Vine pruning is an art shrouded with mystery and master vine-growers are often viewed with awe, even by horticulturalists, for the sheer depth and breadth of their knowledge of the multiple methods of revamping vines in order to bring forth the very juiciest bunches of berries (yes, technically, grapes are berries rather than fruits).
Traditionally, the great race to prune grapevines takes place before Christmas in order to prevent the rising sap from bleeding as the plant is cut back, however, in prioritising our clients’ vines, our own poor grapes got lost in a haze of Christmas puddings over the past few weeks.
But all is not lost…pruning our vines now may not be ideal and may deplete the energy of the plant, doing so now is better than not at all.
The many systems of training and pruning vines have evolved in large part through the efforts of winemakers and commercial fruit growers to produce ever sweeter harvests, so selecting the right pruning protocol can prove overwhelming to all but the bravest of gardeners, however a good annual ‘shape-and-shear’ will reap the reward of the plumpest clusters.
Of the two most well-known of the systems, the Guyot system is generally used for grapes grown for wine-making or for large-scale fruit production (visualise the typical image of a vineyard with its lines and lines of short, single stem vines trained with one or two fruiting arms along a wire or cordon). In contrast, the Rod & Spur system trains the vine into a fan shape, which is rather better suited to grapes grown in greenhouses, on pergolas or against walls, hence it’s often the method of choice for vines in garden settings.
The Rod & Spur system can even be adapted to create a standard-type plant, eventually creating a kind of grapevine roof above the main stem. Perfect for container growing grapes, especially where space is restricted.
We create these aerial displays by training the main stem up a stake or sturdy cane, then removing any other stems growing from the base. Over the first couple of years, as with the traditional Rod & Spur system, the vine is allowed to put out side-branches, but in the 3rd winter, we remove all side-branches except those at the very top, which are supported by a round or square frame.
For the most mouth-watering jewels to grace the fruit bowl, we allow only one bunch of grapes to ripen in the 1st crop, with one bunch per side-branch allowed to develop in subsequent crops.
Untrained vines too need a firm hand and hard prune each winter in order to create the space between its creeping stems which allows light to reach all sites of potential new growth. Grapes are formed on the new growth which bursts forth from old wood, so all vines will benefit from cutting back to the gnarled, old main frame of the plant each year, removing any young growth where grapes were formed in the summer.
With vine-pruning completed, now is just the right time to tackle the winter pruning of fruit trees like apples, pears and quinces.