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Growing Grape Vines For Your Balcony Or Arbor – Enjoy Bold Foliage, Dappled Shade and Tasty Fruits
Growing vines on trellises on your balcony garden, or on a deck or in your patio arbor, will provide interesting shape and foliage throughout the seasons, not to mention delicious grapes to eat, or to make juice, jelly or wine. There are varieties of grapes for just about every climatic zone. You will want to choose a variety that is well suited to your zone for the highest quality fruit production.
Most grape varieties are self-fruiting and do not require cross-pollination to bear fruit. While some flowers may be bisexual and others unisexual, it’s more important to base your variety choice on your climate zone rather than pollination considerations. In general, American varieties hybridized from Vitis labrusca are more winter-hardy and require a shorter warm season than European varieties of Vitis vinifera, the classic wine varieties, which enjoy a longer warm season. . If your climate zone is borderline, look for varieties with a shorter growing season and earlier fruit ripening.
Grapes need deep, well-drained, sandy, loamy soil that can be fed regularly during the growing season. Good air circulation is important to alleviate frost and mold problems. If all you want is vine cover for an arbor, trellis, or railing, you can use Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Parthenocissus tricuspidata. They will require less care and pruning than a Vitaceae grown to produce fruit.
Once established, the majority of the Vitaceae family grows quickly but if you want good fruit production, you are going to need to develop pruning skills to maximize fruit quality and quantity. Successful vine growing depends on initial trunk development and subsequent leader and arm selection during the first two periods of winter dormancy.
Generally speaking, for the first spring and summer, the vine is allowed to grow without formation, since the plant develops a strong root system. The first winter is spent naming the trunk and securing the trunk to a main arbor or trellis post. During the second spring, the first arms of the vine are designated and the leader who will continue to 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 lateral summer branch that the next two branches of the vine are selected. During the dormant period of the second winter, the arms are loosely tied to the trellis. It is important that they are loosely attached so that they can swell and grow without constriction.
It’s still too early to prune for fruit production at this stage, but the plants should now look like vines as you enter the third spring and summer. During this third summer, the vine will progress to a point where real attention is required in order to eliminate any adventitious shoots that may attempt to emerge from the main trunk. These shoots should be removed, but the selected side arms of the vine should be allowed to grow.
Finally, you will have reached the third winter, and binding and pruning for fruit production can begin in earnest. The variety of vine you have chosen will determine whether you use cane pruning or stinger pruning for the productive life of the vines. The nurserymen from whom you buy your vines will be able to tell you whether it is a cane or a spur variety. The fruits will develop on the stems that form from the previous season’s shoots and spurs. It is the one-year-old wood that has developed during the previous season that will bear the grapes for the following year. The pruning you do each winter regulates the support structure of the vine (or wood), as well as the number of stem buds or renewal spur and spur that can develop. One-year-old wood is easily distinguished by its smooth bark, while older wood will have rougher, slightly shaggy bark. Vine pruning should always be done during the dormant winter season, but no later than the very beginning of spring before the buds begin to swell. Always choose strong side shoots to develop into cane and renewal spurs the following year.
A Vitaceae balcony or arbor will provide interesting shape and foliage throughout the seasons. With a grape variety adapted to your climate zone, you can enjoy delicious local grapes to eat as is or to transform into juice, jelly or wine that will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Copyright/Gilbert Foerster 2009
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