A grape vineyard. Credit: Peter Andersen, UF/IFAS.
The classic muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia). Credit: Carl Hunter. USDA-PLANTS Database.
This is the time of year to be on the watch for purple-stained sidewalks and driveways – a sign that ripe muscadine grapes are falling from above. The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is a native Florida vine that has been enjoyed by Native Americans, colonists, and contemporary Floridians alike. In addition to the classic muscadine and scuppernong, a light-colored variety of muscadine, there are five other native species of grape (Vitis spp.) to be found growing in natural areas or along woodland edges. All are edible, however, the muscadine has the largest, tastiest fruit.
Many north Florida gardeners have some species of grape growing in their landscapes and consider it a weed due to its aggressive growth. Unfortunately, since the vines are functionally dioecious (separate male and female plants) and most wild plants are male, it is unlikely that those annoying grapevines at the garden’s edge will ever bear fruit. But every now and again, luck strikes! That’s why finding a purple-stained sidewalk or parking area is such an exciting event. I have some of these locations saved in my memory to visit this time of year, especially since all the grapevines in my own property have yet to bear one fruit! If necessary, control methods for grapevine in a landscape include repeated pruning back or the use of herbicides. Muscadines and other grapes are intolerant of shade so will eventually perish if cut back and located under a canopy of trees or shrubs.
The bronze-colored scuppernong. Credit: Peter Andersen. UF/IFAS.
Good News! There are plenty of varieties bred for the backyard and commercial fruit grower. Since muscadines are native, they require little, if any, pesticides, making them a great choice for a sustainable landscape or orchard. The vines can be grown up an arbor or a complete vineyard trellis system can be built for maximum harvest. A UF/IFAS fact sheet called “The Muscadine Grape” (publication #HS763) contains all the information needed to choose the right variety, design a vineyard, and implement the best pruning, irrigation, and fertilization schedule.
Whether fresh off the vine or in jams or wine, muscadines are a sweet, summery treat for Floridians.
Every winter season in the Florida Panhandle is different. It can be wet or dry, frigid cold or unseasonably warm. We may have early frosts and early springs, or cold snaps in late march after fruit trees flower.
While we cannot determine the exact time to prune the dooryard fruit trees in our rather variable region, here are some tried and true guidelines for pruning the most popular edible garden plants in northwest Florida.
Blackberries are unusual in that they do not build a large structure and fruit for years on the same branches (in general). They actually fruit on previous years’ growth which then die after fruit production. The canes that produce fruit are called the floricanes. As the floricanes are producing fruit, the blackberry plants are growing primocanes. These are the new canes that will produce fruit for the next season. By then, these canes will have matured in to floricanes. A few new blackberry cultivars exist that produce fruit on new growth as well, but most Florida adapted cultivars are of the standard type. For pruning purposes, it is best to remove the floricanes just after fruiting, but be sure not to cut the new growth (primocanes) because that wood will bear next year’s fruit. For more information about the blackberry, please see publication HS807.
With blueberries older canes need to be removed to make room for younger, more productive canes. When a plant reaches four to five years old it is permissible to remove about 1/4–1/5 of the oldest canes each year which amounts to about one to three of the oldest canes. Performing this task will ensure that no cane is more than three or four years old. Thus, blueberry plantings will be in a constant state of renewal and not become excessively woody and nonproductive. To keep plants from becoming too tall, mature plants can be topped in the summer directly after fruit harvest. Removal of a few inches to a foot, depending on the cultivar, will stimulate the new growth that will bear the next year’s fruit. See CIR 1192 for more information
Temperate Fruit Trees
Pruning of temperate fruit trees (Peaches, Apples, Pears, Persimmons) should be done during the winter dormant period in most cases. This period, generally between December and February allows for some latitude. Pruning later in the dormant season is better in most seasons since trees are more susceptible to freeze damage after pruning, and pruning stimulates the growth of the trees. In Northwest Florida, a February pruning is usually most desirable, depending on the season (namely average high temperatures). Pruning for shape is also done in the summer months if necessary. This task should be limited to removing excessive growth and dead / diseased wood. See HS1111 and HS14 for more information.
Once harvest concludes, it is usually a grower’s natural inclination to immediately prune their muscadine vines. Pruning after harvest in early fall is not, however, best for maintaining plant condition and optimizing next year’s yield, especially if there is an early frost. Early frosts can surprise the plant before sugars have been moved to the roots for storage during dormancy. Therefore, waiting to prune in mid-January to mid-March will ensure that the vine has had adequate time to go dormant and acclimate to the winter season. For more information please see this article titled “Tips for Properly Pruning Muscadines”.
Pruning is not necessary for citrus in every case, as it is in many temperate fruits, to have excellent production quality and quantity. Citrus trees perform excellently with minimal pruning. The only pruning necessary for most citrus is removing crossing or rubbing branches while shaping young trees, removing dead wood, and pruning out suckers from the root-stock. Homeowners may choose to prune citrus trees to keep them small, but this will reduce potential yield in a commercial setting, since bigger trees produce more fruit.
Often, maturing Satsuma trees produce long vertical branches. It is tempting to prune these off, since they make the tree look unbalanced. To maximize yield, commercial Satsuma growers allow these branches to weep with the heavy load of fruit until they touch the ground. This allows increased surface area for the tree, since the low areas around the trunk are not bare. Additionally, weeds are suppressed since the low branches shade out weed growth. The ground under the trees remains bare, thus allowing heat from the soil to radiate up during cold weather events. The extra branches around the trunk offer added protection to the bud union as well. If smaller trees are desired for ease of harvest, ‘flying dragon’ root-stock offers dwarfing benefits, so that the mature scion cultivar size will only grow to 8-10 feet tall.
Figs should be pruned after fruit production, which usually occurs in early summer. In the winter it is fine to remove dead or diseased wood, but drastic trimming will reduce yield since fruit is borne at the terminal of the previous year’s growth. For more information, please consult publication HS27.
The muscadine grape is a popular fruit that grows very well here in North Florida. It has smaller leaves than bunch grapes and fruit are harvested singly, rather than in bunches. Theses grapes can be enjoyed fresh and also be used for home wine-making. One of the nice things about growing muscadine grapes in Florida is that they’re rarely bothered by insects or diseases. They can easily be grown in your backyard garden.
Muscadine grapes are ripening now! Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.
Grapes will grow well in a variety of soils here in North Florida. Upland soils with clay underlying at about three feet are ideal. You should avoid poorly drained soils. If the grapes are grown on soil with very good drainage, they should be set in the ground deeper than they were grown in the nursery on land with a high water table. Grapes should be planted on raised beds at the same depth they were at in the nursery.
During the first year, grapes should be fertilized with a quarter pound of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer, applied in bands about a foot away from the plant, soon after growth begins. Repeat applications in April, July and September. Fertilizer rates increase each year, but they should never exceed six pounds per vine per year.
Weeds can sometimes be a problem with muscadine grapes. To get rid of weeds, you can use a good herbicide, or you can cultivate around the plants. The muscadine grape has a very shallow root system, however, so be careful when you’re weeding around the plants. Mulches can be helpful in controlling weeds, but be sure to leave a circle of at least six inches around each vine uncovered.
Grapes need a generous supply of water to survive here in North Florida. In fact, more first-year grapes die from a lack of water than from any other cause. Make sure the plant receives about an inch of water weekly. Muscadine grapes are rarely bothered by insects or diseases. However, a spray program is advised to protect plants from possible damage by black rot or bitter rot. Spraying should begin when the vines are in bloom, and continue a regular two week intervals until about a week before the harvest. For specific information on the proper spray to use, you should contact your local County Agent.
Muscadine grapes mature in August and early September. If you don’t plan to use them immediately, they should be picked from the vine when ripe and stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more information, please see:
The Muscadine Grape
Muscadines Benefit from Timely and Artful Pruning
Muscadine cluster Credit: Peter C. Andersen, UF/IFAS Extension
Muscadines are a terrific grapey treat this time of year ’till fall throughout North Florida. To grow muscadines well in the home garden, care must be taken when pruning to maximize spatial efficiency and yield.
August is the very beginning of the muscadine harvest in the Florida Panhandle, which may last until October. Therefore it is also the time to begin thinking about pruning.
Once harvest concludes, it is usually a gardeners’ natural inclination to immediately prune their muscadine vines. This fast action is not the best for plant condition and next year’s yield, especially if there is an early frost. Early frosts surprise the plant before sugars have been moved to the roots for storage during dormancy. Therefore, waiting to prune in mid January to mid March will ensure that the vine has had adequate time to go dormant and acclimate to the winter season. A good rule of thumb is to wait to prune until bud swell or even first leaves emerge. This will greatly reduce the chance that vines are damaged by late frosts.
K.T. Kelly and JH. D. Gray, MREC/ UF/IFAS Extension 2003
Muscadines flower and fruit on shoots from current, not previous, years growth. These new bearing shoots arise from the leaf axils of the previous years’ growth. Pictured above is the bi-lateral cordon training system. This is the most popular system for muscadine production. Pruning must be performed to maintain this configuration. If vines are too vigorous, it is acceptable to prune lightly throughout the growing season.
Vines must also be trimmed before herbicide application at least 2 feet from the ground. Nonselective systemic herbicides don’t harm tissue with bark, but must not come in contact with green tissue or it will be translocated to the roots and damage the plant.
Using a bi-lateral cordon system, there are two main branches or “cordons” of the vine. Along each cordon, fruiting spurs should be spaced approximately every six inches. Each fruiting spur should contain 2-4 nodes.
If fruiting spurs become more than one foot from the cordon, it is time for spur renewal. This is typically done every 3-6 years. Entire spurs can be removed if they lose productivity and replaced by new shoots. Additionally, cordons may lose productivity or die off after 5 to 10 years of production. If this occurs, simply remove the cordon and train a new or existing branch into a new cordon.
Pruning with a design in mind and at the proper time will enhance performance and longevity of muscadines in the home garden.
Information from this article was derived from HS763 The Muscadine Grape
Prolific producing muscadine cultivar ‘Granny Val’ – Image Credit Dr. Peter C. Andersen
Mother always said “never be late” but in the case of certain muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) cultivars, it’s good to be late.
Although muscadine harvest can begin as early as July, gardeners with late bearing muscadines are still reaping the benefits of fruit harvest and may until early October.
Northwest Florida gardeners often grow muscadines as a substitute for traditional grape (Vitis vinifera) cultivars such as ‘Concord’ or ‘Thompson’s Seedless’, since they are prone to Pierce’s Disease. In fact, muscadines are native to the southwest USA and resistant to a variety of insect and disease pests, so much so that they can be grown in the home garden without the use of insecticides or pesticides.
An additional advantage of gardening with muscadines is that they can easily be asexually propagated. To mimic the natural asexual propagation of wild muscadines, home gardeners may use the pegging method. Pegging entails wounding the branch in several locations, then burying the wounded section of the branch in moist soil while leaving the shoot tip exposed. If this is done in the late spring or summer, roots should form from the main branch in about a month. After roots are confirmed, the connection with the mother plant can be cut.
Planting time for muscadines depends on the type of plant purchased. If gardeners want to plant bare root vines, they should plant them between December and January, but containerized plants can be planted any time.
Before muscadines are planted, soil tests should be performed to determine pH. Muscadines can be grown in the pH range of 5.5 to 7.0, with the optimal level between 6.0-6.5. Since many soils in northwest Florida are highly acidic, tests should be done at least 3 months before planting. This will allow the addition of an optimal lime source Dolomite, which takes 3 months to raise the pH but also adds magnesium to the soil.
If this article prompts the reader to plant muscadines, refer to HS # 753 “The Muscadine Grape” for information about establishment, irrigation and fertilization.
Here is a list of recommended late bearing cultivars to look for when selecting plants.