Although they are hardy plants, proper grapevine care increases the odds of a bountiful harvest. Proper planning, particularly when it comes to the location and soil, goes a long way toward the overall success of the plant. It may take a few years before substantial fruit appears on the vine, but the hard work and diligence that goes into training and nurturing grapevines makes it all worthwhile when the tasty fruit ends up on the table or in homemade jelly.
Grapes thrive in full sun and warm temperatures. A sunny spot with soil that drains well make an ideal location. Grapevines need a minimum of 6 feet of space between plants. When planting, removing all but the strongest canes leads to healthier plants. Rocks placed in the bottom of the hole help the soil drain. Holes dug big enough to spread out the roots keep the roots from overcrowding.
During the first few months after planting, daily watering keeps roots flexible and moist as they grow into the soil. Once established, twice weekly watering suffices, unless temperatures are extremely hot. During hot weather, daily watering helps produce plump, juicy grapes.
Grapevines need to grow on some type of structured support; options include fences, arbors and trellises. Vines wrapped around and woven in and out of structures eventually grow that way on their own. Wires stretched between poles provide support for the vines as they begin to grow horizontally.
Pruning carried out during the dormant season promotes healthy growth in the coming year. Thinning out the vine allows more energy and nutrients to flow into the remaining canes, which ultimately leads to larger, healthier and more abundant fruit. During the first season, canes may grow randomly, without a lot of pruning. But the second season begins the start of annual pruning. Remove all but the strongest canes. Removing as much old wood as possible creates room for new, healthy growth.
Newly planted grapevines need fertilizer for optimal growth. Fertilizer that contains a mixture of potassium, nitrogen and zinc provide nutrients grapevines need. After the first few years, except for in poor soil conditions, fertilize minimally. Excessive fertilization causes leaves and wood to grow but prevents proper grape development. Avoid the use of fertilizer that contains herbicides anywhere near the grapevines.
Grapes are susceptible to mildew, particularly in humid areas. Fungus and black rot flourishes in spring, when rain is common. Common insects that attack grapes include mites, Japanese beetles and aphids. Larvae of the grape berry moth feed on grape berries. Common in California, the grape phylloxera sucks the juices out of roots. Clean-up of leaves in the fall helps prevent some pests, and spraying the grapes with fungicide helps prevent or reduce fungal growth.