Note: Each section on this page contains multiple topics. Click on the tabs for more information.
- Grapes have been cultivated since antiquity for food and wine. The Roman god of wine is Dionysus.
- In north America, Vitus riparia or the river grape was part of the Native American diet which were eaten fresh or dried late in the season when they became sweeter. This grape has been used extensively in breeding work for cold hardy grapes and as a rootstock.
- Grapes are self-pollinated so a second vine is not needed. Flowers are pollinated by wind.
- Grapes can put on up to 6 metres of growth in a year.
- Prune 90% of vines in fall or winter when the plant is dormant. Grapes produce fruit on new wood, so hard pruning won't affect fruit production.
Selecting your vine
Grapes are woody, perennial vines that can grow 6 m (20') in a growing season. They are climbers and can be grown on a trellis, fence or pergola. The river grape (Vitis riparia) can be used as a ground cover.
The best grapes for the prairie climate were developed at the University of Minnesota and are listed here:
|Cultivar||Fruit colour||Hardiness Zone||Use||Other|
|Valiant||Dark purple||2||Fresh eating or jelly||Very productive; contains large seeds|
|Beta||Purple||2||Best for jams and jellies||Consistently productive and hardy; tart flavour|
|Frontenac||Purple or white||3||Wine||Vigorous growth; resistant to some mildews|
|Marquette||Purple||3||Wine||Can be hard to find|
The University of Saskatchewan Fruit Program is in the process of breeding grapes, but no cultivars have been released as of yet.
See the 'Recommended Cultivars for Eating' tab.
The native riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) can also be used as a groundcover or an ornamental plant. While it does produce grapes, they are small and very sour, and are best used for making jelly.
See our preservation section for more videos.
Planting grape vines
Grapes do best full sun to thrive. They can grow in part sun, but you will get less fruit. They are not suited to part shade or very shady conditions.
Grapes are tolerant of most soils, but do best in well drained, loam or sandy loam soil.
Grapes are climbers and fruit production is best when they are grown vertically on the south side of a fence or shed, or on an arbour, lattice or pergola.
Grapes can also be used as a ground cover. The riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) is best for this.
The more sun you can give a grape plant the better. The south, south-east or east side of a shed or fence, or on an arbor or pergola is perfect. These locations usualy provide protection from strong winds which can beat up the leaves.
One grape vine is usually sufficient in a home garden, but if you are planting multiple vines, plant them about 1.8 - 2.4 metres (6-8') apart.
Grapes can be planted in the spring or fall into moist fertile soil. Dig a shallow but wide planting hole. Remove the vine from its container and wash off most of the soil. Fan the roots (like spokes on a wheel) to encourage the roots to grow laterally. Ensure that the trunk or main stem sits at the same level as it was in the container when backfilling the planting hole.
Do not fertilize newly planted vines. Instead, apply 2 -3 cm of compost or well-composted manure after planting, near the base of the vine before applying mulch.
Water well and keep moist (but not waterlogged) for the first two weeks while the roots are getting established. Water deeply once a week for the first year while the plant is getting established.
Grapes are self-compatible so only one vine is required for pollination. Grapes are wind pollinated.
If you find that your vine is not producing fruit, it could be because there is not enough air movement around the vine to pollinate the flowers. Overgrown, dense vines can have this problem. Thinning the vines can improve air movement.
Occasionally a vine will have only female flowers. If that is the case, plant another vine. It does not have to be the same cultivar, but as long as it is not another female plant, you should get some fruit.
Grapes have handsome, medium to large, green leaves and bear attractive fruit. Grape vines complement the look of a pergola or arbor when grown vertically. They can also be used to as a screen when grown on a lattice or chain link fence.
Caring for grape vines
Grapes have extensive and deep root systems. Once they are established, usually after one year, they do not have to be watered as often as younger plants. However, in hot weather, water deeply as grapes do not like to be bone dry for extended periods of time and will start to wilt if that happens.
Like all plants, grapes benefit from mulch. Top up mulch as needed to a depth of at least 10 cm (4").
Do not fertilize newly planted vines. Instead, apply 2 -3 cm of compost or well-composted manure after planting, near the base of the vine before applying the mulch.
Well established grapes can access the nutrients they need deep in the soil, so they only need moderate amounts of fertilizer. An annual application of 2 -3 cm of compost or well-composted manure near the base of the vine is usually sufficient.
Nitrogen fertilizer encourages leafy growth at the expense of fruit production. If using a granular chemical fertilizer, apply it only once in early spring. Nitrogen fertilizer applied in late summer or early fall may exacerbate insect and disease problems or cause tender growth that does not harden off properly for winter.
Grapes are fairly aggressive, fast growing vines and benefit from annual pruning.
Simply remove 90% of the vines back to the base of the trunk in fall or winter. Grapes flower on new growth so you will not be losing any of the fruit. Just make sure you have a couple good buds left on the trunk or stalk. This will also help your grape to overwinter as the majority of it will be below the snow line.
Fall or winter when the plant is dormant is the best time to prune. Hard pruning in early spring will cause plant sap to run and they will "bleed" sap for a few days which wastes food energy that should be going into the development of shoots, leaves and flowers.
However, light pruning or thinning in early summer when the vine fully leafed out and actively growing will not cause sap loss.
If you've ever visited a vineyard in a warmer climate, you may have seen vines that are espaliered or trained along a heavy gauge wire trellis system, with 3 or 4 levels of lateral arms parallel to the ground stacked above the main trunk. In cold regions such as the prairies, this traditional training methods does not work well because the upper arms above the snow line are prone to winter kill.
Grape vines that are growing vertically are prone to winterkill in cold regions like the prairies.
Since grape vines produce flowers from new wood and grow quickly in spring and summer, it's best to hard prune grapes in fall or winter. The new growth in spring will produce fruit.
Banking snow on the base of the plant will provide insulation from freezing cold.
We do not recommend saving seeds from grapes. Propagation is a better way to produce more plants.
Click on the tabs above for more information!
Grapes will begin to turn colour in late summer or early fall. Grapes are usually ripe in late September but can be picked whenever you like the flavour.
Some years grapes may be affected by frost. The plant itself is very frost sensitive so the leaves will freeze and die with a very weak frost, but the fruit will remain edible.
In warm weather, harvest grapes early in the day.
Use a pair of sharp pruners or secateurs to cut clusters of grapes from the vine.
Grapes have a fairly high respiration rate and should be cooled right after harvesting.
Click on the tabs above for more information!
Grapes can be stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
If you're hoping to store them longer than a couple of months, check the long term storage information.
Click on the tabs above for more information!
Grapes are a medium maintenance plant. Providing their water, light and soil needs are managed they don't tend to get a lot of issues. Annual pruning is needed to keep grapes healthy and productive.
Powdery mildew is the most common problem for grapes, often because vines are dense or overgrown, or have poor air circulation. Thinning helps to prevent or reduce the problem.
Grape leaves are extremely sensitive to herbicides, especially 2-4-D. The slightest amount will cause leaves to shrivel at the edges and become distorted. There is nothing that will fix the problem. The vine will grow and produce normal leaves in the next year.
See the Common problems tab on this page for advice on these and other specific grape issues.
Breeding grapes takes many years and at this time we do not have grape vines ready for release.
We sometimes have other cultivars of grapes available for sale at our annual plant sale.
U of S Fruit program plant sale
The University of Saskatchewan fruit program holds an annual plant sale open to the public, usually in the first week of June. There may be a second sale in early fall of 2021. Details will be announced at the link below. We do not sell plants to the public at any other time.
This sale raises funds to hire university summer students and/or purchase equipment for the fruit program.
There is typically a variety of tissue-cultured fruit trees, haskap, sour cherries and other fruits. The plants are saplings, usually in 2"-4" pots. A plant list will be available closer to the sale date.
There may be a limit to the number of plants sold per person. This is an in-person sale only and we do not ship plants to other locations.
For details and ordering information, please check current information about the sale here: USask Fruit program plant sale