Dishing the dirt: Pruning the Muscadine grape vine

Published 11:41 pm Sunday, January 3, 2016


Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are sweet and juicy — excellent for making wine or preserves. The vine is highly resistant to pests and diseases, and the fruit has strong antioxidant effects as well as other health benefits.

Plant the grape vines in late winter or early spring, about 10 feet apart, in a hole big enough to let roots spread out naturally. A one or two-wire vertical trellis system that consists of 9- or 11-gauge smooth, galvanized wire stretched horizontally at least 4 feet above the ground is an effective way to grow grapes. January or February is the best time for pruning.

The newly planted vine should be pruned back to just one stem bearing two or three buds. When the shoots that grow from this cane are 6 to 10 inches long, prune off all shoots except one (the most vigorous). This shoot, which will grow vertically until it reaches the trellis wire, will become the permanent main trunk of the vine.

The main shoot should be tied gently to a bamboo or tomato stake several times during the first season (or the shoot can be tied to the upper wire with a string). The main shoot will develop faster if any developing side shoots are pinched back to the leaf growing on the main shoot. When the main shoot reaches the top of the trellis, cut off the tip of the shoot at a height just above the wire.

In spring, select two vigorous developing shoots to be the main canes running along the wire in each direction, and remove all other shoots. Gently tie the two main canes to the wire as they lengthen. When winter comes, remove any competing shoots growing up from these canes and shorten the main canes so that they extend just 5 feet from the main trunk. In winter of the following year, prune growing shoots back so that each is left with two buds (“fruiting spurs”). These growing shoots should be spaced 3 to 8 inches apart, so prune back ones growing closer than that. The shoots that grow from these spurs usually bear two flower clusters that will develop into fruit clusters by summer.

The information for this article is given courtesy of the Extension Master Gardeners who are volunteers under direction of the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension.

They are available to answer your questions concerning lawns, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, fruits, plant problems and diseases, pests, soil and many other horticulture issues relating to gardening in North Carolina. Reach a Master Gardener through the hotline at 252-946-0111 where you can leave a voice message or email the Master Gardeners your question at and a volunteer will respond to you inquiries.

Interested in becoming a Certified Master Gardener volunteer? Beaufort County will hold a training class in the spring of 2016. Call 252-946-0111 and sign up for the class or to receive detailed information regarding the classes.

Jane Boston and Chris Young are both Certified Master Gardener volunteers.


Lawn Care

• Use a slow-releasing fertilizer on “cool-season lawns” if you choose to do so.

• Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn.


• Spread ashes from the fireplace around gardens and bulb beds where soil pH is below 6.0. Avoid acid-loving plants. (3 pounds of ash equals 1 pound of limestone)

• Now is the time to put out limestone if needed (it takes about three months for lime to change the soil’s pH)

• Fertilize houseplants as needed.


• Asparagus crowns can be planted at this time.


• Hardwood cuttings of many landscape plants like forsythia (yellow bells), flowering quince, weigela, crape myrtle, juniper, spirea and hydrangea can be taken this month.


• Prune grape vines

• Dead or diseased wood can be pruned out anytime of the year.

• Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.


• None

Other Activities

• Poinsettias should be placed in the sunniest room in the house.

• If you have received your soil recommendations, apply lime as suggested. Don’t apply fertilizer until spring.

• Order fruit trees and grape vines now if you wish to plant them in February and March.

• Continue putting the leaves from your yard into a compost bin.