Do it Right the First Time
Some jobs in a vineyard, like pruning, are going to be done over and over
again for the next 50 years. Some jobs, most noticeably planting, are only
going to be done once. Planting is the one job where you do NOT want to
come up with time saving measures. Do it right the first time, because
the first time is the ONLY time you’re ever going to get.
Laying Out the Vineyard
Use a tape measure and lots of stakes and markers to lay out the rows
and vine spacings that are even and orderly. This is where you want your
inner anal-retentive child to come forth and be realized.
We have seen people use strawberry planters and try to mark out the next
row as they plant each row. These vineyards are usually a geometric
disaster with uneven vine and pole spacings and rows that get increasing
narrow towards one end while becoming increasing wide on the other.
When the poles are put in they sometimes sit immediately next to vines.
A good vineyard should look like it was laid out by a 1st Century Roman
engineer. You should be able to look at the vines and poles from different
perspectives, and they should line up and smile back at you like the Mona
Water Them - But don't overwater them!
This is the most common mistake most people make. Regardless of
whether you are planting rooted cuttings or green-growing plants, the new
plants must be watered during the early months of the first year. If you do
not have drip irrigation, then use a water wagon that can apply about one
gallon of water per plant. They must be watered as soon as possible after
planting, hopefully the same day. They must be watered at least once a
week thereafter if you don't have adequate rainfall. Don’t make the
mistake of thinking that because you had ½ inch of rain that the plants are
happy. You can only skip a weekly watering during a week where the rows
are so wet and sloppy that you can not drive a tractor down them.
Watering the new vines will not only result in an almost 100% take, but
will also allow the plants to fully develop the first year. You will save an
ENTIRE YEAR by watering the plant. You will also have a vineyard where
the vines will look alike and will be much easier to prune.
But it is important to keep in mind that overwatering can be a problem too.
Like almost everything else in grape growing and wine making
"moderation" is the key word. If the plants have made good growth during
May, June and early July, you would be well advised to stop watering them
and letting their growth slow so the vines can begin to harden off. They
will have a good start on a root system by then and can dive for water.
Don't Fertilize Them
Grapes are inherently an upland plant that prefers drier soils with
moderate to low fertility. (That's why they do so well in Greece.) They do
not need any fertilizer in the early years when they are bearing no crop.
We've seen too many instances of nitrogen burning on young plants
where growers have applied urea and damaged or killed the vines.
Even after the vines are bearing grapes do not apply fertilizer in a "band"
beneath the row. It must be broadcasted over the entire vineyard. Never
apply more than 50 lb actual N per acre. Call us and talk to us if this is
confusing or you disagree.
Avoid The One Room School House
We have seen vineyards where the grower has thrown the vines in to their
holes, not watered them, had 30% die, and then tried to play catch-up-ball
for the next five years. These are known as “One Room Schoolhouse
Vineyards” where you can eventually find vines that are of all different
ages, sizes, and stages of development and maturity. It is an awful job to
be a school-marm for such a motley and disorderly bunch.
Put them in Grow Tubes
We prefer the solid green plastic tubes that do not have to be assembled.
Where the tube meets the ground, the area should be covered with dirt so
as to seal the tube and make it an enclosed greenhouse except for the
top, which is open. When you water in the tube make sure the water is not
directed directly down the center of the tube or you will squash or break
the new plant. Direct the water down the side of the tube where it will not
fall on the vine. After the vine makes the wires and after the last good
Roundup spray, remove the tubes to harden off the vines for the winter.
Put in the Trellis in Year One
There is absolutely no advantage in waiting to put in a trellis … none. The
little bit of interest saved on the capital cost for 12 months will be more
than offset by the increase in price of materials. But far more important,
the vines will suffer. You will lose one year towards maturity for each year
you do not put in the trellis. You will get your crops one year later and lose
the income. The vines will grow out of the grow tubes and have no place
to go. Some will curve over and eventually grow on the ground. Some will
end up looking like question marks. Next year, when you try to put these
twisted canes up on the wire each vine will have a large pot-bellied bend
in its middle giving your vineyard one of he signature looks of amateur
Field Grown Plants or Green-Growing Vines
We have done it both ways. Each system has its own advantages.
Dormant plants can be planted earlier and freight is less. On the other
hand the green-growing plants are actively growing from the day they are
planted. You do not have the lost lag-time which can be from one week to
10 days that you have with dormant plants.
We have planted dormant cutting and green-growing plants next to one
another and in most instances the green-growing plants will out grow the