Muscadine grapes are truly a fruit of the South. Muscadines are native to Southeastern North Carolina and have been cultured for more than 400 years. Native Americans preserved muscadines as dried fruit long before the Europeans arrived. Although muscadines can be grown successfully in most parts of the state, they are best adapted from the Piedmont to the coastal plain. Proper pruning is paramount to keep vines productive. The Robeson County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension will host a grapevine pruning workshop from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The location will be at the Pine Cottage behind the soccer field.
Both Cooperative Extension and UNCP are sponsoring the workshop. Sara Spayd, North Carolina State University Extension viticulture specialist, will conduct the training along with a question-and-answer session on pruning, types of pruners, fruiting habits, and diseases of grapes for an informal discussion. An alternate indoor location, in case of bad weather, will be determined later. Registration and contact numbers are necessary for timely updates. Please register by Jan. 21 by calling me at 910-671-3276, by email at Mack_Johnson@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.
Muscadines do best when grown in full sun most of the day. Fruit set and production will be reduced if the vines are shaded for more than several hours each day during the growing season. Muscadine grapes are quite drought-tolerant, but should be watered regularly during dry periods the first two years. After this time, the vines can usually obtain adequate water from the soil even during dry periods. Once the vines become established, water requirements are highest from bud-break until flowering. After flowering, watering should be limited to maintain the plant and maturing the fruit without stimulating vigorous vegetative growth.
The basic framework of a vine consists of the trunk, permanent arms (cordons), and the fruiting spurs. Periodically, tie the young cordons to the trellis wire until each is 10 feet long. To hasten the vines’ development, pinch back the lateral growths on the cordons. Once the framework of trunk and cordons is established and the cordons have developed to full length, the side shoots can be allowed to develop.
Vines must be pruned each dormant season to maintain this framework. Current-season shoots bear the fruit. Annual pruning must be severe to keep new fruiting wood coming, and to prevent vines from becoming tangled masses of unproductive wood. To be productive, these shoots must arise from buds set on last season’s growth, since shoots from older wood are generally sterile. It is important to leave the correct amount of fruiting wood. Cut back the lateral shoots produced during the previous summer to retain two to four buds. Bleeding at pruning wounds may occur, but this has not been shown to harm the vine. Buds on these short shoots, or spurs, will produce new fruit-bearing shoots the following season.
Mack Johnson is an horticultural agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.