By Kate Karam for Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia
Ever daydreamed of picking huge clusters of sun-warmed, juicy grapes from your own backyard vines? Here are ten solid reasons to add these highly-productive and also decorative vines to your edible landscape this season. Cheers!
Gardeners have been cultivating grapes for more than 6,000 years; if they can do it, so can you. Growing grapes is easier than you think, and the benefits range from the “It’s like I never tasted a grape before” flavor to the old-world elegance they add to the landscape. Here are our top ten reasons why you need to get growing grapes.
1. Fruit, of course!Baskets and baskets of the most luscious fruit over a long season once the plants are established. There’s a grapevine for nearly every climate. If you have sunshine, can provide good air circulation, well-drained soil, and a sturdy structure such as an arbor, fence or post-and-wire system, you can grow grapes. And, because they don’t have to travel, grapes grown at home can be picked at their peak of ripeness. Need more? How about homemade juice, jelly, raisins, and even grape leaves for stuffing and garnish. Oh, and if you’re so inclined, your own house wine?
2. They’re a good value.Grapevines are long-lasting plants that can thrive for decades if planted in the right spot and given the proper care. While some varieties take a longer time to mature or have limited hardiness, it’s not uncommon for a grapevine, especially in a warmer climate, to be producing bushels of fruit when it’s pushing 50 years old. That’s quite a return on an investment of around $40.00 for a large, five-gallon plant.
3. They fall into the “less is more” category.One healthy, vigorous grapevine can produce about 20 pounds of fruit each year. Just a few vines should be enough to keep an average household happy.
4. They’re easy to grow.Grapes don't require lots of care except for regular annual pruning which is necessary to limit growth of the vine and to maximize fruiting; this is particularly true if you’re growing grapes for production such as wine-making. Pruning also helps the plant conform to the trellis on which it’s growing. Grape fruits form on one-year-old growth only; pruning heavily in late winter encourages abundant vigorous, fruit-bearing vines. That said, mature grapevines that have not been pruned for a few years can be cut back severely and will start productive growth again. Don’t let this intimidate you. If you’re up for wielding a sharp set of pruners, you’re good to go.
5. They add drama (and shade, too) to the landscape.If the leafy canopy of a grapevine trained over an arbor is an alluring focal point, imagine what a few rows of trained vines laden with fruit would be. Showstopper. That canopy also provides cooling shade in the depths of summer and one more thing—the vine’s deep roots tap moisture in drought conditions making them an excellent choice for water-wise landscapes.
6. They play well with other vines.Those sturdy, twisty, thick canes are the ideal host for a variety of other climbers such as roses, jasmine, trumpet vines, passion flower, clematis, or even annual vines. Combining vines can produce a stunning show from spring to fall (the grapevines in my own zone 9 yard are combined with pink jasmine and white Lady Banks roses—the show starts in February and doesn’t end until November). The trick is to get the balance of plants right. Two companion climbers for every grapevine is about right.
7. They’re so good for you.Besides being easy to grow and prolific, grapes are a rich source of vitamins A, C, B6, and folate, and they contain essential minerals like potassium, calcium, and iron. Grapes are also loaded with phytonutrients such as resveratrol, which are now believed to play a role in longevity. All that and tasty, too.
8. They’re lovely winter, spring, summer and fall.No matter the season, grapevines add interest and a sense of maturity to even a new garden. In winter, the vines have a rustic architectural quality often in contrast to the refined structure on which they’re twined. Spring brings bright, spearmint-green foliage, summer shows off those distinctive large leaves and come fall, those same leaves of many varieties turn rich red, gold, and amber. Even if they didn’t give you fruit, grapevines would still be an awesome garden plant.
9. They’re loved by beneficial insects.Lady beetles and lacewings, wonderful insects that dine only on landscape pests and don't harm good bugs or plants, will make a beeline for grapes particularly if you add a row of yarrow, catmint, purple coneflower, and penstemon nearby.
10. They’re humble-brag material.As in, yes, that’s my own wine label. If you have the space and the right climate, you can grow grapes for making wine. There are three major types of grapes — American (Vitis labrusca) European (Vitis vinifera), and Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) as well as hybrids made from combining American and European varieties. It’s the European varieties, such as this Cabernet grape, which prefer a warm and dry Mediterranean-type climate (zones 7-10) with a longer growing season, that are used in making wine. Mature wine grapes produce about 12 pounds per vine, and it takes 40 pounds to make 12 bottles. You're going to need a lot of vines, but, seriously, how cool would that be?
So, ready to plant? Link here to Six Easy Steps to Growing Grapes.