Are you interested in growing table grapes? They are easy and so fun to grow, harvest, and eat. Find information on the varieties we've grown, how to cane prune them and simple structures you can grow them on.
Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Have you ever thought about growing grapes for fresh eating, but wondered about the work involved?
Well, after growing grapes at three different houses, I can tell you they are one of the most easy care, yet rewarding fruits you can grow!
Plus, I've always grown our grapes on arbors, both over patios and walkways, and I LOVE the beauty they add to the garden.
When we built a large grape arbor over the seating area in our Portland bungalow many years ago, I planted grape for shade, not really thinking about the fruit. The shade the vine provided was perfect by year two - and when grape clusters began forming, it was so picturesque.
I was completely surprised when the arbor became loaded with fruit each year afterwards, since we didn't really do much with the vines except cut them back each year.
One-time-a-year maintenance? That's my kind of plant.
When we were planning our previous cottage's garden, I knew I wanted to find a place to grow grapes again.
So we built the two large arbors you can see in the photo above at the entrances to our raised bed vegetable garden and berry patch in the summer. The next spring, I planted one bare-root seedless table grape on each, letting them grow and then pruning hard in the second year winter.
What you see above is the growth in their third summer and we couldn't believe how much fruit they started producing that soon!
Structures For Growing Grapes
The one thing I've learned is that mature grape vines have large, substantial trunks and grow huge each year, so the structure you grow them on needs to be very sturdy.
Whether it's a trellis system similar to wine grape vines, training along a patio cover, or an arbor like ours, you need to think about cementing the posts into the ground. Otherwise the weight of the mature plant can bring down the structure, especially if wind is involved.
Planting Table Grapes
Grapes need as much sunshine as you can give them, so pick a sunny area and then prepare the soil by adding topsoil (if needed) and lots of compost.
Pick a lead shoot to become the main vine and tie that to your structure (more on this below in pruning) and then let the plant grow.
The rate of growth should be similar to what we've seen with our grapevines:
- By the first summer they should grow to the top of the arbors.
- In the second summer one variety (the red grape) grew completely across the top of its arbor, while the other made just over the top.
- The third summer should see explosive growth, and you may have to prune shoots here and there just to keep it where you want it.
How to Prune Table Grapes
The one thing you do need to do faithfully each year is to prune grapes to get the best fruit and to prevent it from overproducing, which could result in smaller fruit and actually hurt the plant.
And by pruning, I mean hard - you'll need to cut 85-90% of the plant back each winter.
It's recommended for fruit production that table grapes be cane pruned (versus spur pruning) and that's what we've always done, mainly because it seems easier.
Pruning Year 1
To develop the root system and establish the main vine, choose the strongest shoot to train into the main trunk.
And here's the hard part - the recommendation is to prune off all other shoots so that the energy of the plant goes to the roots and main trunk. AND if the plant puts out more shoots the first summer (it will), it's recommended that you cut those off, too.
But guess what?
We haven't pruned at all in the first year of any of our vines because I'm also after arbor coverage and we've still harvested large amounts of grapes, so you choose what you'd like!
Regardless, in the plant's first winter in your garden (January-March), you will need to cut off any shoots but the main trunk you're growing and then tie the main trunk to your trellis or arbor.
PRO TIP: If you're growing on an arbor like us, the first rung of the side may be too high to tie to - you can use a stake to support the trunk as it's growing up the side.
Pruning Year 2
During the second growing season, the recommendation is to choose 2 main shoots to grow off the trunk, train those on your trellis or up over the arbor and remove all other shoots.
These will be the fruiting canes for next year (if any fruit does start to develop this first year, remove them so the plant can spend its energy growing roots and strong canes).
Again, we've never done this pruning during the season - as you can see in the photo above we let the plant grow, cutting just the lowest shoots off the trunk, so we can get good coverage over the arbor. We stick to just the dormant pruning.
No matter what you do in the growing season, you need to do the hard pruning in the winter when the plant is dormant - choose the two strongest canes to train up over the arbor, cutting them back to about 10 buds each (the buds will produce fruit next year).
Like this arbor into our vegetable garden? We created a video of how to easily and inexpensively make one for your garden that you can see HERE!
Pruning Year 3 and Forward
Each growing season after year two, train the shoots that come from the two canes you've left the winter before along the trellis or over the arbor. Harvest any fruit that develops.
Continue to cane prune each winter, selecting two new strong shoots/canes close to the trunk for the next season's fruit.
PRO TIP: Choose canes that are at least the size of a pencil and were exposed to the most light (so on the top of the plant, depending on how it's growing).
You can leave 15 buds on each cane now that the plant is established, cutting the canes you've chosen back to that amount and tying to the structure as needed.
You'll also want to remove any shoots that grow out of the base around the trunk - you want all the energy going to the plant that is covering the trellis.
(To get a more thorough outline of both cane and spur pruning, see Don't Be Timid When Pruning Grapes put out by OSU extension.)
The winter pruning is a pretty severe pruning, especially because the plants put out so much growth each season, but the pruning is what helps the grape to produce quality fruit.
Plus, it's about the only maintenance we have to do, besides top dressing with compost each spring.
Making grapes a pretty easy plant to grow, right?
Two Good Table Grape Varieties to Grow
Red Seedless Grape
One of the most reliable red table grapes is a variety called 'Flame' which is why it's the second most popular variety grown in the U.S. because of its vigor, sweetness, and shelf life.
After growing it, I can certainly confirm its vigor - the vine we had in our cottage garden covered the top of it's large arbor in it's third year AND completely covered the other side down, too.
Plus as you can see above - it was loaded with grapes!
The grapes were healthy, big, and incredibly sweet.
One of the reasons we got hooked on growing grapes is when we discovered how much fun it is to go out to the yard and pick grapes each morning to eat throughout the day.
SO worth the small amount of effort to grow them.
Green Seedless Grape
The green grape we grew on the second large arbor in the cottage's garden was the variety 'Himrod.' It's another popular US variety that's easily found in nursery and home stores in the spring.
It wasn't quite as vigorous as the red grape so I didn't expect it to produce much in it's third year like 'Flame.'
However, it surprised me and grew clusters along the side of the arbor since that was where the old growth was from the previous year.
There were actually quite a few clusters by the end of the summer and the grapes were much more uniform in size than 'Flame.'
PRO TIP: The only bummer I found to growing both 'Flame' and 'Himrod' is that these grapes ripen at the same time - late August in our area. We'd swim in grapes, racing to eat them before going bad, and then have nothing. So if you'd like to enjoy them for eating for a longer period, look for two varieties that ripen at different times. Other red varieties that ripen later include 'Suffolk Red' and 'Seedless Concord.'
Even though 'Himrod' produced less in the third year than 'Flame' (but it did pick up in the following years), it was my favorite of the two varieties because the fruit of Himrod was more sweet and flavorful with a very tender skin.
Which is why when I only had room to plant one variety, I chose to plant another 'Himrod' at the farmhouse (the deer love grapes and grape leaves, unfortunately, so I can only grow them inside the fenced garden).
I can't tell you how special it feels to harvest your own table grapes - I don't know why, actually - maybe it's because they seem a bit exotic to me (which is silly, as Oregon is now well-known for its vineyards and wines).
Growing Table Grapes FAQs
There will be a lot of growth of the vines and leaves in the first two years. Depending on how hard you pruned, you should start seeing fruit in the third year. This was our experience with our previous vines and they were loaded in the third year, produced a bit less in year 4, and were loaded again in year 5.
Grapes need a cool winter for their chilling requirements and a warm growing season (150 to 180 frost-free days) to develop and mature a crop. So the rainy winters and warm summers of the coastal regions of the US are home to most of the nation's grape crops.
That said, there are cold-hardy cultivars that allow people in the northern states to grow grapes, so if you're interested, definitely check with a local nursery to see if there are varieties that grow well in your area.
In the first few years of growth, the vines should get 1-inch of water weekly, whether from rain or watering. As they mature, the vine becomes more drought tolerant and should be good with just rain, unless there's a long drought.
I have never fertilized our vines with anything other than the yearly compost mulch I add to the beds. If you feel your soil is depleted, look for a balanced organic fertilizer for food and apply it once early in the growing season.
Tell me, do you grow grapes? If so what varieties do you like?
This article has been updated - it was first published in September of 2013.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read our full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.