If you live in California, you should grow grapes! This quintessential California vine is grown for its fresh fruit, wine, shade and fall color. A single grapevine can produce enough new growth every year to arch over a walk, roof an arbor, form a leafy wall, or provide an umbrella of shade over a deck or terrace. Grape is one of the few fruiting vines that offer bold textured foliage, colorful edible fruit, a dominant trunk and branch pattern for winter interest.
A deeply rooted plant, the grape vine likes full sun and well draining soil. Varieties differ in their summer heat requirements, cold tolerance and fruiting season. Deep soil preparation and the addition of organic matter will encourage growth and productivity. Good air circulation is a must, as leaf diseases may occur if dew does not dry rapidly. If you do encounter a leaf disease problem, Bonide Citrus Fruit and Nut spray (which is organic) is good for eliminating powdery mildew and rusts, and also mites and aphids. To produce good quality fruit you must train vines carefully and prune regularly (once they are established, grape vines grow rampantly). The purpose of pruning is to limit the amount of potential fruiting wood to ensure that the plant doesn’t produce too much fruit and that the fruit it does bear is of good quality. Grapes are not heavy feeders. A little nitrogen or an organic mulch is more than enough. Keep the soil moist while plants are young, not allowing them to dry out. After plants are established, they need only an occasional deep watering. Fruit size will increase if plants are watered close to harvest. Determine when to harvest grapes by tasting them. If they are sweet and juicy, cut the whole bunch. Note that if too many bunches are produced, sweetness may be reduced (which is why pruning is essential). To plant grape vines: set grapevine in front of a post at the same depth as it grew in the pot. Cut the stem back to two buds and cover with soil. Water deeply and allow the vines to grow untrained for one year.
In the Bay Area, many gardeners live in cooler coastal settings or in fog belts where ripening traditional wine or table grapes can be difficult. Here at Sloat Garden Center, we are offering varieties that tolerate cooler weather and only have moderate heat requirements to ripen fruit. We also stock old favorites such as Thompson and Flame Seedless, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.
Canadice – This vine produces red, nearly seedless grapes of mild flavor. Quickly covers a trellis.
Roger’s Red – Our own native Californian grape. It is very tasty but also seedy. Small berries are formed in long loose clusters and the foliage turns a flaming red in the fall. Best for jelly or juice. Wonderful covering arbors or walls for summer shade.
California Concord – This vine produces a small blue-black berry with that distinctive “foxy” taste. It does have seeds, but so what? It even resists powdery mildew!
Perlette – Produces pale green pearl sized seedless fruits. Wonderful foliage, too!
WHAT GRAPES NEED:
Soil: Deep, fertile, well-drained sandy loam is ideal
Air circulation: Ever see those immense fans sitting in vineyards in Napa? It’s because grapes need free air movement. Trapped air increases danger from frost or mildew.
Pruning: High quality crop depends on initial training and regular dormant season pruning
Fertilizing/Pest defense: Fertilize in the spring but stop after the flowers set. Use sulfur spray for powdery mildew, or use rose defense, which would also help deter leafhoppers.
Harvesting: Cut bunches from vines in late summer or fall when grapes are sweet and fully colored.