How to Prune Grape Vines – Cane and Spur Pruning Explained

pruning grape vine

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.

diagram grape vine fruiting wood
Grape vines fruit on new shoots growing from the previous year’s canes

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.

diagram establishing grapevine framework first and 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 onward 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.

Which Grape Varieties are Spur Pruned?

grape fruiting canes spur cane pruned varieties

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

Which Grape Varieties are Cane Pruned?

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

How to Determine the Correct Pruning Method of Unidentified Grape Varieties

The easy way determine if your grape vine is spur or cane pruned variety is to use this method:

  1. Prune a few canes back to 2 buds (spur pruning) in late winter
  2. Prune a few canes back to 10 buds (cane pruning) in late winter.
  3. Mark the short and long pruned canes in different ways to tell them apart by tying something to them loosely, such as different coloured twist ties, zip ties, or string, so you can check them when the grape vine is fruiting.

If both the sort and long pruned canes produce new growth that fruits, it’s a spur pruned variety, but if it only fruits on the new growth from the longer pruned canes, then its definitely a cane pruned variety.

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.

diagram establishing grapevine framework first and 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 and fourth year

Fifth Year and Onward – Spur Pruning

After the fifth year, and every year after that, spur pruning is carried out in winter 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.

diagram spur pruning grapes fifth year onward

How to Identify the Age of Grape 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.

diagram establishing grapevine framework first and 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.

diagram grape vine cane pruning 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.

diagram grape vine cane pruning 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.

diagram grape vine cane pruning fifth year

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.

diagram grape vine cane pruning fifth year

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.

48 thoughts on “How to Prune Grape Vines – Cane and Spur Pruning Explained

      1. Which method do you recommend in general? Most people seem to prefer Cane Pruning.

      2. The pruning method really depends on the grape variety, but it seems that most people grow the cane-pruned grape varieties. The spur-pruned grape varieties are more vigorous, but I like how much easier and faster it is to prune them. I have two cane-pruned grapes and one spur-pruned variety growing in my garden.

      3. I have about 9 vines and I have few of their names. Is there a list anywhere so I can see which should be cane pruned and those that should be spur pruned? Many thanks in advance.

      4. Hi Ian, the lists were in the article, but weren’t that obvious, so I converted the to bullet points to make them easier to spot.
        I’ve also added a new section below the lists “How to Determine the Correct Pruning Method of Unidentified Grape Varieties” in case the varieties aren’t listed.
        Hope this helps! 🙂

      5. Very many thanks I have now seen and printed off. None of my grapes are on the list 🙁 Can I sent the names of my grapes in case you can help me identify if to spur or cane prune. Thanks Andy

      6. Can you help please?
        Please below my grapes.
        Current grapes I have about 2.5 years old. How can I find out if I must Spur or Cane prune?

        • Thresa x 2
        • Black Hamburg
        • Queen of Esta
        • La Monte x2

      7. Hi, I can help with three of the four grape varieties you listed:

        > Theresa grape is either cane pruned or rod pruning (shorter canes with 3-7 buds)
        > Black Hamburg grape (known as Trollinger in Germany) is a spur pruned variety
        > Queen of Esther grape can be pruned using either cane or spur pruning

        For the La Monte variety, I couldn’t find that anywhere, use the method I explain below the lists to determine if the grape is spur or cane pruned.

  1. I have a vine that was brought from Italy by my Great Grandparents. I am about to plant it at a new house, the root stock is about about 6″ tall and an inch thick. It has been growing in a pot in the ground for several years. It is a dark blue grape, but I have no idea what variety it is. How can I figure out which way to prune it.?

    1. The easy way determine if your grape vine is spur or cane pruned variety is to prune a few canes back to 2 buds (spur pruning), and a few canes back to 10 buds (cane pruning) in late winter. Mark the canes in some way by tying something to them, so you can check them when the grape vine is fruiting. If it fruits on both, it’s a spur pruned variety, but if it only fruits on the longer canes its definitely a cane pruned type.

      1. Ah ha, now that’s simple enough. Thank you. Unfortunately I won’t be able to report back for a couple of years. Great site, I appreciate the effort and information.

  2. Hello Angelo,
    I planted 2 cabernet and 2 merlot a few years ago, and didn’t have time in spring to prune them. The wires and posts are in place, and I would like to cane prune them. What is the best way to begin this winter? Take the entire sprawling plant down to a foot high stump and begin again? Or to select a main stem and hope it buds out like your drawing? I am in zone 10b, coastal California.
    Thank you for all your hard work in sharing your knowledge.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Kay, I always prune my grapes in winter when they’re dormant. I haven’t listed the wine grape varieties in my list, but varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are most often spur pruned, while varieties such as Pinot Noir are cane pruned. You can also cane prune the spur pruned varieties, but quickly looking at some of the research available, Cabernet Sauvignon production is the same using either pruning system.

      Are your grape vines pruned to shape already and growing across the wires? You haven’t given me much information on what training has been done already so that makes answering the question that much more difficult, as I have to guess all the possibilities! Assuming no training has been done, if you’re cane pruning, just follow the instructions, prune to establish the grapevine framework, so you end up with a trunk that reaches the wires, and prune at the top to establish the laterals in line with the wires. After the buds shoot to produce new canes, you can prune to select the current season’s canes and the spurs for next years canes.. with canes at the top that can be fastened to the wires

      1. Thank you so much. The vines were never trained, they are rambling. I usually trim them back to fruiting sections. I will try spur pruning this winter.

  3. Thank you so much for all of the details you put into your page. It is very helpful information. I planted several Black Spanish vines last year with the goal of making wine. Since they are a blended variety I have seen some places that say to cane prune them but others have said spur. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you for your help

    1. I would spur prune them first to see how they perform, and if they aren’t productive enough you can then easily enough cane prune them instead.

  4. Good afternoon Angelo, I posted a question in the early Spring and am happy to report that the vines I planted are rocketing skyward. I have constructed a two wire structure, first wire is 45″ above ground and the second wire is 72″, the vines are close to two feet over the second wire. I’d like to propagate laterals on both wires from the central cane, your information above says that the two buds under the wire cut will send out shoots to form laterals. Will I get any shoots further down the cane?
    My mother tells me that a cousin took the plant to his ag extension and they determined that the grape is a Zinfandel. My family is from Calabria so perhaps a Primitivo?

    Thanks again for all your help!

    1. If there are buds along the cane, they will most likely shoot when you prune the tip off near the wire.

  5. Hi Angelo, Great Article. One of the best I found on this topic. Thank you! I have an Autumn King grape and google says its Cane Prune. It is extremely vigorous. Can I spur prune it? I dislike Cane pruning 🙂

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, much appreciated. I too prefer spur pruning, it’s so much easier!

      According the the sources I found, the Autumn King grape should be cane-pruned to 5-8 canes that are 12 to 15 buds long, leaving up to 4 two-bud renewal spurs to produce next year’s canes, if you want maximum yields and fruit quality.

      If you spur prune it, you might get lower productivity, or you might not get any grapes at all.

      There is a very simple way to tell if spur pruning will work on your variety of cane-pruned grape. The two-bud renewal spurs that are create for next years canes are really just spur-pruned canes, so it might be an idea to mark one of these with a coloured tree tie or something, fastening it loosely around the two-bud spur. In the following year, you can check whether the canes from it have fruited! Also keep in mind that some grapes might still fruit on longer spurs of 4-5 buds if they’re vigorous enough, it’s worth a try.,

  6. Hi Angelo,
    Thanks for this great explanation–I’ve just purchased my first grapevine (sultana seedless) as I want to use it to try and provide some shade for my long narrow garden that gets blasted with sun in summer (but not enough in winter, sigh).
    Am I understanding correctly that I should just let it grow for the first year without trying to train it at all? I have some tall-ish (1.5m?) garden arches that I am hoping eventually to train it over (my theory is to eventually have it supported pergola-style)–if it doesn’t reach those after 12 months should I let it keep growing without pruning?

    1. Hi Verity, sounds like a great plan to protect your garden from the hot summer sun. Yes, that’s correct, let the grapevine grow as much as it can the first year, that helps it establish a good root system and store plenty of energy for the second year’s growth. After the first years growth, in winter, you would prune the vine to a single stem in the coming winter, and hopefully it reaches the top of the support, so you can prune off the tip level with the top of the support to branch the following year over the support. If it doesn’t get that high, that’s okay, still prune it to a single stem in the coming winter, but don’t prune off the tip to allow it to continue growing until it reaches the right height, and direct the plant’s energy into growing the trunk rather than extra lateral canes (side branches).

      1. Hi Angelo, that’s great advice, thank you! I’ll do that and let you know how it goes 🙂 I was also really pleased to see from one of your other posts that I picked a good variety to harvest the leaves for dolmades–yum!!

    1. The short answer is that the Palieri (Michel Palieri) red dessert grape variety is cane pruned.

      The fertile buds increase from the 6th bud and onwards, so your cane pruning should leave more than 6 buds, ideally cane prune to 9 or 10 buds.

      I had to look up some research papers for this variety, this is what I found:

      Michele Palieri – The incidence of blind buds was reduced passing from the first (46.7%) to the fourth bud (8.3%). On buds over the fifth the incidence of blind buds stood around the latter. Viable buds produced only one shoot. Only a few (?15%) had two shoots, mostly in central buds. The actual fertility has gradually increased from the first (0.3) to the sixth bud (1.5), keeping this value in later nodes. Buds were fertile and had a single cluster until the fifth position. A small percentage (<10%) of buds from the sixth node onwards produced three and sometimes even four clusters. The first bud with cluster was observed between the second and the third node.

      Source: Piras, Fabio & Lovicu, Gianni & Zurru, Roberto. (2014). Observations on some agronomic traits of cultivars of table grapes. Acta horticulturae. 1032. 243-251. 10.17660/ActaHortic.2014.1032.34.

      While looking up scientific journals on this grape variety, I found the following useful information that might be helpful. Pollinizer could be recommended to increase grape yield and quality of Michele Palieri, and the highest berry set was achieved when Crimson Seedless was used as pollinizer.

  7. Excellent explanation! I have a grape vine about 5-6 years old (don’t know the variety), it hasn’t flowered for me at all in all these years, so after reading your post, I think it might be incorrect pruning method.Would that be the case? I followed spur pruning. Would there be other factors that prevent it from flowering/fruiting? I am almost wanting to take it out, but after reading here, i would like to give it a try for another year. If i cane prune now, would it fruit this year? thanks.

    1. Thanks! I think you have a grape variety that requires cane pruning. Try cane pruning it next time you prune, and in the following year it should produce grapes.

      1. Just wanted to update that I finally have grapes this year after following your suggestion of cane pruning. Thank you.

      2. I have a follow up question, for this years pruning.The grapes grew out on shoots from the 12th bud of the fruiting cane. Can I leave a shoot that grew from earlier buds(1-3) on the fruiting cane close to the main trunk as the cane for next year? i did not leave renewal spur as i was incorrectly pruning all these years.
        If yes, I was planning to leave the 1st shoot as a renewal spur pruned back to 2 node spur and second shoot as the fruiting cane for next year.
        Thanks for all the wonderful content!
        Happy New Year!

  8. Hello, thank you for such an informative article. I have two Thompson Seedless plants coming to me in a couple of weeks. We are down in Texas and I was told it would take the heat nicely here. My husband is building a new raised bed for me and we are putting up two 4ft w by 8ft h panels for them to grow on.

    Before I purchased the plants, I had no idea about the budding requirements and now Im a little worried about space. How long should I expect to have a cane be to allow for the necessary number of buds? Originally I was going to have the trunk go up the middle but I see now that it may not work. If I have the trunk travel up the side of the trellis, it would give 4 ft across for the cane.

    Does this set up seem like it would work for the kind I ordered, or should I search for grapes that are spur pruned varieties that grow closer?

    Thank you,

  9. Hi Angelo, my canes have done very well and I am getting ready to prune them to the top of my trellis. As the shoots grow this spring to form laterals, do I let them all grow as in the first year and select the strongest for the laterals next winter? Or, should I prune off all the shoots that are not close to the wires and select for the laterals early? Thank you for all your help.

  10. Thank you Angelo. That image for year 5+ spur pruning clears up something that just wasn’t making sense to me on other sites! I couldn’t figure out how you get 1 year old growth if you keep cutting back the new canes. As you point out, remove all but one and cut the 1 remainder back to 2 buds. This does beg the question though as every year the cane gets longer and longer…how do you start a new one when it’s too long? Is it a matter of waiting for a random shoot to appear, use that, and cut off the long cane? Oh, and what’s too long?

  11. Thank you for this enjoyable column. I have a group of vines (12) of varieties which i can’t recall. I moved them last year, after finding out they don’t do well near black walnut trees. Thie year, they actually are growing fairly vigorously. I’m looking forward to prunning in the winter.

    1. Most plants don’t do well near black walnut trees, as they’re allelopathic, they leach out compounds that stop other plants growing to reduce the competition. Looks like it worked on your grapes! They’ll do so much better now that you’ve moved them.

  12. Hi,

    Can we cane prune on Y shaped trellis system. If so, has it to be like one main trunk prunned at 4 ft height, which will emerge two secondary trunks.. one going to right arm and other to left arm of the pole. Once the secondary trunks reach half way up on arms then cane prune them onwards and following years ? As in south east Asia, we use y shaped trellis system but however I am growing a variety that requires cane pruning … I am not sure how cane pruning will be conducted on y shaped trellis system. If anyone can help please

  13. I prefer Spur pruning, I work in the wine industry and although pruning is not something I often have to do myself, we have a crew for that I do direct it sometimes and make sure that it is done properly, Spur Pruning tends to be easier and you have more control and can limit the yields of grapes better so that you dont get a huge crop and degrade the quality of the wine. I recently had to prune a friends home vineyard, grapes are 8 years old and were never pruned right from day 1 so I had to basically cut them back almost to nothing and start over this year with attempting to get them somewhere where I can control the growth better, as last year they made a lot of grapes but the fruit didnt have much flavor from over cropping and some grapes didnt ripen and the vines had way too much vegetation on them and some grapes never ripened at all, was quite a mess. Hopefully after I see which of the spurs takes off best I can cut some of the others that dont do as well off and limit the yield this year so he gets a better wine.

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for your comment, spur pruning is so much easier, totally agree, which is why I often recommend spur pruned grape varieties to beginners who want to grow their own grapes.

      When vines are pruned badly, it takes some work and a lot of cutting back to correct their form and structure, I’m familiar with the experience.

      With the situation you describe, having too much vegetative green growth and not much flavour in the grapes, I’m wondering if that may be due in part to overfertilising or overwatering?

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