Soil preparation for grapevines is the first and most important step, it will improve your plant’s performance and promote healthy and vigorous growth. It’s always better to have a soil test done to understand the level of essential mineral and nutrients, also to see if it’s lacking any. This can easily be done using a digital meter. The goal of soil preparation is to break up any compacted soil or loosen it up and to replenish vital minerals and nutrients.
The ground shouldn’t be too wet or too frozen when soil preparation is done. It’s advisable to delay planting for a while if hard frost is expected. As long as your soil is workable, it’s fine to plant.
TYPES OF SOIL
There are three soil types:
- Clay and silt soils: this kind of soil is made of tiny particles, when wet, they feel slick and sticky. Clay and silt soil resist water infiltration when they are dry but hold moisture well. They also become easily compacted and are also prone to puddle formations.
- Loam soil: this soil is usually sandy or has a clay base, and varies in retention and moisture absorption accordingly. Loam soils store moisture and absorb water very well. Its a mix of sand, organic matter, silt or clay. When squeezed, this soil will form a ball and will crumble when u poke it.
- Sandy soil: they contain large particles and are visible to the eye, they usually have a light color. This sand feels very coarse when dry or wet and does not form a ball when squeezed, these soils stay loose, they allow penetration of moisture, but it is not advisable to use it for a long term.
- Conduct a thorough soil test before selecting and planting grapes. There are many commercial kits available for a soil test. Select one that gives you an overall analysis, such as soil pH, organic matter content and chemistry and physical characteristics. Many complete soil kits also offer changes to balance unbalanced soils. Depending on the variety, 5.5 to 7 pH is generally recommended for grapes.
IDEAL SOIL FOR PLANTING
- Most experts suggest using sandy loam for growing grapes a the best type. This soil is the best blend of the required characteristics. It contains a moderate amount of nutritious organic matter and also drains well. It also usually lies within the recommended pH range. As long as they drain well, silt loam and clay loam soils also support the healthy growth of grapes, but the only condition is that they should drain well, if not they can benefit from moisture-balancing amendments.
- Soil that is well-drained allows water to leach within 24 hours. If you want to test this, you can dig a 12 by 12-inch hole about 14 to 18 inches deep. Fill it water and allow it to drain for 35 to 60 minutes. Refill the water and let is stand, if the soil has allowed the water to drain within 24 hours, your soil probably has good drainage and will be able to support very healthy grapevines. The soil is may be too dry if it drains within an hour or two after the second watering.
IMPROVEMENT OF SOILS
- Any soil can be improved if you incorporate organic matter in a proper way, vegetable and manure compost will benefit heavy clay and silty soils as well as the addition of hardwood, pine bark, small amounts of pea gravel and leaf mold. When the soil is too sandy, you can add peat moss, humus and composted material, do not try to use large amounts of sand to amend clay soils, this may inhibit drainage further. Avoid using high nitrogen supplements to enrich the soil, it may lead to healthy green vines but may compromise the quality of fruit production
How to prepare your soil for planting
- Its easier for roots to grow faster when they are spread out and have more space. Dig the hole wide and deep enough, so the root system can easily expand and has a lot of room to grow.
- The topsoil has to be put in a separate pile so it can be used at the bottom of the hole, it will benefit the plant more and do the most good.
- Mix garden compost, peat moss(up to ⅓ concentration) or dehydrated cow manure to loosen the soil, into your pile of topsoil. The peat moss you use, make sure it is either granular peat or baled sphagnum. If you want you can also add 2 or more inches of organic material and work it evenly with the soil you have.
- You can also use grass clippings, and shredded leaves to loosen up the soil. You can easily get them from your lawn. The grass will provide soil nutrients and also break down the soil. You can gather these in the fall.
Grapes require soil with good drainage, you can add compost or organic matter if you have poorly drained soils. Apply about 2 inches of organic matter or compost and mix it deeply with a tiller or gardening fork. If you have weeds, it’s a good idea to weed the area, so the plant does not compete with the weeds for nutrients and moisture. The soil below pH 7 is ideal for planting a grape plant, if the pH is above 7, you can lower the pH by adding some sulfur.
Grapevines need at least eight hours of sunlight every day, they tend to do better on slopes facing the south. Vines need a planting area of at least a few feet of soil on top of rock or hardpan, as vine roots grow in the topmost 3 to 4 feet of soil. They do not need incredibly rich soil, but good drainage is essential. Summer or early fall is basically when the grapevines provide fruit. You can also grow them on a trellis or a fence to provide privacy. Grapes can easily grow in most locations, but they need some site preparation and careful planting.
Grapes naturally grow up towards the sunlight and compete with nearby plants for sunlight. A grapevine would love to hang on a treetop and steal all the sunlight and produce sweet grapes up high. A better option is to control these vines and maximize their performance, also make it easier to harvest fruit. The best way is to balance the amount of energy-producing parts and the fruit creating a balance. Having too much fruit and not enough energy would create an imbalance. This creates a situation where the grape cannot fully ripen. It is also extremely important to configure the grapevine so the fruit is adequately exposed to both the wind and the sun. we have to avoid creating a canopy that has pockets to trap moisture and is thick and overcrowded. We have to try to retain an appropriate number of buds, retaining too many will create overcrowding and block the sun and the wind.
Newly planted vines must be guided to move and grow towards the sun, healthy roots and straight trunks must be developed during the first season. It helps them to grow if you remove weaker shoots from vines. Trimming and wooden training help the vines to sprout upwards and grow faster. You can also try tying strings around the tips of new vines which helps their shoots to curl up and cling.
There are many options for a grape grower in your backyard when thinking about a trellis. A trellis is basically a structure usually made from bamboo, wood or metal to support climbing plants or shrubs and also to display them. They are usually an open framework or interwoven pieces of wood, bamboo or metal.
Types of trellis:
- Fence trellis: They are useful for gardens which are smaller in are, grapevines can wrap and crawl between rails and posts. They can be made using various different materials like vinyl, metal or wood, but the structure must-have enough space so that the vines and fruits can receive direct sunlight. It’s advisable to not install them near a building because of restricted sunlight.
- Four-cane and umbrella Kniffin System: this structure resembles a two wired fence, very heavy wooden posts are set on the ground and braced. Between the poles, heavy steel wires are stretched parallelly between the posts. The vines crawl and spread to wrap around the wires. This trellis system is better for air circulation. Fruiting canes and young grapevine trunks are trained to grow upwards and droop over the wires.
- Cordon grape trellis systems: this system has various spaced levels for the growth of the vine. Similarly, as the four cane Kniffin system, grapevines are trained to grow upwards, however, cordon trellis allows better spacing for the foliage and canes.
In the wild, grape plants can grow to the tops of trees and can grow to be very tall if not properly maintained. A vineyard trellis is probably almost 5-6’ tall. You can choose a taller structure if you like, but keep in mind, you will need a ladder when harvesting. Whatever kind of system you use make sure it’s sturdy and will last for a long tiem. Grapevines can live for over one hundred years. You can also install temporary netting or garden stakes at the base of your structure until the vines can grow enough to cling on to the main support themselves.