Growing grapes in your garden

Grapes are tremendously satisfying plants to grow and hardy varieties such as white Theresa, an outstanding dual purpose variety, which produces unusually long, sparkling white berries with a fine aromatic flavour which ripen in late September, or black Muscat Bleu, which have a rich sweet flavour, can be grown outdoors. 

The best spot for planting grapes outdoors is good, deep free draining soil as the root system of a grapevine can grow very deep so soil does need to be well cultivated.

Sunshine is also key to producing quality fruit and sunny walls, fences and pergolas are the ideal locations. The best time to plant your wine or dessert vine is between October and March into weed free ground so that the roots can become established over the dormant period.

If you are going to train your climbing vines over a pergola or other support system then makes sure it is in place before you plant the vine. Plant vines about 1.2m apart and 45cm away from any wall

The best time to prune grapevines is in early winter with the pinching out of any new shoots, thinning and training taking place in the spring and summer months. When planting, prepare the soil well, digging in plenty of well-rotted garden compost and aim to keep the roots cool with gravel mulch.

Sprinkle a handful of growmore around the plant before growth starts then feed every two weeks with tomato fertilizer until the fruits ripen. On walls, provide strong supporting wires for the vine to grow along and in the first year, remove all the fruit to divert the plant’s energy into producing shoots.

During the first year, allow three stems to grow vertically, securing them to a cane, and pinch out any of the shoots that grow from the side down to one leaf. In the autumn, when the foliage dies, untie the stems from the cane and bend and tie two shoots down to the bottom wire, one on each side of the cane. Then prune the third stem, leaving three buds to provide replacement stems next year. In spring, allow shoots to grow vertically from the branches that have been tied down. Aim to have shoots every 15cm – you may need to prune some out to achieve this.

Training the side branches horizontally as an espalier will help encourage fruit production

In the third year after planting, carefully remove one-third of the gapes in each bunch and in late July remove some of the foliage around the grapes to allow sunlight to ripen them. Pinch off side shoots to leave one leaf and when the shoots reach the top wire, pinch off their growing tips. Tie the three replacement shoots to the centre cane.

In the first two years of planting all flowers should be removed. Keep only three bunches of grapes on a 3 year old vine and increase this  to about five on a 4 year old vine. After the 4th year you can allow the vine to crop fully. It is important to keep air flowing to the grapes so when fruit makes its appearence it may be necessary to remove even more leaves.

With your grapevine growing and fruit ripening, the overriding wish is to taste but remember your grapes are only ready for picking when they feel soft to the touch and have a sweet taste

The skin on the white grape vine changes from deep green to yellow and becomes much thinner. To harvest your vines cut them in bunches and keep the stalk attached.

Wine grapes can be eaten fresh or can be pulped and made into wine, whilst dessert grapes should be eaten as soon as possible after picking.

At the end of the year tie in the new shoots cutting them back by 25 per cent to encourage the formation of new fruiting spurs the following year.

Best varieties to grow

Vitis Brant AGM: A vigorous and hardy grapevine, which forms long woody stems and has large light green palmate foliage. Bunches of sweet dark purple bloomy grapes are produced Aug-Sep, lovely autumn colour. South wall or conservatory, fertile soil

Vitis Regent: The Vitis Regent produces a multi purpose grape with black very sweet dessert grapes produced when grown indoors and red dessert or wine grapes produced when grown outdoors

Vitis vinifera Vroege V. D. Laaber: A Dutch variety of white outdoor grape. Flowers April-May. Hardy, best planted on a south facing wall. Ht 2m. Plant in alkaline soil.

Vitis vinifera Spetchley Red: A selection made at Spetchley Park, Worcs., for its superb bright red autumn colour. Typical vigorous growth and handsome foliage, suitable for covering all manner of things. Hardy. Best in sun though happy in semi -shade. One of the best intense autumnal reds available.

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