At this time of the year we get calls about the best time to prune our native grape, the muscadine.
Muscadines have been a staple in diets of our Native Americans as well the settlers from the old world. Scuppernongs, a type of muscadine have been domesticated since the 1600s.
If you walk the woods, about the only time you’ll notice muscadine grapes is when you see the vines or an occasional dropped grape on the trail. Wildlife considers muscadines as a dessert.
The muscadine leaves will be high in the tree canopy. Thirsty settlers knew that the vine may be hollow and contain water, nature’s drinking fountain.
When is the best time to prune? Now is the time to get started. February and early March are the best times to do this annual chore.
The key point is that muscadine fruit are borne on new shoots arising from last year’s growth. This is why you prune back the canes that grew from the previous year.
Leave about 3 inches of growth, at least two nodes, to form spurs. The tender new shots that sprout from these buds will produce fruit during the coming growing season.
After three or four years of production, you will need to remove every other spur cluster to prevent overcrowding. Try to leave spurs that are on top of the arms. Ideally, they should be spaced approximately every 6 to 8 inches.
If you leave too many buds on the vine, the plant overproduces and the fruit may be poor. Always remove old fruit stems since they are a source of disease.
When you are finished, the muscadine vine should be in the shape of the letter T. A well-trained muscadine vine will have a single trunk which divides into two to four major fruiting arms, or cordons, which grow along the trellis wires.
Over a period of years, a zig-zagging pattern of growth along the old wood will be seen on the cordons. It’s fairly easy to identify 1-year-old wood. It’s generally a light brown in color and will contain small numerous brown buds along its surface.
Older wood is darker colored and appears tougher and woodier. Remember to remove all shoots from the trunk area.
Remove the tendrils that wrap around the arms or spurs. Tendrils are finger-like plant parts that muscadines use to attach to their supporting structure such as the trellis wire. If they are not removed, they can girdle the arms or spurs and cause reduced production.
Don’t be alarmed if the vines bleed at the pruning cuts. Bleeding does not harm the vines. Pruning does produce a lot of vines to be disposed of. An easy way is to lay out a tarp and place the pruned canes on the tarp. They can then be dragged off for disposal.
When you are finished you can take pride in a job well done and you’ll have a better crop and healthier vines.
Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.