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!
Great post David! I might have to try a few here in California. I can get away with growing a lot of different grapes, but they are still disease prone, so it’s not always smooth sailing.
Worth trying. Ever see them for sale out there?
Not that I can recall, but I may just not have been paying attention. I’ll ask our local grape guru about them.
If you can’t find any, I can probably mail you some from here.
Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. Not this year. I have too much bit off already!
I know the feeling…
I’m planning to build a 16′ x 20′ pergola over my back patio about 9 feet tall. Do you recommend muscadines as an edible shade cover over a frequently used patio in the Dallas, Texas area? If so, how many vines would you plant given the 16×20 area to offer full shade of the patio? Thank you for all the great work!
They would work well for shade if pruned right. Six vines ought to do it.
Also, if you were to mix other vines into the same space, what would you recommend?
I’ve had passionfruit volunteer into the grapes before – that worked okay. You could throw in some luffa, some yams, or maybe even some beans. Just know that they’ll all make a big mess together.
My 3 yr old vines look big and vigorous, but produced sadly few grapes. Do I need more fertilizer? I have multiple types for pollination, maybe 6 types within range of each other
Maybe too much nitrogen, maybe not enough pruning, maybe too much shade.
Did you cut them back really good before they leafed out this year?
I had a Carlos muscadine on a three wire trellis on 4″x4″‘s about 10′ apart. The vine grew really well but didn’t produce much. I could have gotten over that, but the flavor wasn’t my favorite. I like the dark, almost black, muscadines my great grandfather grew. He recently passed away at the ripe old age of 100, and had rows and rows and rows of muscadines trellised in his yard in Lake City. The vines are beefy monsters many many decades old. He grew many different varieties and made wine in a homemade still. He grew them on an arbor at first and my grandma tells stories from when she was a kid about climbing up the arbors and hiding on top before getting fussed at for hurting the vines. He eventually switched to 6ft tall posts spaced about 15′ apart strung with three or four rows of barbed wire spaced pretty close together and starting 2.5’ off the ground.
I have many a fond memory of picking those fragrant muscadines by the grocery bag full. We liked to eat them fresh and make juice and jelly with them.
Go get cuttings off those old vines if they’re still there – they’re not hard to root!
What did he have on the ground under the grapevines as weed block?
It’s woven nursery plastic – lasts for a decade. Awesome stuff:
I have a muscadine grape arbor that is 25 years old. It was built with the four-wire “T” design, which is not very handy when it comes to harvesting the grapes. I can harvest a few grapes from the outsides of the curtain, but I always have to stoop under the vines to harvest them the best. Pruning the vines is somewhat of a chore too. I would like to reconstruct the arbor so that I can just stand beside the arbor and harvest the grapes. Given the age of the vines, can you provide a design I can use to reconstruct an arbor that is more harvest-friendly and easier to prune?
I just bought a muscadine plant at Lowes the other day and I guess I’ll have to go back for another one but different variety. My yard floods easily and so I am wondering if they’ll tolerate occasional flooding? If not, could I build a mound for it to grow on? Would that work? I am looking for any and all edibles that will tolerate the wet conditions. I have an acre and it’s mostly grass and mango trees right now so I’d love to plant lots of other things that we could eat instead of giving our hard earned money to Publix!
Occasional flooding shouldn’t be a problem, unless you’re talking about standing water for a couple of days or more, then I’d plant them on a mound.
Do you happen have my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest? I put a bunch of perennial edibles for Florida in the appendices. That will get you started. I love mangos, too, so you have a good start already.
How wide apart should the rows be,? And should we run them north south for best sun cover ?? Thanks Ted
The house we bought last year (October 2016) on 1/2 acre came with grape vines on the chain link fence. They are very established but I don’t know how old. After finding your site, I’m certain they must be muscadine, but I don’t know what kind. They are starting to change color, so I tasted some that are now mostly red, and they seem basically tasteless. Could you tell from photos or a video what kind they are, and what I should use them for? Also, when do I harvest them? How often should I pick them: once a year? I’m in Tallahassee, by the way.
If you pick 2 different kind and names but happen to pick 2 female plants you won’t have a pollinator
Question, you mentioned that it’s better to plant 2 different kinds of plants to have a pollinator. So which two do you recommend and how closely should I plant them?
Also, saw in your video that the Southern home grapes seems to be the best. Any idea where I can buy come vines? I searched online and didnt find any
Local nurseries often carry them. If you have a pollinator in the same yard, should be cloe enough. On the same trellis or a nearby one is better.
Thank you for your videos! My father planted a muscadine vine in backyard of home I inherited around 1971. It was chopped down, then overtaken by a maple tree while my father went through two brain tumor operations over several years, built the 2-car garage in front of the vine, then sadly passed away. Prior to planting this vine, he kept a Concord grape vine at a different location for many years and my mother made grape jelly from its sweet grapes every year. The muscadine came back about 3 years ago after the Maple tree was cut down (mainly) and I put up a 2-post trellis. It has grown incredibly even up a tall cedar tree nearby. It produces a few nice grapes but just a few. I thank you for alerting me to the fact it needs severe pruning. I also didn’t know it might need another vine, and in fact may be either male or female. It does have grapes and they look decent in size, just few in number. I will try some of your tips. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina where the soil if clay and full of iron,. There used to be a pick-your-own large vineyard near our Lake Norman where we went as children that had nice grapes including muscadines and Scuppernongs. That was a treat in fall!
Having grown up with these in neighbor’s yards, I love the taste of ripe Muscadines; takes me right back to my childhood. The land we live on used to be an orchard, apparently, and the vines are all over the place on neighboring lots and in the woods. I’m trying to cultivate them on my redneck system of old 4×4 posts with leftover gaucho fence until I can afford to get a better system in place. I dug up several vines last Fall and kept them in pots until Spring, then transplanted them. They were sluggish at first but finally took off. I bought some fruit from a local grower and saved seeds, currently stratifying them in the back fridge, and hoping to germinate those as well.