Grapes are planted in the late winter to early spring months. The plants start to grow in spring and continue to grow throughout the summer season. Grapes ripen in the late summer to early fall, depending on the variety grown. Grape varieties are available for USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Grapes require a location that receives high summer temperatures and full sunlight. Grape vines need protection from frost, so plant them on southern slopes, and avoid any low spots or places where cold air may collect. The length of the growing season varies among the different grape varieties, but grapes generally need 150 to 180 frost-free days between spring and fall freezes. Late spring freezes can kill newly opened shoots and compromise production.
Pruning should be performed in late winter to early spring. When timing your pruning, aim to avoid the coldest parts of winter, but also to beat the period when buds begin to swell, suggests the University of Illinois Extension. New shoots appear on vines in the spring and mature into canes in the fall. When pruning, keep in mind that the previous season's wood supports the current season's growth, and fruit and flowers appear on the current season's growth.
You can take cuttings from dormant vines in late fall or early spring to expand your plantings. This task is best performed in early spring so that you can plant your cuttings as soon as they leaf out and their roots develop, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Cuttings may be taken from vines or pruned material.
Grapes are mature and ready for harvest when their seeds turn from green to brown or their flavor reaches its peak. You should not use their skin color as a predictor of ripeness, as grapes may color before they mature. Grapes generally soften and develop a sweeter and less acidic flavor as they mature. If you pick based on color, you may harvest your grapes before they reach an ideal size and sweetness. The flavor of grapes will not improve after harvest.
Select grape varieties based upon your plans for the fruit, the flavor of the grapes and their disease resistance. When choosing grapes, look for varieties that possess the degree of cold hardiness needed to suit your growing region. Grapes range in hardiness from very cold tender, requiring low temperatures over 0 degrees Fahrenheit, to very hardy, tolerant of temperatures of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- University of Minnesota Extension; Growing Grapes for Home Use; Emily Hoover, et al.; 2008
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension; Growing Grapes; William Lord; March 2001
- Michigan State University Extension; Vineyard Establishment I -- Preplant Decisions; Thomas J. Zabadal, et al.; November 1999
- University of Illinois Extension: Hort Answers: Small Fruit -- Grape
- Utah State University Cooperative Extension: Grapes
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Bunch Grapes; Marjan Kluepfel, et al.; June 1999
- Maryland Cooperative Extension; Technology of Viticulture; Joseph A. Fiola, Ph.D.
- Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension; Grape Gardening; 2007
- The United States National Arboretum; USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map; Henry M. Cathey; 2003
Alice Moon is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and has traveled throughout Asia. Moon holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ball State University.