Vitis vinifera, commonly known as Grapevine, is a wonderfully giving plant. Not only will it grow on a trellis or pergola to give summer shade, but it also bears edible fruit, and its early spring leaf growth is used for culinary purposes. There is also the added beauty of the change in leaf color as they begin to drop, allowing winter sun to penetrate. Greek and Italian cooks and gardeners are used to training Grapevines, specifically for their leaves to make stuffed vine leaves or dolmades.
In this day and age, Grapevines are propagated from cuttings rather than seeds, as they get off to a much faster start that way. Grapevines can be purchased from nurseries, either potted in spring and summer or bare-rooted in winter. You can always grow your own vine from cutting, as they are easy to strike and grow on their roots, rather than being grafted. In winter, at pruning time, make a cutting of a leafless stem, around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long, with 2 or 3 nodes. Insert each cutting into a pot filled with coarse sand or propagating mix, and these will callous up and form roots and new growth by early spring, so you can plant them out where you want them to grow.
Choose a sunny, well-drained position, and at planting time, dig in plenty of organic matter, including a good shovelful of compost. Dig the hole large enough for the roots to spread, and backfill with soil and compost, pressing around the area to get rid of air holes. Water in well and make sure, with a grafted vine, that the graft union is not below the soil – it should be at least 4 inches (10 cm) above the surface.
Grapevines need a sunny spot to grow and tolerate most soils but are particularly suited to those with a high pH. They do not mind chalky, limey soils as long as they are well-drained.
In early spring, fertilize with a complete fertilizer to establish the new vine, and repeat each year in spring and summer. Grapevines are well adapted to growing in dry conditions, and a drip-irrigation system will deliver water efficiently and adequately. It is a better method than watering overhead, as this can lead to fungal problems, such as mildew on the leaves and rotting fruit.
Prune the vine hard in winter, right back to the main framework of branches, as the grapevines bear fruit on the current year's wood. In the first year of growth, you could be picking a handful or two of fruit, but by the third or fourth year, it will be in full swing.
The method of pruning depends on the grape cultivar. For most Grapevine types, pruning is done by cutting everything hardback to spurs or permanent buds on the main plant framework, so new growth occurs and produces fruit.
The main problem with Grapevines is a fungus attack, in particular powdery mildew, which can harm the leaves and fruit. The answer is to spray with a Bordeaux spray while the vine is dormant and just before the buds burst. Spray again later in the season if the weather becomes humid, as humidity affects the fruit production.
So remember, vine leaves should always be carefully rinsed before being used in cooking. The Grapevine is a vigorous grower and will need to be trained up and over a pergola or on a wire strand, creating a beautiful outdoor setting.
It is important to protect the fruit on the vine as it ripens. There is a bit of controversy about using nets, as native bats and birds can become entangled in them. It is also awkward to cover these vigorous growers with nets. Horticultural waxed-paper fruit bags are available with a built-in twist-tie. The waxed bags shed water away from the fruit, making them great for humid climates. There is a small gap at the bottom of the bag for drainage, which does not allow fruit fly to enter or in any way affect the bag's usefulness.