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Grapevines - 1st Year

After Planting, your grapevine requires ongoing care and maintenance. In this section you find details about watering, tying and soil care. Young vines need to show vigorous growth in order to be trained further, otherwise they have to grow on for another year.

Tying

During the first year the vine has to develop one strong, long and well lignified shoot to become the future Trunk (Image 01). This shoot must grow directly from the bud union ("bulge") or immediately above. Any other shoots are removed. 

If you have planted a container vine, which already has a lignified stem above the bud union with several eyes (buds) or green shoots, the lowest of all shoots is used while all others are removed. The upper part of the stem is cut off. The small main shoot is then tied onto the stake, eg with Rubber Band. Occasionally it will already produce a grape cluster, which is best removed. Axillary shoots which grow occasionally from the (leaf) axil remain on the plant. Breaking off such shoots directly at the axil on the green main shoot can damage the important eye developing there, or it may cause premature bud burst (Image 02). 

Soil Care

It is beneficial to cover the planting area with a layer of approx. 5-8cm of grass clippings, leaf litter or straw and regularly renew that layer, to prevent the soil from drying out and to control weeds competing for nutrients. During the first year at least, do not attempt to grow any groundcovers such as grass or flowers around the vine.

Watering

In the vineyard, the vines must survive purely on rainwater after planting. Vintners say the vines have to get tall by being hungry. This stimulates the roots to grow deep into the earth in search of water - up to 30 metres; this is also beneficial for aroma development, though not for fruit size. That is why table grapes are treated differently, ie they receive extra water. During the first year it suffices to water every 2 - 3 weeks, and a bit more often during dry times. Special attention must be given to vines which grow under eaves or similar and hardly receive any rain.

Fertilising

Grapevines growing in average garden soils ranging from a humus-sand mix to a loamy soil are not fertilised again after planting. Otherwise the vines grow too vigorously and become susceptible to fungal diseases.

Summer Pruning

Depending on the variety, the shoot must mature to a golden-brown, brown-red or grey-brown colour. This lignification, which starts at the base of the stem, becomes visible from late summer. Ultimately, the shoot should be at least as thick as a pencil, and usually it reaches a length of 2 - 4metres (Image 03). If the vine is to be trained without a long main trunk, the shoot can be trimmed back to about 1.5m from about end of August, to promote lignification and the maturation of the lower buds (Summer Pruning - Image 04). Training for tall vines requires no summer pruning.

Measures for Weak Growth

During summer the main shoot grows about 2 - 3cm per day, resulting in a curved and slightly limp looking shoot tip (Image 05). This indicates that the vine is healthy and its growth vigorous. However, if the tip of the shoot looks somewhat stunted and has hardly unfurled (Image 06) means that the vine is stagnating. This requires action. Is there enough soil moisture? Does the plant receive enough light and heat? Are there other plants in the vicinity and does the vine suffer from the root competition? Usually these are the reasons for stagnated growth. In this case, the other plants must either be removed or the vine transplanted. 

It is not worth to train a plant with a weak main shoot. If, despite optimal conditions, the plant has grown only a short shoot which isn't at least as thick as a pencil by autumn, then the vine is cut back to 2 eyes (Image 07). The vine then has to "repeat" the first year again in order to develop a vigorous main stem.

Image 01: Vine in the first year, about May / June, before tying
Grapevine - Training
Image 02: Green shoot (vertical) and main leaf (to the right), in the axil a small axillary shoot and a bud.
Green shoot
Image 03: Vigorous vine in the first year
Vine plant in the 1st year
Image 04: Bud burst, thinning and summer pruning, schematic. Training for tall vines requires no summer pruning.
Training methods of grapevines
Image 05: The limply hanging, curved shoot tip indicates that the vine is healthy and growing vigorously.
Image 06: A stunted shoot tip - a sign of stagnating growth
Image 07: Pruning following weak growth