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Grapes might be the most common perennial fruiting vines, but we often relegate them to the orchard or vineyard and forget what attractive plants they can be. Gracing a pergola, their hearty growth rate provides quick shade. Plus, the ripening fruits dangle from above for easy harvesting. The downside to this setup is their tendency to draw wasps as the fruits mature, leaving the seating area beneath them unusable for a few weeks in late summer.
That aside, grapes are a perfect choice for USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9 and sometimes beyond, with soil pH requirements of 5.5 to 6.5. Otto’s favorite cold-tolerant, short-season seedless varieties include Canadice, Reliance and Marquis for northern areas. Another favorite is Concord Seedless for its traditional grape flavor, disease resistance and vigor.
Southern gardeners might enjoy Venus, Jupiter, Mars or Saturn, which are early ripening, productive and flavorful varieties bred at the University of Arkansas. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest might want to try Campbell Early, a Concord-type grape with earlier ripening, or Interlaken, a green seedless grape that is very productive and reliable. Extreme northern climates should focus on hardiness and turn to Vanessa, a Canadian-bred variety; Valiant, reported to be hardy to 50 degrees F below zero; or Swenson Red, which is hardy to 30 degrees F below zero.
Regardless of which variety you select, your grapes will require proper annual pruning.
“Much of the old wood needs to be removed in late winter to encourage ongoing growth of young, productive wood,” says Stella Otto, author of The Backyard Berry Book: A Hands-on Guide to Growing Berries, Brambles, and Vine Fruit in the Home Garden (Ottographics, 1995).
Get a book that offers step-by-step pruning instructions. “It’s not a hard process once you gain experience but getting the hang of it may take some hands-on work,” she adds. “Don’t worry, it’s hard to go wrong with pruning. Most fruiting vines, rather than being pruned too much, aren’t pruned enough.”
Katy Fraser, a horticulturist with Raintree Nursery in Washington, adds that in-season pruning is also possible. “If need be, you can always pinch the tips of vines as they grow to keep them in bounds,” she says.
About the Author: Horticulturist Jessica Walliser dreams of growing Eastern Prince, a fruit-bearing magnolia vine, in her zone-6 garden. She is co-host of KDKA radio’s The Organic Gardeners in Pittsburgh and author of several gardening books, including Grow Organic (St. Lynn’s Press, 2007) and Good Bug Bad Bug (St. Lynn’s Press, 2008).