How to Prune Grape Vines – Cane and Spur Pruning Explained

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Grapes fruit on new season’s shoots which arise from one-year-old canes. Once these canes have produced their fruit for the season, they will not produce again. To keep grapes productive, they need to be pruned to renew the young canes which will produce in the following year.

grapes-fruiting-new-growth

Getting Started, Planting New Vines, Creating the Framework

Grapes are vigorous climbing vines, so they need a structure or support of some kind to grow over, such as a trellis, arbour or pergola. It’s important to ensure that such a structure is in place first before planting a grapevine in the ground.

Plant new grapevines in winter when they’re dormant, or in early spring, to give them enough time to establish their roots before the hot summer weather sets in.

 

establising-grapevine-framework-first-second-year

 

First Winter – Planting

  1. Plant the grapevine, and allow it to grow for a year to gain some height, without pruning it at all. Having as many canes and leaves as possible will allow the vine to gather the maximum amount of energy through photosynthesis to put on good strong growth.
  2. Select a long, strong-growing cane and tie this vertically to a support, to create the trunk of the vine.

 

Second Winter – Pruning

After the grapevine has gained sufficient height, it needs to be pruned to the required shape to develop a framework – a trunk and lateral (side) branches suitable for bearing a crop.

  1. If the main cane tied to the vertical support has reached the desired height, such as the wires of a trellis, or the top of a pergola, prune it back above bud. The buds below the pruning cut will shoot to form side-branches (laterals).
  2. Prune out any other canes, leaving only the the main vertical cane.

 

After this initial formative pruning in the first year, the way the grapevine will need to be pruned from this point onwards will depend on whether it needs to be cane-pruned or spur-pruned.

 

Cane and Spur Pruning – How to Prune Different Grape Varieties

There two main methods used for pruning grapevines are cane pruning and spur pruning.

Which method should you use?

It depends on the grape variety, some grapes are cane pruned, others are spur pruned, and a few can be pruned using either method.

Spur-pruned grape varieties are more vigorous growers which produce fruit on new growth coming from buds close to the base of one-year canes, near the main stem.

Spur pruned grapes include varieties such as Autumn Royal, Black Muscat, Blush Seedless, Cardinal, Centennial Seedless, Christmas Rose, Dawn Seedless, Early Muscat, Flame Seedless, Italia, Marroo Seedless, Muscat Hamburg, New York Muscat, Perlette, Purple Cornichon, Queen, Ribier, Waltham Cross.

Cane-pruned grape varieties are less vigorous and produce fruit on new growth coming from buds towards the end of one-year canes.

Cane-pruned grapes include varieties such as Black Corinth, Calmeria, Carina Currant, Crimson Seedless, Emperor, Fantasy Seedless, Glenora, Himrod, Menindee Seedless, Muscat Gordo, Ohanez, Red Globe, Ruby Seedless, Sultana, Thompson Seedless

grape-fruiting-canes-spur-cane-pruned-varieties

How to Spur Prune Grapes

The grapevine is planted In the first winter and allowed to grow for a year, then pruned in the second winter, as described in the previous section ‘Getting Started, Planting New Vines, Creating the Framework’.

 

Second Winter – Spur Pruning

The first step to developing the T-shaped spur-pruning framework is to allow the main vertical cane to grow to the desired height, and then prune it back above a bud.

Make the cut 1-2cm above the bud to prevent the bud drying out. The buds below the pruning cut will shoot during the growing season to produce new canes.

 

establising-grapevine-framework-first-second-year

 

Third Winter – Spur Pruning

To form the T-shaped framework:

  1. Select two canes near the top of the vine as permanent lateral arms (laterals), one on either side of the trunk.
  2. Tie back the two laterals to the horizontal wires of a trellis, or the top of the frame of an arbour or pergola.
  3. Cut the canes to length to fit the trellis or support structure.

When the lateral canes are trained horizontally, they’ll produce fruiting canes from the buds along their length.

 

Fourth Winter – Spur Pruning

Once the laterals have produced their first fruiting canes, they need to be pruned in winter, when the vine is dormant, to create evenly spaced two-bud spurs.

  1. Select healthy canes, evenly spaced at approximately 15-20cm apart to form the new spurs. Prune these canes back to two buds from the base (not including the bud at the base). Select upward facing buds if possible as this is more preferable. Make the pruning cuts 1-2cm above the bud to prevent the buds drying out.
  2. Prune off all other growth from the main laterals.

spur-pruning-grapes-third-fourth-year

 

Fifth Year and Onwards – Spur Pruning

After the fifth year, and every year after that, spur pruning is carried out following this two-step rule:

  1. Prune the previous year’s two-bud spurs in half, removing the top half of the spur with the new growth coming from it.
  2. Prune the new growth coming from the spur’s remaining lower shoot down to two buds, creating a new two-bud spur which will produce the new fruiting canes in the following year.

 

Illustrated below is the process of reducing the previous year’s two-bud spurs to single shoots, and pruning the remaining new growth to form replacement two-bud spurs. Once you can see the pattern, this system of pruning becomes quite easy to perform.

 

spur-pruning-grapes-fifth-year

 

Identifying the Age of Vine Canes

When spur-pruning, how do you know which canes are year-old canes and which ones are new growth?

The newer fruiting canes that are to be pruned back to two-bud spurs are easy to identify, they are smooth and reddish-bronze in colour, whereas the older canes tends to be greyish in colour and rougher in texture.

 

How to Cane Prune Grapes

The grapevine is planted In the first winter and allowed to grow for a year, then pruned in the second winter, as described in the previous section ‘Getting Started, Planting New Vines, Creating the Framework’.

 

Second Winter – Cane Pruning

The first step to developing the permanent trunk framework for the cane-pruning system is to allow the main vertical cane to grow to the desired height, and then prune it back above a bud. Make the cut 1-2cm above the bud to prevent the bud drying out. The buds below the pruning cut will shoot during the growing season to produce new canes.

establising-grapevine-framework-first-second-year

 

Third Winter – Cane Pruning

In the cane pruning system, a permanent trunk is established, but the lateral canes are renewed every year. New canes are selected from the head of the vine, at the top of the trunk near the trellis wires.

To establish the first set of lateral canes:

  1. Select one or two canes on either side of the trunk, prune them each to 8-12 buds long (up to 16 for some varieties), and tie them to the horizontal trellis wires for support. Ideally the canes should be growing out from a point as close as possible to the vine trunk, and be as thick as a little finger, with the buds fairly close together.
  2. Select one spur canes on either side of the trunk and prune back to a two-bud spur. These renewal spurs provide additional canes to select from in the following year.
  3. Prune off all other growth.

The fruiting canes will grow from the buds along the length of these temporary lateral canes.

 

cane-pruning-grapes-third-year

 

The pruning process is repeated the next year, come winter. Two canes are selected on each side of the trunk, pruned to length (8-12 buds), and trained along the horizontal trellis wires, one cane from each side is cut back to two buds to serve as renewal spurs.

 

cane-pruning-grapes-fourth-year

 

After the third year, cane pruning is carried out following this three-step rule:

  1. Prune the previous year’s two-bud spurs in half, removing the top of the spur and the new growth coming from it, leaving a single long fruiting cane growing from each spur.
  2. Prune the new growth coming from the spur’s remaining lower bud down to either 8-12 buds to create a fruiting cane which will bear fruit, or to 2 buds to create a new two-bud spur which will produce the new fruiting canes in the following year.
  3. Prune two of the previous year’s long fruiting canes into short two-bud spurs (only need two of these, one on either side of trunk)

This process is repeated each and every year

Illustrated below is the process of pruning canes, creating new two-bud spurs and pruning the remaining new growth to form replacement laterals. Once again, there is a repeating pattern which makes it easier to understand, but cane pruning is a bit more complicated than spur pruning.

 

cane-pruning-grapes-fifth-year-onwards-1

Continuing into the sixth year, the pruning remains the same. To repeat what was explained earlier, new growth is either cut back to a length of 8-12 buds to create a fruiting cane, or 2 buds to create a 2-bud renewal spur which will produce extra canes to choose from in the following year.

Why extra canes? Sometimes the main canes which are produced are weak or buds are too far apart, making them too long, in which case the renewal spurs will have an extra 4 canes to choose from.

Once again, the old two-bud spurs have the top growth cut off, and once 4 canes and 2 renewal spurs have been selected, all other growth is pruned away.

cane-pruning-grapes-fifth-year-onwards-2

Additional Notes

Some cane-pruned grape varieties require canes to be pruned to a length of more than 8-12 buds per cane.

  • Crimson seedless requires 15 buds per cane
  • Thompson seedless (Sultana) requires 14 buds per cane

 

Earlier it was mentioned that some grape varieties can be either cane or spur pruned, both techniques can be used.

Grapes which can be both cane or spur pruned include:

  • Flame Seedless
  • Suffolk Red
  • Saturn
  • Buffalo

Concord grapes can be cane pruned or spur pruned to longer spurs of at least 6 buds.

 

 

 

About Angelo (admin)

Angelo Eliades is a presenter, trainer, writer, permaculture consultant, urban permaculture pioneer and food forest specialist.
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