see, we still need to remove the grass underneath the trellis. We plan on tilling it up instead of spraying any weed killer. Be careful around the roots of the plant though, as they grow only a couple of inches beneath the soil. Lightly cultivate around the base of the plant, as needed only. Planting a cover crop of crimson clover in Fall will help kill weeds, add Nitrogen to the soil, and help reduce fungus growth in the Spring.
Here are two sites that the guy we bought the plants from highly suggested for planting, pruning, and trellising advice:
We planted the vines along the front of the garden. I’m hoping to one day build an arched arbor as the entrance to the garden and have grape vines trained to grow over it. As with all things we plant, I really hope they do well!!
June 2015: 5 Years Later
Anyone have any advice to share?? Do you have grape vines or muscadines on your homestead?