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Growing Grapes In Nebraska
Grapes have long been a favorite fruit of the home gardener. The earliest settlers in the New World found wild grapes thriving along streams and in timbered areas. These were mostly of the species Vitis labrusca and V. riparia, while the wine and dessert grapes of the Old World are V. vinifera. Although it is not without its challenges, adapted cultivars of grapes can be grown in Nebraska, and over the next few weeks we'll look at the best types of grapes for Nebraska, how to grow them, and how to prune them.
When growing grapes choose a planting site that is a sheltered, warm, sunny location. Avoid low areas where a late freeze may injure the plants and eliminate that year's fruit crop. The ideal site is a gentle southward slope on a soil with excellent internal drainage. Ideally, the soil pH should range from 6-7.5. Avoid choosing a location with very rich soil; the high level of nutrients will encourage excess vegetative growth and impede fruit production. Make sure sufficient water is available neat the site to irrigate the crop. (Drip or soaker irrigation systems are effective for grapes.) Also avoid sites where 2,4-D exposure is likely, a herbicide commonly used by home gardeners for controlling dandelions in the lawn. Grapes are extremely sensitive to 2,4-D herbicide injury; exposure results in deformed leaves and destroyed fruit clusters.
Here are a few tips on successfully growing grapes at home.
- Grapes are usually self-fertile and wind pollinated, so there is no need to plant multiple varieties for pollination purposes.
- When purchasing planting material buy grade number one, one-year-old plants. Plant dormant grape vines in the spring, two weeks before the last spring frost is expected.
- In general, plant the vines 5 to 8 feet apart in the row, with 7 feet between rows. Plant the vines at the same depth as they were in the nursery, with the roots radiating out from the crown.
- Apply a 4-6 inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weed growth.
- Prune each dormant plant to a single cane, then head that cane back to two or three strong buds. Bleeding (sap flow) from cut surfaces will not harm the plants.
- Two weeks after planting, apply fertilizer at a rate of 10 lb of 10-6-4/100 ft of row, or for a single plants 1 lb 10-6-4/plant. Reapply this fertilizer annually, in early spring right before growth starts.
- Water plants thoroughly during the growing season, particularly when conditions are dry. Reduce watering gradually as fruit ripens.
Grapes are vigorous growers and must be pruned into a training system to produce well. Start training the vines during the first growing season as shoots arise from buds remaining after the pruning done at planting. Select the most vigorous two or three shoots and tie them loosely to a temporary 5-foot stake set next to the plant. Remove all other shoots. One or two of the remaining shoots will become the trunk (or trunks) of the plant.