Vines can be grown very successfully without protection in the southern half of Great Britain, and many late varieties are also successful if given cloche protection or grown on a sunny wall.
They need all the sun possible, but many new varieties will continue to ripen even without much sun.
For attractive dessert grapes, some protection from south-west autumn gales is necessary, but this is not so important when growing grapes for wine.
It is essential, however, to grow the right varieties and to use the right system of pruning.
Vines grown on their own roots are not particularly fussy about, but the site should be reasonably well drained. They do well in normal soils, but on very rich soil may give too much leaf. While they will grow on very poor soil, such as sand, gravel or chalk, they will not give best results unless a small regular addition of mixed fertilizer is given. When preparing the site, deep dig the ground to break up any hard pan below the surface, and, if the soil is poor, apply bone meal at 4 lb. per sq. yd.
Buy one-year-old plants. If they are to be grown against a wall, it is best to plant them so that the main stem can be trained horizontally. If several horizontal stems are needed, it is best to make each one from a separate vine. These vines can be planted close together. If only one vine is used the top stem will always take the sap from the lower ones.
If the vines are to be grown in the open, plant them in rows 4 ft. apart, with 1ft. between the rows to permit the use of a modern small cultivator.
Plant in the spring, unless the site is well protected, otherwise the vines tend to die off in a hard wet winter if they have only just been moved.
Discover more information on growing vines and other garden fruits.
Cultivating and Pruning Vines
Vines need very little cultivation after planting. Hoeing to keep down theand occasional shallow digging over is normally sufficient. Let weeds grow in the autumn, and dig them in shallowly in the winter. As vines are extremely deep rooted, they will not suffer from drought or damage by shallow digging after the second year.
Vines are exceptionally susceptible to drought in the first spring after planting, and need watering until they are established and growing fast. Cold east winds in the spring kill many vines in their first year if they are dry at the roots.
If the vines are in normal soil, they will grow at least 5 ft. high in the second year, and in rich soil 5 ft. in the first year. If they do not reach 5 ft. in the second year, apply mixed fertilizer of standard agricultural quality, such as Growmore, at the rate of 5 cwt. per acre. This rate of growth is the only criterion for adding fertilizer or not.
Do not cultivate or mulch in early spring, because if the soil is covered or very loose, the vines are more liable to damage from spring frosts since the soil stays colder longer. Spring frost is the great danger to young vines, as the leaves and flowers are very susceptible, but since vines normally come into leaf in May they escape most frosts. They are completely winter-hardy in Britain.
The normal methods of pruning that have developed in Britain are either long cordons on walls, or a replacement shoot system called Guyot. This latter can be varied to suit the conditions, and is suitable for all types of vine in the open or on walls. Cordon pruning, in which the vine has a permanent stem and the fruiting shoots are cut back to one eye each year, is completely unsuitable for certain vines where the basal buds are sterile. It is far safer to cut back the fruiting shoots to four buds, and rub out in spring the non-flowering shoots.
All vines when planted should be cut down to three buds, and allowed to grow freely for the whole year. When the shoots are 6 in. long, pinch out the tip of all but the best shoot. This leaves the maximum of leaves to feed the roots, but favours the production of one strong leader. If this main leader does not reach 5 ft. in the first year, cut back to three buds again, and repeat in the second year. The growth to 5 ft. in the one year shows that the vine is strong enough to start fruiting.
If you are keen enough to be growing vines, you could try growing other fruits too.
Almost all grape vines in Britain will be affected by one of the two vine mildews. These are easy to control, and on walls or in small areas the simplest remedy is to powder them every three or four weeks, depending on the weather, with a mixture of Bordeaux powder and ground sulphur dust. This controls both mildews, but it must be done before the trouble begins. It is usual to give the first powdering just before the vines blossom and, if the season is wet, four or five powderings may be necessary; if dry, two may be sufficient. Do not powder after the grapes change colour, as sulphur powder will then affect the flavour.
RIPENING AND PICKING
The grapes will swell at a tremendous pace from July to September, but at a certain point they will come to ‘veraison’. This is the time when they cease to swell and begin to ripen, and is recognized by the transparent appearance of the berry.
After this the quantity of sugar in the berries will increase quickly in a warm season, and the acidity will decrease at the same time. The grapes will normally be ready for eating before they have enough sugar for a good wine, but if it is a wet autumn, watch carefully and pick before the berries rot too badly.
It is usual to permit a little rotting in order to make sure that the berries are as ripe as possible.
On a wall or under cloches, some varieties of grape, such as Muscat Hamburgh, Chasselas 1921 and one or two others, will hang until November quite satisfactorily. This extends the season very considerably, but the fruit must be kept reasonably dry during the late autumn to prevent rotting.
Vines can be trained and pruned in a number of different ways.