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Nature’s awning, the grapevine


Growing your own food may seem an elusive dream for those with small yards, but landscaping can provide a solution. When choosing a shrub, tree or vine, just ask yourself whether it could be an edible one. Need a hedge? Plant blueberries or raspberries. Need a small, attractive tree? Apples, peaches and pears grow to a suitable size. Need some shade in summer? Plant grape vines.

We put up an iron grape arbor that runs the length of the south-facing side of our house to shade the terrace for summer meals. The 10 vines took a few years to ascend the arbor’s support posts and cover the upper framework with a living roof. But now they are there each year, with wide leaves the size of hands, and fruits that dangle above our heads for instant dessert in fall.

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.” View Archive

A few years later we chose to grow a seedless variety called Canadice and a second arbor was needed. We decided the perfect spot lay between our vegetable garden and a smaller one surrounded by wooden latticework. The idea was to build a grape tunnel, using that lattice fence on one side and cedar posts on the other. Iron arches, built by our neighbor Mark Kindschi, who had also built the terrace arbor, linked the two.

Grapes are mighty vines that need support. They grow at a heroic rate, so they must be pruned each year; otherwise they’d produce a mass of greenery too weighty and wandering to manage. Sun would not reach the ripening fruit, and in the winter the denseness of too many branches would cut down on sunlight.

Pruning is best done after the vines shed their leaves in the fall and go dormant. In a location where winter sun is less important, they can be pruned throughout the winter dormant period. Even pruning after they have leafed out is better than not at all.

The author’s grape tunnel in springtime allows sunlight in for a row of daffodils. (Barbara Damrosch)

Our goal in pruning is to create a thick roof of leaves, but in a well-controlled way. So we cut back all of last year’s long shoots close to the main branches from which they emerge, leaving just one bud from which a replacement shoot will grow. We also take out or shorten any established branches that are crowded or seem excessive. And we remove any shoots that appear on the vertical trunks of the vines.

We also anchor the main branches to the overhead supports so that they won’t fall or blow around. For this we like to use a black self-locking tie made of recycled plastic and available at hardware stores. We prefer these to the green foam-covered wires that are often used, because they are less conspicuous.

Grapes grown for shade, if pruned, are like awnings that roll themselves up to let sun into the house in winter, then roll down again when you need shade in summer. Under our grape tunnel, we are able to grow a border of daffodils to open in spring under bare vines, along with early-blooming perennials such as pulmonaria, dwarf bleeding heart and corydalis. For this cooperation, pruning seems a small price to pay.

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

Tip of the week:

Black spot disease on roses should be controlled before it takes hold: Now that roses have fully foliated, spray upper and lower leaf surfaces. Organic fungicides are available. Roses that are highly susceptible to black spot should be replaced with hybrids developed for resistance. Correct pruning, watering and siting of roses will also reduce the problem. — Adrian Higgins



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