Pruning grape vines
There are two main systems for this:
The Guyot system - This form of training has either one or two fruiting arms growing from the main stem (single or double Guyot accordingly). It is used for vines grown outdoors, either dessert or wine cultivars. It is the system most vineyards use.
The rod and spur (cordon) system - This system is usually used for indoor grapes in glasshouses or conservatories, and for growing grapes against walls.
Growing grape vines in containers: Where space is limited, vines can be pruned and trained as standards (or either of the training methods mentioned above) with a single stem with a head of branches at the top. Standards lend themselves easily to container cultivation.
Pruning & Training Vines with the Guyot System
The Guyot pruning system is used for grape vines grown for wine and dessert grapes outdoors. This system trains one or two fruiting arms along a main wire. It is used in vineyards but is easily adapted by gardeners.
After planting, cut back the main stem to two strong buds above the graft or above ground level. Then follow this advice from the first year:
In the growing season, train one strong shoot vertically up a cane, pinching out or rubbing off any other shoots Pinch back any side shoots from this main shoot to one leaf.
In December, cut the main stem back to leave two strong buds around 40cm (16in) from ground level (i.e. at the level of the lowest wire) for a single Guyot and three strong buds for a double Guyot
In the growing season, train the two or three shoots growing from the selected buds up the cane. Pinch back any side shoots back to one leaf
In December, for a double Guyot, tie down one shoot to the left and one to the right along the lowest wire. For a single Guyot, tie down one single shoot to the left or right Cut the shoots back to 60-90cm (2-3ft) Cut the remaining central shoot back to two or three strong buds (two for a single Guyot, three for a double Guyot)
Year 3 onwards
In the growing season train two or three shoots vertically up the central cane (two for a single Guyot, three for a double Guyot) Pinch back any side shoots to one leaf. Tuck the vertical fruit-carrying stems through the double wires and cut them back to three leaves above the top wires.
In December, remove the horizontal arm(s) that fruited in the summer. Tie down one vertical shoot along the lowest wire for a single Guyot, and two shoots along the lowest wire for a double Guyot, one to the right and one to the left. Cut them back to 60-90cm (2-3ft) long. Cut the remaining central shoot back to two or three strong buds (two for a single Guyot and three for a double Guyot.
Pruning and training with the Cordon System
The rod and spur pruning system is usually used for indoor grapes in greenhouses or conservatories, and for growing grapes against walls outdoors. It is also called the cordon system.
After planting, cut back the main stem by two-thirds and cut back any side shoots to one bud. The follow this advice from the first year:
In the growing season (when the main stem reaches 3m (10ft), or the top of the support) pinch back the side branches to five leaves. Pinch back the side shoots growing from the side branches to one leaf. Tie the main stem and side branches to the supporting wires.
In December cut back the main stem by two-thirds. Cut back the side branches to one strong bud
In the growing season allow the main stem to continue growing. Let two of the side branches produce a bunch of grapes, and then pinch back their tips to two leaves beyond the bunch of grapes. Pinch back side branches not bearing fruit to five leaves
In December reduce the main stem by half, cutting to a bud on mature brown wood and cut back side shoots to 2.5cm (1in) or to two strong buds
Year 3 onwards
In January untie the main stem to one-third of its length above ground. Allow the top two-thirds to bend down and almost touch the ground as this encourages side branches to break along the full length of the stem.
In the growing season as soon as the buds on the spurs (knobbly bits where the main side branches were cut back to a single bud) begin to grow, tie the main stem back into position against its supports. Pinch out the growing tips of flowering side branches two leaves beyond the flower cluster, allowing only one flower cluster to develop per side branch for dessert grapes. More clusters can be allowed for wine grapes.
- Tie in each flowering side branch to a wire
- Pinch out non-flowering side branches to five leaves
- Pinch out any side shoots growing from the side branches to one leaf
- For wine grapes, allow all bunches of grapes to develop. For dessert grapes, allow only one bunch per side branch
In December cut back the side branches to one or two plump buds from the main stem (the ‘rod’ or ‘cordon’) If you have a vigorous vine that needs to cover a large space, consider training it as a double or multiple cordon as follows:
- Allow the newly planted vine to grow two strong vertical shoots from near its base, removing any weak or excess shoots
- Lay the two selected shoots horizontally to each side of the lowest support wire
- Side branches will grow from the horizontal arms. Select vertical side branches to form the multiple rods or cordons that will make up your structure
- Each rod or cordon is pruned as per the instructions above for rod and spur pruning
- Pinch out excess shoots developing from the two horizontal arms and the tender tips beyond the rod