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How to Plant, Grow, and Train Muscadine Grapes

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Muscadine grapes have been called the fruit of the South and are native American grapes that thrive in hot, humid climates. They differ from the bunch table grapes that you see in the grocery store as they don’t grow in a tight cluster, have thicker skin, and are usually much larger. Muscadines can be enjoyed straight off the vine and are also popular in jams, jellies, and wine. So, how do you grow muscadine grapes in your home garden? I’ve got a complete guide!

Why grow muscadine grapes?

Muscadines are great to grow in the home garden, especially in the southeastern United States, as they have a high degree of tolerance to pests and disease. If you love organic, this might be a fantastic crop for you since it can be grown with little or no use of pesticides.

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Where I live in eastern North Carolina, it is almost impossible to grow bunch grapes because of their susceptibility to pests and disease in this hot, humid climate. Muscadines are a great alternative and also offer some sweet nostalgia for a southerner. The fragrant aroma that hovers around the ripened grapes is something not easily forgotten. They are truly a southern classic!

Where do muscadines grow best?

Muscadines are the grape of the south and grow best in zones 7-10.  They thrive in the Southeastern United States, but are adaptable to other locations as well. Always check with your local cooperative extension office for details on what varieties grow best in your particular area.

Popular varieties of muscadines

Muscadines come in two colors, bronze (or white) and black (or dark purple). Another important distinction to note when making your purchase is that some are self-pollinating (perfect flowered) and some are not (female).

If you purchase the female varieties make sure you inter-plant them with perfect flowered varieties for proper pollination and fruit set.

Popular self-pollinating varieties

Popular female varieties

There are many options to consider depending on where you live and how you want to use the grapes. Here is a link with more info on choosing the right variety of muscadine for the home garden. 

Where to plant muscadine vines

Soil needs: As with most plants it is important to plant in an area with well draining soil. If an area stays wet after a heavy rain it is not an ideal location to plant your vines. One option is to plant on a mound or in a raised bed if you cannot find an adequate location. They grow best in a soil with a pH of 6.5. (See our complete article on How to Improve Garden Soil.)

Light needs: Muscadines should be planted in full sun if your goal is good fruit production. They will still grow in shaded areas, but the lack of sunlight will reduce fruit set. This is also important to remember when we talk about pruning.

Space needs: It’s a good idea to trellis your grape vines. Space the plants 10-20 feet apart leaving 4-10 feet between rows. Always plan out and erect a support system before planting so you don’t damage the root system during the construction.

How to plant muscadines

When to plant: Plant new vines in the spring after the danger of a hard frost has passed.

Planting steps:

  • Take a soil test to determine the pH at your desired planting sight. You can contact your local cooperative extension office for help with this, they may even offer free testing during certain times of the year. Incorporate dolomitic lime at the rate recommended by the test to bring your pH to 6.5 if needed. 
  • Dig a hole wide enough to incorporate the roots and deep enough to plant your vine at the same depth or a little deeper than it was in the nursery. Gently backfill the hole with dirt, and water in your new plant.

Fertilizing: Don’t add fertilizer directly to the planting hole, or immediately after planting, as this could damage the plants delicate roots. Wait and fertilize after the plants are established and showing growth.

How to train muscadines

How you train your muscadines will depend a bit on which trellis system you decide to use. For the most part, you can use a small bamboo pole or a stake in the ground next to your vine and tie a string or wire to it to connect it to the trellis above. This will provide your young plant with proper support as it grows up toward the trellis wire. You may need to attach the vine to the support with garden tape or string.

How to trellis muscadine grapes

There are many ways you can grow and train your vines, just make sure you have your trellis in place before you plant your grapes.

Arbors and Pergolas: While arches and pergolas are a beautiful option, they can make it harder to maintain the vines and will inevitably decrease fruit production. It is important to have access to the cordons, or arms, of each vine to prune them on a yearly basis if you want maximum fruit yield. Choose a trellis system that works for your space and desired outcome.

Single-wire trellis: The easiest and most economical trellis to construct and maintain has a single wire, 5 to 6 feet above the ground and is well anchored on each end. See my post on How to Build a Muscadine Grape Trellis.

Double-wire trellis: A double wire system will yield about 30% more fruit than a single wire trellis. And uses a T system to run two lines of wire, instead of one to support the grape vines. See our full post above on how to build a grape trellis.

How to prune muscadine grapes

After planting in the spring, cut off all stems but the strongest one and prune it down to 2 to 3 buds. When new growth starts, keep the most vigorous shoot and cut away all others. Use a bamboo training stake next to the plant to help the vine grow straight up to the wire.

Loosely attach the vine to the stake, and trim away any side shoots on a regular basis. When the vine is a few inches below the wire, cut the tip to encourage lateral buds to grow.

For a single wire trellis, train the shoots from these buds to grow down the wire, attaching them loosely to the wires. For a double wire, you will need to train these lateral shoots out to reach your wires (you can use a string tied from the wires to your stake to form a Y for them to grow on). Cut each growing tip again to achieve lateral shoots that you can train down the length of your wires.

Your goal is to get the vine to the wire in the first growing season after planting and train it down the wire to full length in the second. When the cordon has reached full length, you can allow the side shoots to develop. During each dormant season cut the side shoots back to 2 to 3 buds, this is where the fruit will develop.

How to fertilize muscadine grapes

In late April or early May of the spring that you plant your vines, apply ¼ lb of 10-10-10 in an 18 inch circle around each vine. Do this again every 6 weeks through early July. In the second year, apply ½ lb in early March, May, and July. For established vines you can apply 3 to 5 lb per plant in March and ½ lb of ammonium nitrate in June.

If you notice a yellowing between the veins of older leaves, or premature fruit falling, you may be dealing with a magnesium deficiency. To correct this problem, apply Epsom salts in July at 1 Tbs per gallon of water or by sprinkling 2 to 4 oz per vine for young vines and 4 to 6 oz for mature vines. 

Watering needs

Muscadines are actually very drought tolerant, but it’s a good idea to keep young vines watered during dry periods. After the first 2 years, they should be able to get the water they need from the soil, even in dry spells. Mulching around your vines is a good way to keep the area free from weeds, and retain water.

When to harvest muscadines

After your vines have had 3 seasons of growth, expect to have a productive harvest. All varieties are a bit different, but your grapes should be ripe for picking from early August through September. You will know the fruit is mature because it will easily come off the vine when pulled. You can harvest more rapidly if you place a cloth under the vine and shake the fruit off. Harvest grapes every 2 to 5 days during the harvest season.

Storing muscadine grapes

There are some varieties with a wet stem-end scar that do not store well and should be processed, or eaten, soon after harvest. The varieties with a dry stem scar, such as Summit and Doreen, will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Muscadine grapes can also be frozen on a sheet pan, then stored in a freezer bag until ready to use for jam, jelly, pie, or shrub.

FAQ’s

  1. Do muscadine grapes need full sun?

Muscadines do best when they are in full sun for most of the day. They will have a reduced fruit set and production if they are shaded for more than several hours each day.

2. What pests do muscadines attract?

Japanese beetles are often the most damaging insect that muscadines attract. Netting may be required to keep the birds at bay, but they are usually more of a problem on blueberries and bunch grapes. See my full post on how to get rid of Japanese beetles.

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