February 1, 2023

Dare Quill

The Real Estate Maniacs

Growing Grape Vines For Your Balcony Or Arbor – Enjoy Bold Foliage, Dappled Shade and Tasty Fruits

4 min read

Growing grapevines on trellises on your balcony garden, or over a deck or in your patio arbor, will provide interesting form and foliage throughout the seasons, not to mention delicious grapes for eating, or for making juice, jelly, or wine. There are varieties of grapes for just about every climate zone. You will want to choose a variety that is well suited for your zone for the highest quality fruit production.

Most grape varieties are self-fruiting and do not require cross variety pollination in order to bear fruit. While some flowers may be bisexual and others uni-sexual, it is more important to base your choice of variety on your climate zone rather than on considerations about pollination. Generally speaking, the American grape varieties hybridized from Vitis labrusca are more winter hardy and require a shorter warm season than the European varieties of Vitis vinifera, the classic wine grapes, which appreciate a longer warm season. If your climate zone is borderline, look for varieties with a shorter growing season and early fruit ripening.

Grapes need a deep, well draining, sandy, loamy soil that can be fed regularly during the growing season. Good air circulation is important for lessening problems with frost and mildew. If all you want is the vine cover for an arbor, trellis or railing, you might use Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Parthenocissus tricuspidata. They will require less care and pruning than a Vitaceae that is grown to produce fruit.

Once established, the majority of the Vitaceae family grow quickly but if you want good fruit production, you are going to have to develop pruning skills to maximize the quality and quantity of the fruit. A successful grape vine crop depends on the initial development of the trunk and the subsequent selection of the leader and arms during the first two winter dormancy periods.

Generally speaking, for the first spring and summer the vine is allowed to develop with no training, as the plant develops a strong root system. The first winter is devoted to trunk designation and attachment of the trunk to a main arbor or trellis post. During the second spring, the first arms of the vine are designated, and the leader that will continue up the pole or trellis is selected. The second summer is when the top of the vine is determined, which is then pinched to force lateral branching. It is from this second summer lateral branching that the next two arms of the vine are selected. During the dormancy period of the second winter, the arms are loosely tied to the trellis. It is important that they be loosely tied so they can swell and develop without constriction.

It is still too soon to prune for fruit production at this stage, but the plants should be looking like grape vines by now as you move into the third spring and summer. During this third summer, the vine will progress to a point where real attention is required in order to remove the adventitious shoots that may try to sprout from the main trunk. These shoots should be removed, but the selected lateral arms of the vine should be allowed to grow.

Finally, you will have reached the third winter, and tieing and pruning for fruit production can begin in earnest. The variety of grape vine you have chosen will determine whether you use cane pruning or spur pruning for the productive life of the vines. The nurseries that you buy your vines from will be able to tell you if it is a cane or spur pruned variety. Fruit will develop on the stems that form from the previous season’s shoots and spurs. It is year old wood that developed during the previous season that will carry the next year’s grapes. The pruning you do each winter regulates the support structure of the vines(or the wood), as well as the number of stem buds or spurs and renewal spurs that are allowed to develop. One year old wood can be easily distinguished by the smooth bark, while older wood will have a slightly shaggy rougher bark. Grape vine pruning should always be done during the dormant winter season but no later than very early spring before the buds begin to swell. Always choose strong lateral shoots to develop into the next year’s renewal cane and spur shoots.

A balcony or arbor Vitaceae vine will provide interesting form and foliage through the seasons. With a suitable grape variety for your climate zone, you can experience delicious homegrown grapes to eat as is, or to turn into juice, jelly, or wine that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Copyright/Gilbert Foerster 2009

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