If you want to grow grapes in the south, you need to learn how to grow muscadine grapes. You also need to grow muscadine grapes if you want to
binge drink away your memory of a Zombie attack have a nice glass of wine during a collapse.
Other grape varieties, such as “champagne,” “Concord” and other popular varieties, just won’t live long-term in the south. Eventually, all succumb to diseases… except for the hearty and easy to grow muscadine varieties.
Muscadine grapes are improved varieties of one species of wild grape native to the New World: Vitis rotundifolia. They have that wild vigor in them still and their growth is a marvelous thing to behold.
I’ve been growing muscadine grapes for five years now and have found them ridiculously easy to grow. I can forget to feed and water them… and they thrive. I can skimp on the pruning… and they thrive. I can let them grow in half-shade in a gravely piece of the yard… and they thrive.
If you want to grow grapes, muscadines are what you should grow. Most of the grape-growing problems I’ve encountered with my gardening clients is related to having non-muscadine grapes on their homestead. Trust me: the classic French/Californian/Greek grapes will die here. It’s a matter of when, not if! You’ll see them sold in the garden centers in later winter and early spring but resist them temptation.
If it’s not a muscadine, it won’t do fine!
Now let’s look at how to grow muscadines.
How To Grow Muscadine Grapes
The first thing grapes need is a good trellising system. Something as simple as a chainlink fence will work; however, they’re hard to prune properly when they’re wrapped all in and out of a fence. Not impossible, but tough.
The Grape Trellis
Though I’ve experimented with a two-wire grape trellising system and with growing grape vines on fences, my favorite method has become the single-wire method.
It’s a simple and easy to build grape trellis, plus it’s quite good for picking.
I concrete in the end posts since they hold a lot of the wire’s tension, then hammer in center posts for support every 12-16 feet or so.
Muscadines come in all types. Pretty much anything but seedless. My favorites are the big gold varieties; however, there are also nice black and bronze muscadine varieties you can grow. The old cultivars like Carlos and Fry are still great, or you can try newer patented varieties.
Whatever you do, just make sure you plant at least two different vines. Muscadine grapes need to be pollinated by a different cultivar. Just grab at least two types with two different names.
Getting Grapes in the Ground
A good commercial spacing on muscadines might run 16′ apart. I’ve planted them as close as 6′, but I’ve found that to be a big mess when it comes to pruning and harvesting. The vines are terrifyingly vigorous and will run a good 20 or more feet down the wires in a season and tangle all together in a profusion. I’d go at least 10′ apart – you really don’t need to overplant.
Plant your grapes and keep them mulched, weeded and watered carefully until they’re growing happily. The first year is key. After that, I found they do fine just on rainfall.
Fertilizing Muscadine Grapes
Muscadine grapes will benefit from a hit or three of fertilizer during the spring and summer. 10-10-10 with minor nutrients is fine, though I’ve fed mine on compost, rabbit manure and compost tea and had them do wonderfully without any chemical fertilizer. You can feed with slow-release organic matter like manure/compost any time. If you’re using something like blood meal or 10-10-10, however, just feed ’em at the beginning of the year as they’re waking up, then another hit or two into the summer… not later in the year when they’re moving towards going dormant for the winter.
Pruning Muscadine Grapes
Pruning is no big deal. You’re going to cut the living daylights out of the vines if you’re doing it right. If you’re not chopping them like mad, you’re not getting them to hit their full potential.
Here’s a video I did on how to prune muscadine grape vines:
See how far I cut them back? Do this during the winter or very early spring before the grapes wake up and start budding and blooming. The growth they’ll put on after pruning is a marvelous thing.
If you build a good trellis, plant your grapes and get them established and well-fed, plus keep them pruned… they’ll reward you.
More on How To Grow Muscadine Grapes
Finally, since I’m just a backyard grape grower and not a pro, I interviewed my friend Dave Taylor this last week about growing muscadine grapes. He’s got a nice little commercial U-pick muscadine grape operation in north/central Florida and has had great success in growing muscadines. I can vouch for the flavor – they’re incredible! He has over 15 varieties, including the delicious concord and muscadine hybrid cultivar Southern Home.
Check out his thoughts on grape growing:
BTW, these are the wire strainers/wire ratchets that Dave uses on his grapes. I use them as well and they work excellently.
If you’re growing grapes, leave a comment – I’d love to hear how you’re trellising and caring for grapes on your homestead!