Muscadine grapevines are commonly found in the southern United States. They grow up to 10 feet tall and produce large grapes with a bright red color. These grapes have a sweet flavor and aroma which makes them popular for wine production. However, they do not last long after being picked so it is best to harvest them early enough before they turn brown or shrivel up completely.
The most common types of muscadine vine are the white, black, purple and pink varieties. White grapevines produce small red grapes while black grapevines produce larger red grapes with a darker color than those produced by other types of muscadine vines. Purple grapevines produce smaller red grapes than the others but their flavor is sweeter and less acidic.
Pink grapevines produce smaller red grapes than all the others but their flavor is milder and slightly tart.
The main goal of pruning muscadine vines is to make sure that the vines don’t get too big or outgrow the space available around your home. The vines can easily grow up to 20 feet tall if not pruned, so usually the main trunk is cut back quite heavily as well as removing any weak or dead wood each winter. Muscadine vine can also be grown along fence rows, stone walls and other types of permenant structures by training the vines onto them using wide plastic irrigation tubing or twine tied between the vine and the structure.
The best time to prune muscadine vines is between February and March in the Northern Hemisphere and between September and October in the Southern. This is also when grapes are pruned back in order to ensure a good crop. Twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, feed each vine with 1 lb of a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
Spread it around the base of each plant at a rate of 1/4 lb per vine. Spread it evenly in a circle around the base of the plant and water it in well.
The most common training system for muscadine vines is the Wundrebel (wun-dre-bell) method, named after a fan of muscadines that first developed the technique. This training system involves letting the vine grow up to 40 feet long and then attaching horizontal ropes to stakes with S-hooks every 6 feet or so along each rope. As the vine grows up it is hooked onto each rope in turn to keep it more or less vertical.
The more horizontal the rope is to the ground, the more side branching will occur. Ideally you want the rope to be at a 60 degree angle to the ground. Training muscadine vines this way means that only one or two rows of fruit need to be harvested each year as all the others will not have sufficient sunlight to ripen properly. This vine training system also allows a very manageable garden area that can be walked through. The alternative to this method is to let the vines grow up anywhere they want to and trim off all the side shoots. This results in a very large patch of tangled vines from which all the grapes must be harvested. The first method takes a lot more time and effort but yields more grapes.
Trimming is done every year in the winter or early spring. All weak, dead or diseased wood is removed at this time. Damaged wood may look okay on the outside but often the inside of the limb is dead or diseased and it should be removed for the health of the whole vine.
Cut back long strings (suckers) that grow off from the base of the plant. These are usually found around the edges of the canopy. This prevents the vine from putting it’s energy into these weaker, less productive shoots which allows the plant to be more fertile and productive. Most of the pruning should be done while the vine is still dormant (before March in most areas). Once the buds start to break check back frequently for stray shoots that need to be trimmed back or broken off.
Trimming muscadine vines in summer
After the main harvest or before the next one can be done. This will get rid of all weak and diseased parts of the vine and make it more fertal for the following year. It is best to do this early so that if any weak or diseased wood is missed it does not have time to affect the following years crop.
All canework should be removed and the soil around the plant loosened. Make sure that all vines are covered by soil as muscadines are susceptible to disease if left exposed to dew or rain.
Muscadine vines have their own miniature nemesis in the vine weevil. These little pests get into the buds early in the season and eat away at them slowly over the winter months.
Sources & references used in this article:
Muscadine grapes by GC Husmann, C Dearing – 1916 – books.google.com
Influence of Simulated Mechanized Pruning and Hand Pruning on Yield and Berry Composition of Vitis rotudifolia Noble and Welder by PC Andersen, CA Sims… – American journal of …, 1996 – Am Soc Enol Viticulture
Evaluation of strategies for pruning and crop control of Concord grapevines in southwest Michigan by TJ Zabadal, GR Vanee, TW Dittmer… – American Journal of …, 2002 – Am Soc Enol Viticulture
Effects of mechanical pruning on the yield and quality of muscadine grapes by CA Sims, RP Johnson… – American journal of …, 1990 – Am Soc Enol Viticulture
The muscadine grape: botany, viticulture, history, and current industry by WC Olien – HortScience, 1990 – journals.ashs.org
The muscadine grape by PC Andersen, TE Crocker… – … . University of Florida …, 2010 – espositogardencenter.com