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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Prune Grapes to Improve Production

Our climate in the Mojave desert can damage grapes during the cold winter months. This winter was warmer than usual and the two times it dropped into freezing weather this winter was when plants were deeply in their winter slumber.

That's good. Freezing weather occurring early in the fall or late spring is typically more damaging than the same freezing weather in midwinter.

For small-scale producers and backyard gardeners I like to tell them to prune their grapes last. Wait until the most brutal part of the winter is over and then prune. The reason for this is simple. When we prune grapes we typically remove everything on the plant that is not necessary. When we are finished pruning we leave behind very short Spurs or longer canes depending on the variety of grape.

Regardless, for good production we need everything that we have left after pruning to be alive. Temperatures in the Mojave desert can drop to temperatures that can damage grapes. If we prune grapes too early and this is followed by very cold temperatures, we can lose some and possibly most of our production because of the death of these spurs or canes due to cold.

Here are some tips on pruning table and wine grapes:

1. When you prune grapes and the temperatures are warm, grapes will bleed. That is, you will see water coming from the cuts. This is normal. This is water being pumped up the vine by its roots in preparation for spring growth. They may continue to weep like this until growth starts and the leaves suck this water away from the cuts and the cuts have a chance to heal.

2. Identify all of the growth that occurred last year. This will be a different color than the older growth or it just will not look as old. Once you have identified last year's growth, you can cut all of them back so that the new growth is about 18 to 24 inches long. These long canes are where your grapes are going to be produced.

3. Space these long canes which will produce grapes about 12 inches apart. You want to do this for table grapes because this will encourage the berries to become larger. You want to do this two wine grapes because you want to concentrate the flavors developed by the plant into fewer berries. Choose healthy and vigorous canes to be your producing canes. Identify any canes that are between your producing canes. You can either remove these or them back and remove all of last year's growth. If you remove a cane, you will remove the fruit.

Grape pruning progression for spur pruned grapes. Cane pruned grapes are just
longer spurs.
4. The remaining canes will be cut back to about an inch long (spur pruned) or about 12 inches long (cane pruned). If you want to get technical, identify the buds on the canes. When spur pruning, leave only one to two buds remaining. When cane pruning there should be 10 to 12 buds remaining.

5. If you have Thompson seedless grapes, or Black Monnuka do not spur prune them. These should be cane pruned. Make sure you have 8 to 10 buds present on the cane when you're finished cutting.Most other table grapes are spur pruned. Most wine grapes for our climate are also spur pruned.

Here are some previous posts on my blog concerning pruning grapes.


  1. I have a green fig tree (kadota?) that sets lots of fruit but none ever ripen. They get to a certain size and then just fall off the tree. Any advice?

    1. Although several things can cause fruit to drop on fig (insects, weather) the one that is most frequent in the desert is water. If figs go through a dry spell during fruit ripening they will drop their fruit. Surface wood mulch helps ALOT in preserving moisture in the soil and helping to keep fruit on the tree. Use four inches of wood mulch (wood chips from chipped trees is inexpensive and works great) placed all around the tree at its base out to a distance equal to the spread of its canopy.

  2. My two favorite grape pruning videos courtesy Dave Wilson Nursery:

    How To Prune Grapes: Spur Type

    How to prune a grape vine. There are two grape varieties as far as pruning goes, Spur prune varieties and Cane prune varieties. In this video Chuck Ingels (UC Coop Ext - Sacramento) talks about grape pruning theory, and demonstrates how to prune a spur type grapevine.

    How To Prune Grapes: Cane Type

    In this video (a continuation of the first video) Chuck Ingels demonstrates how to prune a Cane type grapevine.

    Also I consult this convenient table to decide which table and wine grape varieties pruning method to employ (courtesy L.E. Cooke Nursery):