Table grape growing, non commercial

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This article outlines the non commercial growing of table grapes. It describes the planting, pruning and management of table grapes as well as some of the pests and diseases that affect vines and grapes. The content on this page replaces Garden note 285 'Table grapes for the home garden'.

Most varieties of table grapes are the European species Vitis vinifera. This species originated between the Caspian and Black Seas in Asia Minor. There are records of grape production as far back as 2440 BC. Table grapes differ from wine grapes mainly by the size of the berries. Varieties come in different colours and may contain seeds or be seedless.

Grapevines in the home garden can be grown over a pergola to provide shade or on a post-and-wire trellis. A full sun position is required as shaded vines are more susceptible to disease and tend to produce fewer bunches each season.

Vines can live for over 100 years in good growing conditions but the average productive life is 25–50 years.

Planting

Vines are best planted out in August/September while they are still dormant (e.g. just before budburst). Add compost or aged animal manure to all soils prior to planting and if the existing soil is sandy add compost, aged animal manure and clay. This mixture will help retain moisture and provide nutrients for the vine. A light dressing of blood and bone can be applied when the vine starts growing in early spring. Granular NPK fertilisers should not be used on newly planted vines until 6–8 weeks after the first emergence of green shoots, but can be used after this time.

Cuttings

Table grapes vines can be grown from hardwood cuttings taken in late winter from shoots have grown in the previous season. Select a section of cane about 30cm long that has five to seven buds. Cuttings should be 6–12mm in diameter with close internodes. A cut should be made immediately below the bottom bud and 2–5cm above the top bud. Plant the cuttings in moist, well-drained soil. The cuttings should be planted with the top bud clear of the soil and the second bud down (from the top) at ground level. This means that approximtely 1/4 of the cutting is out of the ground and 3/4 is below ground. There is no need to use rooting powders on grapevine cuttings because table grape cuttings take root easily. It is not normally necessary to graft onto a nematode tolerant rootstock, however, if the soil is very sandy it would be beneficial. Some varieties including Red Globe and Crimson Seedless will perform better if they have been grafted.

Potted vines

 

 

Trellising and vine training

Vines can be trained over a pergola or a post-and-wire trellis. To begin this process, vines should be trained up a garden stake, bamboo stake or something similar. It is important during the first year to let the vine grow vigorously to achieve the desired height. This will allow the vine to establish a strong root system and framework (e.g. the trunk and arms of the vine). Only one single shoot should be trained throughout the first growing season; select two to three shoots initially, and remove all others. Tie the two to three shoots to the garden stake with string or plastic tape (flagging tape/budding tape). Once one of the shoots reaches 0.5-1.0 m in length, remove the other shoots, leaving the favoured shoot. Remove the lateral shoots that emerge at the base of each leaf. Do not remove the leaves during the growing season, these leaves will supply the vine with the food they require for the next growing season.

If the vines fail to reach the desired height in the first year, the shoot (now redish-brown in colour and called a mature cane) should be cut back in winter, to two to four buds above the beginning of it's growth point. Repeat this training process again in the second year. If the vine establishes well in the first year, it will start producing bunches in the second year. A couple of bunches can be left to ripen if desired. We don't want to overload (stress) the young vine with fruit at this stage of it's life, as this will stunt it's growth for future years.

Young grape vine on post and wires.

Watering and fertilising

Watering regimes will vary depending on where you are growing your vines. For the Perth region, regular watering of vines in the home garden is necessary from early November to late March in most seasons. Applying mulch will help retain moisture in the soil during summer months. Mulch can be placed all around and touching the trunk without risk of encouraging disease. Disease risk is minimised if the water can be kept off the foliage.

A mature vine will require about 500g of NPK fertiliser with trace elements each season. This should be applied as a 350g dressing at or near the start of budburst and a 150g dressing four weeks later.

Pruning

There are two basic methods of pruning table grapes, these are spur pruning and cane pruning. If you are in the Perth region, pruning is best carried out in late August, however pruning can be done anytime after the leaves have turned yellow or the leaves have fallen. In regions where the temperature is not cold enough to induce leaf fall (e.g. the Gascoyne), vines should be pruned mid July.

Spur pruning is used on highly fruitful varieties such as flame seedless, italia, muscat grodo and cardinal. These varieties produce one or two bunches on every shoot every year.

Cane pruning is used on low fruitful varieties such as sultana, dawn seedless, red globe and crimson seedless. These varieties only carry bunches on less than half the shoots that emerge after pruning. If the name of the variety of grape is unknown, the best pruning method is to have a combination of spurs and canes until the fruitfulness of the vine can be determined.

Spur pruning

*Photo of spur pruning*

Highly fruitful varieties that can be spur pruned only have bunches in the first 2-4 buds on each cane. How many spurs that will be left after pruning will depend on whether the vine is on a pergola or a post and wire trellis. If the vine is growing on a pergola, then 20-40 spurs can be left. If the vine is on a post and wire trellis then 16-20 spurs will be sufficient.

These spurs are shortened lengths of the previous season’s shoot growth and should be spaced 10–20cm apart on the permanent arms of the vine. Each spur should be two or three buds long which will produce a maximum of two new shoots in the spring.

The most common fault with pruning vines in the home garden is overcrowding of spurs.

Cane pruning

*photo of cane pruning*

Varieties that need to be cane pruned carry bunches on the previous season’s growth towards the end of the cane. There are very few bunches to be found in the first four buds along each cane. These varieties require 6 to 12 canes at the end of pruning. Each cane will have 8 to 16 buds, but be no longer than 75cm. These canes are tied onto the wires of the trellis for support.

 

Shoot and bunch removal in spring

It is good practice to thin excess foliage and fruit between October and December to maintain a healthy vine and prevent overcropping.

Early October

  • Remove surplus shoots that do not carry any bunches. The aim is to have a single shoot every 10–20cm along the trellis for cane-pruned vines and two shoots every 10–20cm for spur-pruned vines. Avoid dense clusters of shoots.

Early November

  • Remove the leaves between the base of the shoot and the first bunch. This will dramatically improve disease control.

Late December

  • Thin the crop to one bunch per shoot. Select bunches that hang below the foliage and that have a loose set with a reasonable distance between berries. Reduce the crop load to between 20 and 40 bunches per vine depending on the size and age of the vine.

Varieties

The following list of varieties should satisfy the demands of the home gardener.

Late maturing varieties are more likely to be affected by Mediterranean fruit fly, bird damage and powdery mildew.

Harvest period

Variety

Berry description

 Pruning

Mid Jan

‘Flame Seedless’

Small red seedless

Spur pruned

Late Jan

‘Cardinal’

Medium red seeded

Spur pruned

Early Feb

‘Red Globe’

Large red seeded

Cane pruned

Mid Feb

 ‘Italia’

Medium white seeded

Spur pruned

Late Feb

‘Sultana’

Small white seedless

Cane pruned

Early March

‘Muscat Gordo’

Medium white seeded

Spur pruned

Early March

‘Crimson Seedless’

Medium red seedless

Cane pruned

Mid March

‘Waltham Cross’

Medium white seeded

Spur/cane pruned

Diseases

Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is probably the most common disease of grapevines in the home garden. The disease becomes conspicuous as a grey/white powdery growth on all green parts, including leaves, shoots and berries.

Close of up powdery mildew on grape vine leaves.
Powdery mildew on grape vine leaves.

The berries may split and the pulp will often dry out. A fortnightly application of wettable sulfur or sulfur dust should be applied from mid September to late December. It is best to apply wettable sulfur early in the growing season and sulfur dust once the fruit has set. Do not apply sulfur on days when the maximum temperature is predicted to be 30°C or higher. Sprays containing bicarbonate of soda can also be used from early in the growing season to contain mildew.

Close up of powdery mildew on grapes.
Powdery mildew on grapes.

Downy mildew

This was was first detected in WA vineyards in 1998 but may not be a problem for the home gardener. The disease first appears on the upper surface of leaves as small yellow oilspots. The spots may enlarge to cover the leaf. A downy growth appears on the undersides of the oil spots.

As a preventive measure applications of copper oxychloride can be applied.

Pests

Bunch mites

Bunch mites are not visible to the naked eye. Adults are less than 0.2mm long and are found on the leaf underside close to the bunches. The mites damage the berry stalks by interrupting the water supply which causes the berries to shrivel and fall off. Do not confuse this with wind-suck which may happen in hot, dry windy weather as the roots withdraw water back from the berries as a method of survival.

Grape leaf blister mite

Raised blisters on a grape leaf
Blisters on a grape leaf

These mites cause blistering of the leaf on the upper-surface. On the under-surface felt-like patches develop. Although the leaves become unsightly, fruit production is not affected. A spray of lime sulfur applied at bud-swell should give adequate control.

Nematodes

The sandy soils on the coastal plain near Perth are known to contain root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.) which can destroy the root system of the vine as the vines get older. Table grapes grown on a nematode-resistant rootstock will perform much better than vines growing on their own roots but are harder to obtain through garden centres.

Exotic Pests

The Pest and Disease Information Service is on the lookout for exotic vine pests that are currently not believed to be present in WA. These diseases could devastate our agricultural industries. The pests include:

Black vine weevil

Otiorhynchus sulcatusc causes damage at the larval stage to the root system of young vines which can cause wilting and even death. Adults chew small notches in the edges of leaves. This weevil has a very wide host range including strawberries and cut flowers.

Grape phylloxera

Phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, is a very small, yellow insect that feeds on the roots, and sometimes the leaves, of grapevines. It can also move to the soil surface and up into the canopy and the fruit. Feeding by phylloxera can damage a susceptible grapevine’s root system to such an extent that the plant may die.

Fruit fly

Natal fruit fly, Ceratitis rosa, and Queensland fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni, have females that pierce (sting) the maturing fruit and lay eggs just below the surface. Larvae emerge from the fruit to pupate in the soil.

Bacterial blight

The blight, Xanthomonas ampelina, is a bacterium that overwinters in the vines, emerges in spring and is carried to healthy shoots mainly by rain splash in autumn and winter. It appears as linear reddish-brown streaks extending from the base to the shoot tip; then, more or less lens-shaped cracks and cankers develop, sometimes as deep as the pith. Shoots subsequently wilt, droop and dry up.

Pierce’s disease

is caused by the grape strain of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa. This grapevine disease is spread by sap (xylem) sucking insects. Affected vines tend to be smaller than healthy vines. Sensitive varieties show progressive decline, low yields (up to 80% losses), low fruit quality and a shortened productive life.

Physical damage

Rain and sun

Berry splitting occurs in some varieties if rain occurs between colour change and harvest.

Sunburn is a problem, particularly in December and January. 'Red Globe' and 'Muscat Gordo' are particularly sensitive.

Bunches of deformed red-coloured grapes on a vine.
Bunches of deformed red-coloured grapes.

Pests

Caterpillars

Can quickly cause considerable damage to young vines. Webbing and excreta may be seen on bunches together with chewed leaf margins. Products containing Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria, are organic and target only caterpillars but need to be reapplied every 5-7 days or after rain. Chemical sprays containing spinosad also control caterpillars and have translaminar movement, which means the chemical moves into the leaf, making the active resistant to rain and sunlight once the spray has dried.

Weevils

These nocturnal pests chew leaves and flower buds. Banding the trunk of the vine with petroleum gel or grease will prevent weevils crawling up to the leaves.

Grape vine leaves with small holes caused by weevil damage.
Weevil damage on grape vine leaves.

Birds

Grapes contain sugars which make them attractive to birds such as silvereyes and rainbow lorikeets. There are no poisons registered for bird control and poisoning native birds is illegal. A wide range of netting is available.

Fruit fly

Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) is a serious horticultural pest in Western Australia. It stings grape berries to lay eggs and the fruit is then inedible.

Baiting and lure-and-kill traps will reduce numbers but netting or bagging of fruit may also be necessary.

Close up of Mediterranean fruit fly on grapes.
Mediterranean fruit fly on grapes.

For further information on controls read web article Mediterranean fruit fly.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080