Here is a case study where we are using companion planting, compost, cover crops, examples of locations and what type of soil to use for growing grapes. Location is everything! Traditionally, grapes are planted on a slope where the sun can shine on them all day. They are planted only 2/3 to 3/4 of the way down on a hillside. In the morning, moisture will collect at the bottom of the hill. Often, this gives trouble to the fruiting grapes in the form of frost. But if you are home gardener and don’t have a hill to plant your vineyard, anyplace will do, so long it is sunny most of the day.
In general, grapes need a Mediterranean climate. However, there are grape plants that can grow in the Mid-West and East Coast. Concord is one type and that can be found in any nursery or gardening center, locally. They are not the best grapes for making wines and they are sometimes susceptible to fungi problems. In the Mid-West, it is best to use a duel curtain trellis for holding up the grapes. The sun is different in the East Coast and mid-West compared to California of France.
For the backyard vineyard, grapes can be used for making shade, visual barriers, vines, garden rooms and food. In all cases, grapes need to be pruned at least once a year. This helps to promote new growth, prevent disease from spreading and keep things looking nice. Below is a picture the side of my house. This side of the house is south facing and gets very, very hot. I installed 4 by 4s every 10 feet with a cross “T” where the branches of the grapes hang. Each pole has two plants planted about 12 inches away from the fence and from the 4 by 4 pole. I used 1 bag of pole cement to anchor each pole. Wires are run across the “T” part of the trellis. There are two wires per “T”, one on each side. I use twine to hold the branches to the wire and 4 by 4. There are 25 plants along the whole side of the house. It took about 4 years for the grapes to get this established.
When I started with making this backyard vineyard, the summer day temperature would reach over 140 degrees F in the attic. That is where the attic fan is set to turn on. After a few years, the grapes grew and now the attic fan does not turn on, or it’s broken. No, just kidding, I hear the fan turn on, on really hot days.
A watering system is installed, but not used. There are two drip emitters for each 4 by 4 pole. It was used for the first two years and now it is not used.
Grapes need good drainage soil and it has to be bad. Grape plants produce grapes with the flavor of the soil. Grapes take the minerals and elements in the soil and put them in their fruit. With the combination of the soil type, watering, light and compost, you can change the flavor of your grapes. Minerals and ph are the main elements that contribute to the taste of the grapes. Use good compost with a ph of around 6.5 is the best.
Understory Planting (Cover Crop)
It’s best to not leave bare soil to the elements. You need to always plant something in open soil. In the worst case, put mulch down. When it comes to grapes you need to plant an understory of plants to help keep the soil biology in favor for grapes. That means plant woody perennials at the base of the plant. Some examples are lavender, perennial herbs (thyme, basil, etc..) Also plant nitrogen fixing plants like Chrisom Clover or White Clover. You can also plant an old WWII plant that repels rats. It’s called, “False Sea Onion”. It’s a really weird plants, but rats hate it.