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Pruning Muscadine Grapes

Muscadines are our native, southern grape. Unlike bunch grapes, muscadines have thick, tart skin. The meat of the fruit is very sweet and flavorful and good for fresh eating (nature’s sweet-tart), preserving, and wine-making. The advantages of muscadines over bunch grapes are that they are much more heat-tolerant and disease resistant. Scuppernongs or bullaces are two more colloquial names for the nutritious fruit.

You find many old homesites with overhead arbors. This is not the best method for production because, after a few years, the vines become almost impossible to prune. Annual pruning is one of the most important factors in getting good production. The simplest and easiest method is to train vines on a single horizontal wire. The wire should be four to five feet above the ground to make managing the vines at a comfortable working height.

Vines are planted under the wire with a temporary stake, such as a piece of bamboo that can be tied to the wire above to direct the vine. Once the vine reaches the wire, you prune it a few inches above the wire above a bud. Train the vines to the wire in both directions, maintaining a single vine (cordon) in each direction. Prune back lateral branches to a few inches along this main cordon until it is 10 feet long. Once this is done, which can usually be accomplished by the second season, you can allow lateral branches to grow each spring, which will produce the flowers and fruit.

These lateral branches are pruned back each year in late February, leaving spurs with two or three buds to maintain good productivity. Spurs should be spaced along the cordon every six inches, so you may need to remove some if they are too close. Do not be alarmed by copious amounts of water dripping from the pruning cuts. The vines are not going to bleed to death.

If you do not prune muscadines annually, the productivity will be less and less each year from shading. Once you have the hang of it, you can prune a vine in about 20 to 30 minutes.

For information on varieties, establishment, and trellis construction, see HGIC 1403, Muscadine Grape and Video on How to Prune Muscadine Grapes.

Muscadine vine being pruned. Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extesnion

Muscadine vine being pruned.
Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Left side of muscadine plant has been pruned, the right side has not. Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Left side of muscadine plant has been pruned, the right side has not.
Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Remove any tendrils wrapping around the cordon.
Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Close-up of muscadine cordon after pruning. Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extesnion

Close-up of muscadine cordon after pruning.
Paul Thompson, ©2021, Clemson Extension

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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