Planting and growing tips

Once you have decided what method of cultivation you plan to adopt you must decide the direction and spacing of the rows and the distance between plants. There has been some discussion about north/south versus east/west planting and north/south is said to give the best ripening. But there are two other important factors to consider:

  • the shape of the plot to be planted - rows may lend themselves more naturally to one direction or other and
  • the prevailing wind.

Having the wind blow between the rows is said to produce more rapid drying and that this is a major factor in disease prevention - high humidity being ideal for many diseases. Planting this way also offers a smaller ‘target’ area for wind borne disease spores and probably helps reduce diseases. If the choice is between less ripe and disease free or more ripe and infected, most people would opt for the former. The prevailing wind on my site is from the west and I grow east/west rows - I cannot comment on whether the grapes are less ripe or more diseased because I do not have any north/south rows with which to compare - however, it works!

Probably the most significant factor affecting ripeness on a small site is birds! Once the grapes are approaching ripe the birds will move in and can strip a small vineyard almost overnight. If you see this happening you have little choice but to harvest the grapes (whatever their ripeness) or loose them. Netting is the only real solution on a small site, and this is comparatively expensive - more expensive than the vines themselves! On the other hand if you plan to have only a few vines the netting is not a major investment and it is not too onerous a job to cover the vines just before the harvest and remove them when ready to pick.

Soil fertility

This will have an influence on planting distances. Rich soils with plenty of moisture will produce vigorous growth compared to poor soil. Plant further apart on rich soil – one writer suggests up to several metres in the row.

Ground preparation.

Commercial growers are advised (in at least one book) to turn over the ground to a depth of about 1m (3 feet). Personally, I have never even bothered to double dig ground that has been previously cultivated and have not experienced problems. Common sense is the best guide – if you live on a mountain side with shallow soil, something needs to be done; generally you should be OK on cultivated land. If the ground has not previously been cultivated it should be cleared and free from perennial weeds – i.e. sprayed with glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) and turned over to bury any debris. Note that some vines - especially Pinot Noir - prefer chalky soils.

Spacing

If you have more than one row, a useful rule of thumb is to make the distance between rows at least equal to the height you intend to grow the vines; this reduces shading.

The distance between vines in the row depends to some extent on the method of training. The aim is to expose the vine leaves and the bunches to the maximum possible sunlight. One recommendation is to aim to leave about 15 nodes per metre (4.5 per foot) of row length when pruning.

With rod replacement pruning, the replacement rods will dictate both the number of nodes per metre and the maximum distance between plants. Vigorous vines will produce more growth between nodes hence fewer nodes per metre.

Note that with spur pruning a vertical shoot can carry two three or even more nodes so the nodes per metre can be controlled with some precision. As few as 7 or 8 nodes per metre will still produce a good crop and the resulting lower canopy density encourages ripening so I recommend erring on the low side rather that the high.

Additionally, with spur pruning the planting distance in the row can be chosen to suit the vine and its vigour. This may be as small as 0.5m (about 18”) up to several metres. If you have seen the great vine in Hampton Court you will know that a single vine can fill a very large area indeed! There is no correct value for this distance, it is really a matter of experiment (but see Laterals or side shoots below).

Planting

Having decided a layout - including provision for nets – planting consists of nothing more than simply popping the vines in a hole. If your ground is light and liable to dry out plant deep (200mm or eight inches at least); if it is the opposite plant shallow (but not less than 50 mm or two inches) and even consider raising the ground by 150mm (six inches) or so if that is possible and plant in this. If you are planting more than one row, mark out the row ends with canes; then run a line down the centre of the rows and another line along the first row for planting. Incidentally it is a good idea to start at the centre and work outwards as this keeps a regular planting even if the plot is a bit irregular. It is best to place a measuring tape on the ground and mark the position of each vine rather than plant one and then measure the next from this as this will introduce cumulative measuring errors and may look ragged.

Grab hold of the roots at the base of the vine and cut off what ever sticks out of your hand so that the roots remaining on the plant are uniform and each about 100 to 150mm (four to six inches) long. If you have wires in place fix the vine to the wire at the required planting depth; if you intend to use a cane to support the young plant put it in the hole first then arrange the plant roots around it. A little mound in the bottom of the hole can help spread the roots. Do not add fertiliser to the planting hole. The aim is to encourage the roots to go and look for water and nutrients not to laze around where the living is easy. Finally, back fill the hole and firm as you go.

Bare root vines can be planted at any time when the ground is not frozen during the dormant season, from about November to April. Growth normally starts in late April or early May and the plant should be comfortably settled before this.
Note: If you buy my vines, they will be posted as near as possible to the date you specify but can not lifted from frozen ground.

It is a good idea to soak the vines for at least two hours before planting and to carry them to the planting hold in the bucket of water. If your ground is very free draining - like mine - it is also a good idea to part fill the planting hole, gently firm in the vines and then pour in a two or three litres of water; once this has drained into the soil add the remainder of the soil and firm once more; this gets the water to the roots and the soil on top reduces evaporation.
As vines are pretty tolerant, you can also experiment to develop a growing method to suit yourself.

Watering

I used to recommend not watering vines to encourage them to find water for themselves, but in 2010 we had and unusual combination of weather, i.e. an early start to the growing season, a very late frost that killed all the early growth, a ‘drought’ for about two months, a cool, grey August and a cool September. Not only did this impact on the ripening of the vines being cropped but for the first time ever I had newly planted vines die. So the moral is to keep an eye on the weather; if possible protect from frost and water if there has been no rain for a couple of weeks. Watering should  not be necessary in a ‘normal’ British spring!
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