The goal of pruning grape vines in the first few years is to establish 1 or 2 trunks and 2 cordons (or fruiting canes). The number of years it takes to establish those structures depends on the vigor of the vines. The vigor of the vines is determined by the variety, rootstock, availability of water and nutrients, and control of vertebrate, weed, insect and fungal pests. When all of these conditions lead to a “high vigor” vine, it may be possible to establish 2 trunks and 2 cordons (or fruiting canes) after the first growing season. Conversely, it may take 3 or more years to establish the framework on low vigor vines. Within a given planting, you will often find high, medium and low vigor vines due to differences in soils or other factors. It is important to acknowledge these differences when pruning. Here’s a simple strategy for assessing and pruning young vines that anyone can use.
Follow these steps to dormant prune and train each young vine:
1. Assess the vine’s overall growth. If there are 2 strong straight canes originating just above the graft union, select them to be the trunks. If there is only 1 strong straight cane originating just above the graft union, select it to be the first trunk; you will train a second trunk from the base next growing season.
2. Cut the tips of your selected trunks to ascertain that they are alive. The interior wood of the cane should be bright green at the cut. If it is dull green or brown, keep cutting farther down the cane until you reach bright green wood.
3. Consider each trunk separately. If a trunk is at least the thickness of a pencil for 15+ inches beyond the fruiting wire, it will be pruned to “plan A”. If it does not meet requirements for plan A, but is at least the thickness of a pencil up to the fruiting wire, it will be pruned to “plan B”. If it does not meet requirements for plan B, it will be pruned to “plan C”.
4. Prune each trunk back to:
- Plan A: 15” beyond the fruiting wire….if late spring frosts are a concern, leave longer cane now and final prune to 15″ beyond the fruiting wire after danger of frost has passed.
- Plan B: 2-3 inches below the fruiting wire
- Plan C: 2-3 buds
See diagrams below.
5. Remove any shoots other than your 2 selected trunks. Remove any lateral shoots, tendrils or old fruit clusters from your selected trunks.
6. Gently wrap (one revolution) each “plan A” trunk along the fruiting wire and tie at 15″. Tie top of “plan B” trunks to your vine stake.
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