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Top Tips for Pruning Grape Vines in Australia

I love grape vines because they look so lush in summer when they have full coverage of leaves and then, in autumn, these turn a golden colour before they drop off and just leave the bare stems.

Grape vines are excellent for growing over a structure like a pergola. I planted three vines a couple of years ago to cover an arbour that I’ve placed over a path that leads from the front yard to the back.

As I’ve never grown grape vines before, I haven’t done anything with them except to keep them watered and to train the vines or canes onto the arbour wire.

So, I thought I had better do some research to understand the best way to prune them.

Here’s what I found.

Why pruning is essential for grape vines

In essence, pruning your grapevine correctly controls the amount of fruit it produces and this means that you’ll have fruit that can ripen in the amount of time that you have.

Here’s an interesting video from Gardening Australia that covers some of the basics:

How to prune a one-year-old grapevine

For good fruit production, it’s important to prune your grapevine from early on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do this which is probably why my vines haven’t fruited yet. But, I’m going to give my vines a good prune this winter to ensure that they will become productive.

To prune a one-year-old vine, you need to cut off all of the growth and only leave one shoot.

Pruning Grape Vines 1 | Fruit & Vegetables

This shoot should be cut back so that there are just two buds left on it. This will become the trunk of your grapevine.

How to prune a two-year-old grapevine

Once your vine is two years old, you still want to prune it quite hard in order to set it up for fruiting. Like all grapevine pruning, this should be done in winter.

For this stage of pruning, you want to look for shoots or canes that are as thick as a pencil and are growing from the main trunk.

Pruning Grape Vines 3 | Fruit & Vegetables

Cut these back until there are just two buds left on each one and remove all the other growth.

Essentially, you want to have around four canes left that you’ve pruned to two buds.

RELATED: When to Prune Peach Trees in Australia

How to prune a three-year-old grapevine

Once your grapevine has reached its third year of growth, it’s time to prune it exactly like a mature vine.

Here’s what to do:

  • Look for two healthy canes and leave these long.
  • Wrap these longer canes around the support wires.
  • You then want to select two healthy spurs that have grown from the trunk beside the longer canes that you’re going to keep. The spurs are just new canes or branches that grow in a cluster.
  • Cut these two spurs back down to just two buds.
  • Remove any other spurs that have grown from the trunk of the vine.

After you’ve done this, you’ll find that the longer canes will produce fruit in the summer while the shorter spurs will become the fruiting canes the following year.

How to prune mature grapevines

There are two common methods used for pruning mature grapevines. Spur pruning and cane pruning. 

Pruning Grape Vines 2 | Fruit & Vegetables

The spur pruning method

This method involves having two permanent branches coming from the trunk of the vine that are trained along your support wire. Generally, one on either side of the vine.

From these permanent branches, new canes will have grown and these are what you want to prune back. You’ll find that these usually grow vertically. 

So, to explain this better, you’ll have two main horizontal branches that you don’t prune and vertical branches growing from these that need to be pruned.

Look at each spur or growth point and select the strongest cane. Cut this back to just two buds but don’t count the initial bud at the base. Remove any other canes from the same growth point or spur, right back to the base.

If the spurs or growth points are quite close together, you might want to remove every second one.

The cane pruning method

This method is a bit more involved but relatively simple. You want to end up with just four young canes as these will then go on to produce the fruit.

This actually involves removing the old canes that had produced fruit over the summer right back to the trunk. 

After you’ve cut off the previous fruiting canes, look for four young healthy canes growing from the trunk.

Two of these should be left longer and trained around the wire support. The other two canes should be trimmed back so that there are just two buds at the base.

Once you’ve identified and dealt with the four canes that will continue to grow, remove all the others right back to their base.

FAQ

What happens if you don’t prune grape vines?

If you don’t prune your grape vines, it’s unlikely that you will end up with any ripe fruit. This is because the vines will produce too much fruit but the grapes won’t ripen.

Do grapes grow on new or old wood?

Grapes grow on new wood or one-year-old canes which is why it’s important to prune off any old canes if you want your vine to be productive.

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Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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