Planting Grapes: Grapes need full sunlight and high temperatures to ripen, so plant on southern slopes, the south side of windbreaks or the south sides of buildings. Avoid northern slopes and low ground since these will be cooler throughout the growing season, delaying ripening of the fruit. Choose deep, well-drained soils to avoid standing water in the spring and encourage early growth.
Plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Use healthy plants with well-delveloped root systems. Space the plants six to eight feet apart. Before planting the vine, remove all canes except the most vigorous one. Trim off any broken or excessively long roots.
Dig a hole large enough so you can spread the root system out without bending the roots. Plant vines at the same depth as in the nursery, generally two to three inches above root level. Do not plant too deeply. Spread the roots and cover them completely with soil. After planting, shorten the remaining cane to two strong buds. Each bud will develop into a cane.
Caring for Grapes: Although vines often are allowed to grow at random, spawling over the ground during the first season, it’s best to train the stronger of the two canes which developed from the plant to a strong stake five to six feet high. Remove any suckers growing from the base of the canes. Remove the weaker cane in the dormant season (March). If neither cane is three feet long, cut the plant back to two buds again the second year.
Apply nitrogen two weeks after planting at a rate of 10 lb. of 10-6-4/100 ft. of row. Reapply at the same rate annually in early spring, right before growth starts. Fertilizer can be applied to a single plant at a rate of 1 lb./plant. Have the soil tested every three to five years. Do not apply fertilizers containing herbicides (e.g., certain lawn fertilizers) in or near the grapes. Hand hoe to eliminate weeds. Four to six inches of mulch may be applied to help control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Pruning Hardy Varieties: Although there are several systems for pruning grapes, the four-arm Kniffen system (shown) is the most simple for varieties that do not require winter protection, such as ‘Beta’ or ‘Valiant’. In this system two horizontal wires are stretched between posts for support of the vine. The bottom wire is 36 inches and the top wire 60 inches above the ground. The young vine is tied to a stake, as it grows, to the two wires. This ensures a straight trunk for the mature vine.
Begin training after the vine reaches the first wire. Remove all shoots between the wires and cut back shoots along the lower wire to two buds (shown).
The mature vine has four to six canes (each with five to twelve buds) and four to six renewal spurs (each with two buds).
When pruning, keep in mind that fruit is produced on current season’s growth that in turn grows from last season’s wood. Heavy pruning provides the best fruit. Light pruning results in large yields of poor-quality fruit; very heavy pruning produces too much vegetative growth and little or no fruit. The table, juice, and jelly varieties can have 40 to 60 buds per vine but wine varieties should have only 20 to 30 buds per vine after pruning.
You can increase the trunk’s length by bending down the cane near the top. In this manner, one to two feet of new trunk usually is added each year until the trunk reaches the desired length of six to seven feet.
Pruning Neglected Vines: Prune old and neglected vines in stages. Select a sturdy cane originating near the base of the plant. Cut it back to three to four feet. After this cane completes its second growing season, cut off the old trunk just beyond the attachment of the renewal cane. Old, neglected, or improperly pruned vines usually have too much wood. When pruning, cut as much of the old wood as possible. This encourages the growth of new wood near the main body of the vines.
Pruning Tender Varieties: In varieties that require winter protection, prune the vine to a single horizontal trunk that can be removed from the trellis.
To winter the plant, bend the trunk down and cover it with six to eight inches of soil or mulch. Uncover approximately mid-April, or as soon as frost is out of the ground. Then lift the vine and tie it in place on the trellis. As shoots grow from the trunk, tie them in an upright position to the upper wires. In the fall, when these shoots have matured into canes, cut them back to short spurs containing one or two buds each.
Harvesting: Grapes change color long before they are fully mature, so it’s possible to pick the clusters before they have reached their peak in flavor, size, and sweetness if berry color alone is used as a guide. For the best fruit, taste the grapes first to see if they are ripe. If they aren’t, wait for optimum quality to develop. Grapes will not improve in quality after they are harvested.
Pests: Birds can be a nuisance in grapes. The only protection is to place netting over your grapes.
Grapes are extremely sensitive to the fumes of 2, 4-D, which is widely used to control dandelions in the lawn. Severe exposure results in deformed leaves and destroyed flower clusters. Gardeners that use 2, 4-D around their grape plants after they have leafed out may find in impossible to grow grapes.
By Emily Hoover, Extension Horticultural Specialist
Growing Gooseberries and Currants: Gooseberries and currants are extremely hardy fruits which can be grown almost anywhere in Montana. Both of these fruits have been known for centuries and, in fact, many cultivars that are popular today are extremely old.
Both gooseberries and currants are attractive deciduous shrubs which may be used to attract birds, and make preserves, jellies and pies. Three or four currant and gooseberry plants usually produce enough fruit for the average family. A properly maintained planting should continue to produce for 10 or more years.
Gooseberries and currants are extremely cold hardy. They grow best where summer temperatures are cool and moisture is plentiful. They will grow in nearly any location, but are better adapted to rich, well-drained, clay loam soils. Avoid planting them on light, sandy soils which tend to become hot and dry during the summer, or on heavy clay soils where water stands for long periods of time. The plants will bloom earlier in the spring than many other small fruits. Therefore, planting on a north facing slope where flowering is delayed later in the spring may be preferable in some areas.
Gooseberries have an arching habit, reaching a height of 4-5 feet when mature. The stems are thorny, and berries occur singly along the canes. Fruits are usually picked at the firm green stage, when they are too tart to eat fresh, and made into pies or preserves. Fruits may be pink or green when ripe.
Currants are more upright than gooseberries, and are thornless. Unlike gooseberries, currants will send up shoots away from the main crown and may need to be cultivated if they are to be kept from spreading. Currant fruits are more bland in flavor than gooseberries, and borne in clusters on the canes. When ripe, currants may be black, red or white (yellow).
Gooseberries and currants will develop larger fruit when there is good pollination and seed development. Most cultivars are self-fertile, but, as with many other fruits, higher yields and larger fruit sizes are usually achieved with cross-pollination. Therefore, it is generally desirable to plant more than one cultivar.
Planting: Currants and gooseberries should be planted in early spring. One-year-old plants, if vigorous, generally transplant and establish best. Plants should be spaced 4-5 feet apart in rows 7-9 feet apart. Mix 1 bushel of compost or well-rotted manure with the soil in the planting hole. Quackgrass or other perennial weeds should be controlled before planting.
When planting, set the plants about an inch deeper than they were in the nursery. This induces new shoots to form blow the soil level so that a bush is formed rather than a single stem. Firm the soil around the plants and water the plants thoroughly. Prune to four or five canes and cut these back to about one-third of their original length.
Culture: Weeds should be controlled to reduce competition with the plants. Control weeds with hoeing or shallow cultivation. Avoid deep cultivation which may injure the roots. A straw or hay mulch may be used to control weeds and conserve moisture. The mulch should be about 6 inches deep, or deep enough to smother weeds. Additional mulching material should be applied each year to maintain the proper depth. Rodent control in winter is essential if mulches are used.
Fertilize the plants annually during the spring. Use a vegetable and fruit fertilizer. The fertilizer should be spread and worked into a 12 inch circular area around each plant. Additional nitrogen fertilizer should be added if a hay mulch is used.
Fruit of gooseberries and currants are borne laterally on 1-year-old shoots or on short 1-year branches on 2 and 3-year wood. Wood older than 3 years produces inferior fruit and should be removed during pruning. Pruning should be done as a renewal process, in which stems older than 3 years are removed at the base of the plant and stems produced the previous year are reduced in number. Remove all but 3 or 4 1-year stems, dead or diseased wood, and branches produced too close to the ground. The remaining 1-year branches may be headed or reduced in length to promote fruit bud formation. A well-pruned vigorous plant should have 10-12 canes, with about 3 or 4 in each of the 1, 2, and 3-year age groups. Pruning should always be done in the spring before growth starts.
Pests: Pests are usually controlled by clean cultivation, pruning, and if necessary, spraying.
The white pine blister rust fungus can spend part of its life cycle on both gooseberries and currants. The black currant is much more susceptible to the disease than the other Ribes species. A law was passed in 1926 prohibiting the possession, propagation, and sale of black currants or cultivars, and forbidding the shipment of plants into Montana. Federal laws also restrict the introduction of Ribes species from other countries. It is important to check with USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine Division before importing these species.
Leaf spot diseases may be common. The spots are small and circular with gray centers. Leaves later turn yellow and drop. These diseases may result in premature defoliation of the bushes. Pruning and removal of infected leaves is usually adequate to control leaf spot diseases.
Powdery mildew may infect the leaves with a white moldy growth that results in abnormal leaves and stem tips. A contact fungicide, Daconil, may be used to control this disease.
Currant caterpillars may feed on the leaves and defoliate the plant. This insect pest is usually controlled by spaying with an all-purpose insecticide.
Currant aphids suck the juice from the undersurface of leaves and cause reddish discoloration and crinkling of leaves. An application of malathion when the leaves are one-half inch long will usually control this pest. Always read the label and follow it carefully when using any pesticides!
Harvesting: Gooseberries are often stripped from the branches with a glove-covered hand if they are to be processed immediately. Harvest more carefully to avoid puncturing the fruit on the thorns if the fruit is to be stored for any length of time. Gooseberries for jelly may be picked when they are slightly immature. Flats of picked gooseberry fruit should be stored in the shade since they sunburn easily. Currants may be picked singly or in clusters.
Cultivars: Many currants and gooseberry cultivars have been in cultivation for numerous years. Newer cultivars have been developed which have improved berry sizes, disease resistance, and in the case of gooseberries, fewer spines. Always select cultivars that are recommended for your area by a reputable nursery.
Gooseberries: Pixwell’ originated in North Dakota, Berries are of medium size, light red when ripe, and of good quality. Long stems make picking easy. Bushes are moderately vigorous and were very productive at Bozeman.
Currants: Red Lake’ is the leading current cultivar in North America. It originated at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center near Excelsior. Clusters are above medium size and compact. Berries are very large and red, with a pleasantly mild flavor and good quality. ‘Red Lake’ is early to midseason cultivar. Bushes are nearly erect, moderately vigorous, and very productive. This cultivar has produced well in experimental plots at the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station at Bozeman.
By Orville W. McCarver, Ronald H. Lockerman, Nancy W. Callan-Extension Horticulturist, Assistant Professor Horticulture, Assistant Professor Horticultur respectively, MSU, Bozeman, MT