Muscadine vines can be pruned now

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 19, 2010

The recent holiday weather has been quite nice. We have had some cold morning but recent afternoons have been pleasant and very enjoyable for those of us who spend a lot of time outdoors. The extended forecast for this week shows afternoons in the 60s every day with a chance of rain moving in as we get closer to Christmas day. So, if you’re able, make time to spend this good outdoor weather with the kids and grandkids while they are out of school on break.

Surprisingly, we have received a few calls about muscadine plants this week. All muscadines are dormant now, so you are limited in how you can help them this time of the year. Pruning is your best option, here is how.

Q: Should you prune muscadine vines throughout the year?

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A: Let me start by saying we are lucky to have Old South Winery here in Natchez where those of you wanting muscadine products can have them without the hassle of growing your own. But in order to have a bumper crop of muscadines annually, proper pruning needs to a part of your program. Research has shown that if you don’t prune muscadines, production is reduced. It has also show that annual pruning increases both production of muscadines and new productive growth.

The best time to prune muscadines is when they are dormant which is usually from now until February. Pruning later has a slight advantage as it delays bud break for a few days which may allow plants to escape late frost and avoid damaging new growth. Late pruning may cause plants to “bleed” some but that has been found to have no negative impact.

Q: What is the proper way to prune a muscadine?

A: The basic muscadine plant has a trunk and lateral fruit arms, called cordons. The fruiting units, or spurs, develop on the cordons. When you prune it is recommended to cut back all the previous year’s growth to spurs 2 to 4 inches long which should leave about two buds on each spur. You can remove any additional shoots that are not needed for spurs. On young vines, spurs should be spaced 6 inches apart on the lateral limbs (cordons).

As the vine ages, each spur becomes a spur cluster. Cluster thinning may become necessary. (Remove alternate clusters or parts of all spur clusters.) If a cordon becomes weak or diseased, remove as much as necessary and train a shoot to replace it. Watch for tendrils or small vines wrapped around the cordons; remove them because over time they may girdle the cordon.

Q: What is the difference between a muscadine and a grape?

A: In terms of harvesting, muscadines and grapes ripen thus are harvested in different ways. While harvesting muscadines from late August to October, you will notice they mature as individuals within each individual cluster. Therefore, you would remove each muscadine as the berry ripens. Grapes; however, ripen in clusters and hold in the cluster when harvested, which is why you can buy grapes in clusters in stores and not muscadines. With muscadine you can make it easier by placing a tarp under the plant and bumping it every few days and only the ripe muscadine should fall down.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.