The grapevine is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Grapes can be eaten fresh or processed into jam, jelly, juice, or wine. Home gardeners can successfully grow grapes in Iowa. Basic requirements include a good planting site, hardy varieties (cultivars), and proper culture.
Grapevines can grow on a wide range of soil types. Well-drained soils produce the best growth and yields. Avoid soils that are persistently wet during the growing season. Highly fertile soils are not essential. Grapevines tolerate a wide pH range. Vines prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but grow well with a pH from 5.5 to 7.5.
Because of space restrictions, planting sites are often limited in the home garden. Select a site that receives full sun. Avoid sites shaded by trees and shrubs.
Also, consider the possibility of herbicide drift. Grapes are very susceptible to injury from 2,4-D, dicamba, and similar broadleaf herbicides. In rural areas, select sites protected by large trees (windbreaks) or topography. In urban areas, inform neighbors of the location of your grape planting. If your neighbors use broadleaf herbicides to control their broadleaf weeds, encourage them to apply these materials to their lawns in the fall. Fall applications provide the best broadleaf weed control and are less likely to injure grapevines.
Plant Material and Sources
Purchase dormant, bare-root grapevines from a reliable, reputable garden center or mail-order company. Choose plants free of known viruses and diseases. A list of suggested grape varieties for Iowa is included at the end of this article. When selecting grape varieties, consider winter hardiness, time of ripening, and intended use (fresh, jam or jelly, juice, or wine).
Gardeners in northern Iowa must select varieties that possess excellent winter hardiness and ripen early. Mid- or late-maturing varieties may not ripen fully in northern areas because of the shorter growing season.
The best time to plant dormant, bare-root grapevines in Iowa is early spring (late March and April). If planting must be delayed for several days after purchase or their arrival in the mail, moisten the packing material around their roots, place the plants in a plastic bag, and store them in a cool root cellar or garage.
Before planting grapevines, soak their roots in water for two or three hours. Make the planting holes slightly larger than the root systems of the plants. Set plants into the soil at about the level they grew in the nursery. The soil line mark and root initials indicate this level. Spread out their roots, then backfill with the original soil from the hole. Firm the soil around the roots as you backfill.
Plant grapevines 6 to 8 feet apart within the row. Plant vigorous varieties, such as Concord, 8 feet apart. Less vigorous varieties may be planted 6 feet apart. Space rows at least 9 feet apart.
After planting a grapevine, cut its strongest cane back to two or three strong buds; completely remove all other canes. If a trellis is not used during the first growing season, set a 5- to 6-foot stake into the soil near each grapevine and train the new growth to it. Tie the shoots loosely to the stake to avoid girdling the stems. Support the new growth until it reaches the 6-foot wire on the grape trellis.
Grapevines require 1 inch of water per week through the first growing season. Water each plant thoroughly after planting and every 7 to 10 days during dry weather.
Suggested Grape Varieties for Iowa
|Variety||Color||Time Ripening||Principle Use|
|Van Buren||Blue/black||Early||Table, wine|
|Buffalo||Blue/black||Early to mid||Table, juice, jam/jelly|
|Price||Blue/black||Early to mid||Table, juice, jam/jelly|
|Fredonia||Blue/black||Mid||Table, juice, jam/jelly|
|Niagara*||White||Late||Juice, jam/jelly, wine, table|
|Concord*||Blue/black||Late||Juice, jam/jelly, wine, table|
|Catawba*||Red||Late||Wine, juice, jam/jelly|
|Table Grape Types|
|Swenson Red||Red||Early||Table (seeded)|
|Interspecific (French) Hybrids|
|Seyval Blanc*||White||Early to mid||Wine|
|Baco Noir*||Blue/black||Early to mid||Wine|
Varieties denoted by an * are not suitable for northern Iowa. They should be planted only in central and southern areas of the state. Remaining varieties can be grown throughout Iowa[
This article originally appeared in the April 11, 1997 issue, pp. 43-44.