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Growing Grape Vines For Your Balcony Or Arbor – Enjoy Bold Foliage, Dappled Shade and Tasty Fruits
Growing grape vines on a trellis in your balcony garden, or deck, or in your patio arbor, will provide interesting form and foliage all season long, not to mention delicious grapes for eating or making juice, jelly or wine. There are grape varieties for almost every climate. For high quality fruit production you will want to select a variety that is suitable for your zone.
Most grape varieties are self-fertile and do not require cross-pollination to produce fruit. Some flowers may be bisexual and some may be unisexual, but choosing your variety based on your climate zone is more important than thinking about pollination. Generally speaking, American grape varieties hybrids from Vitis labrusca are more winter hardy and require a shorter warm season than European varieties of the classic wine grape Vitis vinifera, which appreciate a longer warm season. If your climate zone is borderline, look for varieties with shorter growing seasons and early fruiting.
Grapes require deep, well-draining, sandy, loamy soil that can be fed regularly throughout the growing season. Good air circulation is important to reduce frost and mold problems. If you just want a vine cover for an arbor, trellis or railing, you can use Parthenocisus quinquefolia or Parthenocisus tricuspidata. They require less care and pruning than Vitaceae which are grown for fruiting.
Once established, most of the Vitaceae family grow quickly but if you want good fruit production, you will need to develop pruning skills to maximize fruit quality and quantity. A successful grapevine crop depends on the early development of the trunk and the selection of leaders and arms during the first two winter dormancy periods.
Generally speaking, the vine is allowed to develop without training during the first spring and summer, as the plant develops a strong root system. The first winter is dedicated to trunk designation and attaching the trunk to the main arbor or trellis post. During the second spring, the first arms of the vine are assigned and a leader chosen to continue on the pole or trellis. The second summer is when the upper part of the vine is fixed, which is then forcibly pinched off the lateral branches. It is from this second summer side branch that the next two arms of the vine are picked. During the second winter dormancy, the arms are loosely tied to netting trays used to support plants such as vines. It is important that they are loosely tied so that they can expand and develop without contraction.
It’s still too early to prune for fruit production at this stage, but by the time you get to the third spring and summer, the plants should look like vines. By this third summer, the vine will reach a point where real attention is needed to remove adventitious shoots trying to grow from the main trunk. These shoots should be removed, but the selected lateral arms of the vine should be allowed to grow.
Finally, you may have reached the third winter and the building and pruning for fruit production can begin in earnest. The variety of grapevine you choose will determine whether you cane prune or spur prune for the productive life of the vines. The nursery you buy your vine from will be able to tell you if it is a cane or a pruned variety. Fruits are produced on stems formed from the previous season’s shoots and spurs. Year-old wood developed in the previous season will carry next year’s grapes. The pruning you do each winter controls the base structure of the vines (or wood) as well as the number of stem buds or spurs and renewal spurs that are allowed to develop. One-year-old wood is easily recognized by its smooth bark, while older wood has slightly rougher bark. Grape vines should always be pruned during winter dormancy but not in early spring before bud break. Always select strong lateral shoots to develop into next year’s renewal canes.
A balcony or arbor Vitaceae vine will provide interesting form and foliage throughout the season. With the right grape variety for your climate zone, you can experience delicious native grapes for eating or turning them into juice, jelly or wine that will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Copyright/Gilbert Forster 2009
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