Langley gardening: Prune dormant grapes hard

Dear Anne,

“How do you trim back grape plants? I have lots of fruits now, and the plant has grown so bushy.”

Raquel, Coquitlam

Grapevines should be pruned when they’re dormant and you can see what you’re doing.

The simplest and most effective way of pruning grapes is to cut almost all the growth on your grapevine, so you end up with one main trunk plus four branches on each. Each of your four branches should be as thick as a ballpoint pen, and cut back to about 12 buds each.

You should also leave four stubs pruned back to about two buds each. Each of those four stubs should emerge from the trunk at a point close to each of the branches.

The idea is that your four branches will produce fruiting side branches that will give you grapes in the next fruiting season (2015).

So what you end up with after you’ve pruned this fall/winter is one trunk, four side branches and four stubs.

Be prepared for a grapevine that looks like you tried to murder it. Also, you’ll have masses of green waste/compost.

When you prune next fall or winter, the four stubs will have grown to a size suitable to become your four branches. Cut them back to 12 buds and also leave four stubs (cut to about two buds each) close to the four branches.

Grapes are a lot of work, but very nice when they’re kept tidy by yearly pruning. Otherwise they will try to eat your house.

Dear Anne,

“I live 22 kilometres north east of Smoky Lake, Alberta. I have struggled for years with a veggie garden. Just when I think I have the soil nice and light and workable, we get a hot summer like this year, then it rains and the dirt turns to concrete. The dirt is what they call number two grey ash about one foot deep, then it goes to sandy clay.

“I have leaves and grass cuttings about three feet deep. I’ve been dumping them in the same place for 20 years on the acreage. Would it help if I put it all in the garden and tilled it in? Big job, but I could do it – or is there a better way? My garden is 50 by 20 feet.”

Richard, Alberta

There is no better way. Putting those leaves and clippings on the garden and tilling them in is the best way possible.

Those grass clippings and leaves will have broken down into rich, black compost. More than anything else, compost holds moisture in soil and forms a nutritious easy-to-work garden.

It’s good that you saved these things over the years and have them all in one place. I suggest you begin by taking one foot depth of this material and till that in. That way it won’t be such a huge job, and the compost will get mixed in better.  

The following year, do another foot, and the year after that, the last foot.

You might try choosing a different spot for the next pile of clippings, so you can use the lower layers of the old spot before you start on the new pile.

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