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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10 Responses to How to Prune Grape Vines – Cane and Spur Pruning Explained

  1. Saeed says:

    thank you Angelo ,

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    • Angelo (admin) says:

      You’re welcome!

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      • Saeed says:

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

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      • Angelo (admin) says:

        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.

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  2. Chris Ockler says:

    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.?

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    • Angelo (admin) says:

      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.

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      • Chris Ockler says:

        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.

        Like

  3. Kay says:

    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
    Kay

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    • Angelo (admin) says:

      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

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      • Kay says:

        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.
        Thanks

        Like

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