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Drapes of Grapes

October 08, 2012

Drapes of Grapes

by TBG Horticulturist Joshua Fietz


 “From dewy lanes at morning, the grapes’ sweet odors rise”

– Helen Hunt Jackson


Grapes have been utilized for their multiple purposes in the garden for ages.  However, the very sight of wild grapes can cause dramatic differences in response, from a joyful sweet and tart treat while on a walk, to disgust at a vine for climbing a tree to compete for canopy space.  However, under cultivation these climbers can be a very productive and useful addition to the garden.  Fruit uses include juice, jelly, and wine making.  While leaves can be utilized in cooking and can provide beautiful fall colors (depending on the species).  And let us not forget the aesthetically pleasing striped exfoliating bark of the stems, which can be creatively crafted into wreaths and coat hangers.

 When thinking about adding Grapes (Vitis) to your garden consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of the plant (fruit, ornamental, etc.)?
  • The care for the grape vines will differ, as they are trained differently according to their use- table grapes are pruned so as to produce quality large fruits, wine grapes are pruned to produce quantity.
  • Grape vines flower on new growth and therefore can handle annual pruning, and in most cases will require annual pruning.
    • What are the required conditions of the purposed plant, does your yard currently meet these conditions or will you have to change some things?
    • Grapes like a soil ph in the range of 6-7.5, and depending on the variety can handle either sandy or clay conditions. While all varieties of grapes appreciate good drainage, only a few can handle a little shade with their preference to be planted in full sun.
    • Composted material should be a satisfactory fertilizer for grapes, and while under fertilizing is much preferred than over fertilizing there are some not so common deficiencies which can include potassium, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Most grapes do surprisingly well on poor sites.
      • What materials will you need?
      • Grapes grow by tendrils acting as little arms wrapping around structures for support- so you will need something for them to climb (this is an opportunity to be creative).

It is also wise to remember that it may take a few years before fruit is ready to harvest due to the pruning and training period, so be patient, you will be rewarded.

 If wine making is your desire, keep in mind that one wine can have multiple kinds of grapes in it, as some are mixed to intensify aromas, flavors, and to increase coloring (here we find the art in the making of wine).  Grapes are split into 3 categories based on how long the required growing season is per vine: early, midseason, and late.  And while this bares no significance on pollination since almost all grapes are self-fertile (with the exception of only a few), it could provide an overlapping harvest period pending the right plants are chosen. Most catalogs and nurseries will indicate whether or not a grape needs a pollinator or if the vine produces seed bearing fruit, and most nurseries offer both seed and seedless varieties. Catalogs and websites also do a good job of dividing up the grapes into the two main uses- table and wine (some can be used for both). Be sure to check what zone you are in and what zone the grape can grow in prior to making a decision to purchase.

I am including some reference books marked (*) to help identify some important native grape vines to Ohio, which have had a positive impact, concerning resistance to diseases and cold hardiness, on cultivated grapes. Some of which are still used today in the making of wines, juices, and jams. I love the native grape vines for their tannin filled sour treat which turns my hands and mouth purple.  Not to mention the fun times of climbing and swinging on these native vines, or pretending as a child that the mass of vines was some monster in which we had to battle with.


From Vines to Wines, Jeff Cox, Storey (1985)

* Edible wild plants, Oliver Perry Medsger, The MacMillian Company (1939)

* The Woody Plants of Ohio, E. Lucy Braun, Hafner Press (1974)

The American Horticulture Society encyclopedia of Gardening, Christopher Brickell, DK (2003)

Local home brewing advice at:

Titgemeier’s Inc.  701 Western Ave.  Toledo, Ohio 43609

Brew Supplies Direct Co. 4400 Heatherdowns.  Toledo, Ohio 43614

Local wine purchasing advice at:

The Andersons  (their advice is superb!)

4701 Talmadge Rd.  Toledo, Ohio 43623

7638 Sylvania Ave.  Sylvania, Ohio 43560

530 Illinois Ave.  Maumee, Ohio 43537

3725 Williston Rd.  Northwood, Ohio 43619

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