Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Growing Peaches and Nectarines

Driving through Georgia, The Peach State, and South Carolina, with two Peach Capitals of the World, you might think that peaches are native to the South. Peaches (Prunus persica) were first believed to be native to Persia (thus the name, persica). But most historians agree that peaches are native to China, and were packed to Persia along the Silk Road. They were later carried to Europe by Alexander the Great, and to the Americas by Spanish and English colonists.

Peaches may be second only to apples in popularity. Nectarines are the same species as peaches, differing from them only by the lack of fuzz, smaller size, redder skin and greater amounts of vitamins A and C, and potassium. The same cultural requirements apply to peaches and nectarines.

Peaches can be divided into 3 types: freestones, clingstones and semi-freestones. Freestone peaches part with their seeds easily. Clingstones do not. Semi-freestones are somewhere in the middle of that. Generally, freestones are preferred for fresh eating while clingstones are preferred for processing. Peaches can be further divided into yellow and white flesh varieties.

They are self-fruitful, meaning that they do not require cross pollination. One tree will set a crop with its own pollen. However, a planting of different cultivars will extend the fruiting season. Three or four trees should supply the backyard fruit grower with sufficient fruit.

Though peach trees are generally hardy throughout USDA climate zones 5 to 9, buds and flowers are easily damaged by extreme low temperatures and frost. Don't plant cultivars that won't work for you. Since there are over 300 varieties of peaches that have been developed for environments around the world, I won't bother to suggest any. Consultation with your local Cooperative Extension Service is essential for making good choices suitable for your area.

The backyard fruit grower must know that peaches are prone to damage from insects and diseases. Common insects include Japanese beetle, June beetle, oriental fruit moth, peach tree borer, plum curculio, stink bug, tarnished plant bug, and red mite. Common diseases include  bacterial spot, brown rot and scab, peach leaf curl and powdery mildew. The grower must be committed to keeping these under control, or forget about trying to grow the fruit. Similarly, cold damage is a very real danger. Steps must be taken to protect the trees during winter and spring. High quality fruits are firm and free from defects such as bruising, insect and disease damage.

It's important to note that peach trees require care whether or not they will fruit. Many home orchardists lose fruit to frost, then figure that there's no need to spray the trees until the next year. Not so. Insects and diseases will attack the tree as well as fruit, so a strict spray regimen is always necessary.

Select peach cultivars in consultation with your local Cooperative Extension Service office. Choose plants that are one-year old, 3 to 4 feet high, with a trunk caliper of 3/8 to 1/2 inch, and with good root systems. Planting stock should be free of disease and damage. Inspect the trunks carefully for gummy residue, nicks and scrapes.

Select a planting site that has not grown peaches before, and that receives full sun throughout the day. If the lot slopes, avoid planting at the bottom where cold air will drain. Soil should be well-drained, sandy loam with pH ranging from 5.6 to 6.5. If water doesn't drain within an hour ofter a heavy rain, choose another site. If you are able to determine the water table of the proposed site, it should be no nearer than 4 feet of the soil surface. Your nearest Natural Resources Conservation Service office may be able to help with that.

Commercial growers are advised to begin soil preparation one to two years before planting so that the soil can be analyzed and amended well before planting. Home gardeners usually don't think that far ahead. At the very least, a soil sample should be taken to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis a couple of months before planting time. Follow the soil test recommendations.

Container-grown plants may be available year-around. If you can obtain them in fall, I recommend planting then. Though there will be no shoot growth until spring, the roots will establish themselves over winter, giving a head start for the growing season. Bare root plants should be more economical, but are seldom available until spring.

Keep plants moist after arrival. If bare roots are dry, soak them in water overnight before planting.

Prepare a planting site 6 feet in diameter by eliminating weeds with a glyphosate herbicide. Follow label instructions. After weeds are dead, cultivate 10 to 12 inches deep, adding organic matter and recommended soil amendments. Allow weed seeds to germinate, then spray again with glyphosate. Let the new weeds die.

Plant the tree in spring in the center of the site. The graft union, an obvious bend in the trunk a little above the roots, should be set 1 inch above the surrounding soil line. Add water to the planting hole as the soil is being back-filled.

Peaches and nectarines are customarily grown in the shape of an open-centered vase, kind of like a martini glass. This allows sunlight to penetrate the tree, increase yield, and produce better fruit. The trees must be pruned each year to maintain good shape.

Immediately after planting, prune the tree to about 28 inches high. Also, remove all side branches. This will leave a single, short whip.

During the first year, select 3 or 4 well-placed branches to serve as scaffold limbs. Again, the tree should be open-centered, resembling a martini glass. Remove shoots that grow vertically. Also remove damaged, weak, and low-hanging limbs.

During the second and third years, continue to remove damaged, weak and low-hanging limbs, and shoots growing vertically from the center of the tree. Vertical shoots growing from the scaffold limbs may be pruned back to outward facing buds.

Pruning during subsequent years should maintain the form, and also maintain a desired height of 8 to 12 feet. Novel tree forms have been the subject of experimentation, but these are best left to growers with advanced orcharding skills.

When the grower and nature are cooperating, peaches and nectarines can set more fruit than the tree can support. When the fruits are small, about 1-1/2 inch in diameter, some of the fruits must be removed. This is called "thinning." Remove excess fruit by hand, leaving one peach every 8 inches. Sure, it hurts...you more than the tree. The remaining fruits will develop better size, shape and color.

Sprinkle 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer around the newly planted tree 1 week after planting. The application should be 1 foot away from the trunk. Apply the same amount again in 5 weeks. For two- and three-year-old trees, increase the amount to 3/4 pound in early spring and again 6 weeks later. Broadcast the fertilizer farther out from the trunk, under the drip line. The drip line is the circle under the outer reaches of the limbs.

Take a soil sample to the Cooperative Extension Service office every 3 or 4 years for analysis. Follow the recommendations. Older trees should receive 1 to 2 pounds of fertilizer per application.

Peach trees need to grow about 18 inches each year. Adequate moisture and fertilizer is essential. Weeds and grass will try to compete; control them. Mulch conserves water and discourages weeds, so apply it liberally. Apply herbicide if you must; follow label instructions. Irrigate as needed, especially within 3 or 4 weeks before harvest.

When well-grown, peaches give the backyard orchardist a lot of satisfaction. Use them in cobblers and pies, cakes, ice cream, smoothies, fruit salads and salsas. Summer wouldn't be so pleasant without them.

John J Marshall

John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Growing Blackberries

Gone are the summer days when you could carry your metal pail along fence rows and country roads to pick blackberries. Country roads are becoming suburban. Traffic is increasing. Fences are disappearing. DOTs are spraying herbicides to keep the brush down.

The good news is that blackberry cultivars have been developed that are superior to the wild ones, and they can be easily grown in your own backyard. They don't take long to bear fruit, either. Berries are produced the second year.

Blackberries can be grouped into three types according to their growth habit:
  1. Trailing, which produce thin, weak canes, and require support;
  2. Semi-erect, which produce stronger canes, but still require support;
  3. Erect, which produce strong canes, and do not require support.
Within these groups are thornless and thorny cultivars.

When blackberry crowns and roots are established, they send up shoots which are called primocanes. No fruit is produced on these the first year. The second year, shoots are produced from the primocanes. These secondary shoots are called floricanes. The floricanes are the ones that bear fruit. After the floricanes bear fruit, they die. In 2004, the University of Arkansas began releasing new “everbearing” cultivars that bear fruit on new primocanes in fall.

Trailing and semi-erect blackberries usually produce primocanes from the crowns. Erect
blackberries produce primocanes from crowns and roots. One practical result is that trailing and semi-erect blackberries tend to stay in the garden row, whereas erect blackberries are not so easily confined.

Consultation with your local Cooperative Extension Service is essential for choosing cultivars that are suitable for your area. Blackberries are self-fruitful, so it is not necessary to plant more than one cultivar, unless you wish to extend the harvest season by planting early and late-season bearers.

The following, listed alphabetically, are a few to consider:

Arapaho. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1993, it is erect and thornless. The picking period is short. Fruit is good quality, medium size, short, cone-shaped, glossy black, and stores well.

Black Satin. Thornless, and semi-erect. When ripe, a few portions of the berry remain red.

Cherokee. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1974, the plants are vigorous, erect, and thorny. Fruit is large and firm, with very good flavor.

Chester Thornless. Released by USDA Small Fruit Breeding Program and Southern Illinois University in 1985, fruits are large, firm, and ripen late season. Canes are semi-erect.

Cheyenne. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1977, fruits are large and firm. Canes are vigorous, erect and moderately thorny.

Choctaw. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1989, fruits are medium size. Seeds are small. Plants are vigorous, erect, and thorny.

Dirksen Thornless. Released by the USDA, fruits are large and sweet. Plants are semi-erect and very hardy.

Hull. Released by USDA and Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station in 1981, the plants are thornless and semi-erect. Fruits are large.

Illini-Hardy. Released in 1988, the plant is very cold hardy. Fruits are medium size with good flavor. Plants are vigorous, erect and thorny.

Kiowa. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1996, the canes are vigorous, erect and very thorny. Fruit is very large fruit and ripen over a long season.

Navaho. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1988, berries are medium size and good quality. Canes are erect and thornless.

Prime-Jan. Released by the University of Arkansas in 2004, berries are large size, good quality. Canes are erect and thorny.

Prime-Jim. Released by the University of Arkansas in 2004, berries are medium size and good quality. Canes are erect and thorny.

Shawnee. Released by the University of Arkansas in 1985, fruits are large and good quality. Plants are hardy and very productive. Excellent for backyard gardens.

Triple Crown. Released by the in USDA 1996, fruits are very large and excellent quality. Ripens late. Canes are semi-erect.

Blackberries are generally hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 10. Those developed and released by university breeding programs in Northern states are best suited for those areas.

Blackberries require full sun, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter with pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Where drainage is a problem, blackberries should be grown in raised beds.

Ideal planting sites should be protected from spring frosts and strong winds. Good air circulation is essential for avoiding diseases. To avoid diseases, do not plant blackberries near tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and similar crops of the Solanaceae family. Similarly, avoid sites where other fruits have been grown. Because wild blackberries can host diseases, do not plant cultivated blackberries nearby.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the recommendations. Begin preparing the site by spraying weeds with glyphosate herbicide. When weeds have died, till the area, wait for dormant weed seeds to germinate, then spray the area again with glyphosate.

Blackberry plantings can be started from container-grown plants, bare-root plants, bare-root crowns or root cuttings. Bare-root plants are dug from nursery rows, soil removed, and partially trimmed. They may produce a few fruit the first year. Bare-root crowns are dug from nursery rows, soil removed, canes removed and roots trimmed. No fruit will be produced the first year. Root cuttings are sections of roots about 6 inches long and the diameter of a pencil. Again, no fruit will be produced the first year. Cuttings are most economical to purchase. Container-grown plants may be available year-around. Bare root plants, crowns and root cuttings are normally available from late fall through early spring.

Fall through early spring planting is preferable. Keep plants moist after arrival. If roots are dry, soak them in water overnight before planting.

Plant spacing varies according to the type of plant and training method. Trailing and semi-erect plants should be planted about 6 feet apart in rows to allow for training their long canes on trellises. Erect blackberries should be planted 3 feet apart in rows. Root cuttings should be planted 2 feet apart in rows. Primocanes of erect blackberries will be produced from the roots as they spread. Blackberry rows should be 10 to 12 feet apart to allow for easy maintenance.

Remove container-grown blackberries from their pots and plant with the top of the root ball at the same level as surrounding soil. Plant bare-root plants and bare-root crowns at the same depth that they grew in the nursery row. This can be determined by observing a difference in color and texture around the crown. The area below soil level will be lighter color. Root cuttings should be planted in a shallow trench about 3 inches deep.

Weeds must be controlled from the beginning. Small gardens may be hand-weeded, taking care to avoid harming tender young canes. Heavy applications of mulch are effective for controlling weeds provided that water drainage is not impeded. Larger gardens may require herbicides. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations. Always follow label instructions.

Semi-erect and trailing blackberries will require trellising, however the trellises need not be constructed the first year. Trellises must be constructed before the second growing season.

Many trellis designs have been developed. The simplest method is to drive a sturdy post into ground near the plant crown, then gather the canes and tie them to the post. This, however, is not the best for optimal fruit production.

A simple two-wire trellis may be the easiest for the backyard fruit grower to build. Determine the desired length of the blackberry row. I recommend it be no shorter than 36 feet.

Begin with braced end-posts at the each end of the row. Use 8 foot long pressure treated fence posts. Install them 2 feet deep and 8 feet apart. Secure an 8 foot long pressure-treated cross post between them. If the row is no longer than 36 feet, two 11-gauge wires may be strung between the end posts. The bottom wire should be 3 feet from ground level. The top wire should be 2 feet above the lower wire.

If the blackberry row is longer than 36 feet, steel fence posts may be driven into the ground to support the wires. The steel fence posts may be as far as 20 feet apart. After the trellis is constructed, the canes should be tied individually to the wires with baling string or plastic tape. Many growers attach the canes to the wires in a fan-shaped configuration. After attaching them, lateral branches may be trimmed to 12 inches long.

Expect a small harvest the first year. After the berries have been picked, remove the old canes. Take care when pruning to avoid damaging new ones. During the growing season, short, weak canes should be removed to put more of the plants resources into producing longer, robust canes. Canes that grow taller than the top wire can be trimmed at the ends to encourage lateral branching.

Erect blackberries do not need trellising, however a shorter trellis 3 feet high may be constructed to support floricanes with heavy crops. The canes shouldn't need to be attached to the trellis, but a gardener may wish to gently weave them between the wires. When the canes reach the top wire, they can topped with a hedge trimmer to encourage lateral branching. As with trailing and semi-erect blackberries, old canes should be removed after berries are harvested.

Blackberries are shallow-rooted, so the top 6 inches of soil should remain moist, especially during fruit production. Combined rainfall and irrigation should amount to 1 inch of water per week. Mulch applied to a depth of 3 or 4 inches conserve moisture and reduce the amount of water needed.

The soil analysis results obtained from your Cooperative Extension Service will indicate the type and amount of fertilizer needed.

Insects and diseases can damage blackberries, but a proper planting site and garden hygiene can reduce problems.
  1. Purchase only disease-free plants;
  2. I mentioned before that wild blackberries should not be present. If they appear, get rid of them;
  3. Remove diseased and insect-infested plants;
  4. Prune and remove old canes from the garden soon after harvest;
  5. Burn the removed debris.
Blackberries are pollinated by honey bees, so care must be taken to avoid insecticide use anywhere in the garden during bloom period.

Blackberries should be picked at least twice weekly. Pick only when fully ripe. Picking them in the morning will maintain fruit quality. Because the fruit is soft, picking and storage containers should be no deeper than 2 inches. Refrigerate soon after harvesting.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Growing Rabbiteye Blueberries

Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei), native to the Southeastern United States, are popular with backyard gardeners in that part of the country. The earliest varieties were bred from native plants found in Georgia and Florida. The berries, large and sweet, are produced from late May to late July. The shrubs thrive in the heat, and have no significant insect or disease problems. Maintenance is minimal. Most varieties mature in about 10 years, but may produce small crops in as few as 3 years. Some grow as tall as 12 feet and 10 feet across.

I strongly recommend consulting with your Cooperative Extension Service office for choosing varieties that have proven successful for your area. Rabbiteye blueberries are generally hardy in USDA climate zones 6 to 9. Careful variety selection is a more important consideration having to do with flowering time and avoiding frost damage.

Popular varieties include the following:

'Tifblue' is one of the most widely planted. It was an early introduction from the University of Georgia Experiment Station in Tifton, GA. Fruits are large and ripen late in the season. The bush is large and vigorous. It's one of the more cold-hardy varieties.

'Woodard' is a large, light blue rabbiteye blueberry that ripens early. This and Tifblue are the old, tried and true standards. You can't go wrong with either.

'Climax' ripens early and in a short period of time. Quality and size is good. It's perfect for commercial operations harvesting with machines, or for backyard fruit growers who need to get it done and take a vacation.

'Brightwell' produces heavy yields of medium-sized fruit. It ripens early to mid-season. Include this one in your garden for blueberries between the early and late crops.

'Briteblue' is a medium-size shrub that produces large, light blue berries. Crops vary from year to year with moderate to heavy crops. It ripens early to mid-season.

Rabbiteye blueberries require well-drained, moist, acid soil with a pH of 4.0 to 5.0. Soil should be high in organic matter. Soil moisture can be maintained with irrigation or heavy mulch. Raised beds should be constructed in low-lying sites where too much water accumulates.

Cross-pollination is essential for good yields. Two or three varieties should be included in every planting. Bees do the work.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Begin preparing the site by spraying weeds with glyphosate herbicide. When weeds have died, till the area, wait for dormant weed seeds to germinate, then spray the area again with glyphosate. Peat, compost or pulverized pine bark should be worked into the area.

Select two-year-old bare-root or container-grown plants. When planting, do not allow the roots to dry. Bare-root plants should be kept covered and moist until the moment they are planted. Water container-grown plants in their pots, and allow to drain well before planting.

After removing the pots, the roots of container-grown plants may need to be teased out from the root ball. If tightly compacted, the root ball may be sliced a bit around the sides and bottom to encourage better root penetration into the soil.

Blueberry rows should be at least 10 feet apart. Closer spacing will make it difficult to move between the rows when the shrubs mature. Plant spacing is a matter of preference. They may be planted as close as 3 feet apart in rows to form hedges. Most backyard growers prefer spacing 6 feet apart.

Set the plants 1 inch deeper in the planting hole than they grew in the containers or nursery row. Some growers recommend pruning the tops of the bushes back by one-half at planting time, but the benefit is debatable.

As the bushes grow taller, they also produce sprouts from the base. The bushes spread as the sprouts mature. Berries are borne on the previous year's growth. In order for the plant to have abundant crops, new wood must be produced annually. Therefore, fertilization is important. Care must be taken regarding the type of fertilizer and the timing of applications.

Plants such as blueberries, azaleas and camellias which thrive in acidic soils are very sensitive to nitrogen. Therefore nitrate-based fertilizers should not be used unless in a very slow-release form. Ammonium sulfate or special azalea/camellia fertilizers are safer.

Newly planted rabbiteye blueberries should not be fertilized when planting. Fertilizer may be applied the second growing season. Applications should be small and frequent, with no more than 1 ounce of ammonium sulfate applied during the second growing season. In future years, the application may be increased by 1 ounce per year, but never more than 1/2 pound per plant. Fertilizer should be distributed around the plant, not at the base of it.

Mulch is very beneficial, especially for young blueberry plants. It helps to conserve moisture, control weeds and reduce soil temperature. Pine straw, pine bark, leaves, grass clippings and compost are frequently used. Apply mulch 4 inches deep extending from the base at least 2 feet, and further out as the plant matures.
Even with mulch, weeds can be troublesome. Small plantings may be hand-weeded. Larger plantings may require weed control with a selective herbicide. Consult with your Cooperative Extension Service for appropriate recommendations.

Irrigation is essential for young plants, and beneficial for older ones, especially during harvest. Weekly irrigation is better than daily, promoting deeper root penetration into the soil. Rabbiteye blueberries are by nature shallow-rooted. Provide 3 to 4 gallons per week for young plants. Fully mature blueberry shrubs may require up to 30 gallons per week, depending upon rainfall.

Rabbiteye blueberries need little pruning. Lower limbs can be removed to keep the fruit off the ground. Plant height may be reduced to keep fruit within reach. Dead limbs should be removed. Pruning is best done between the time of harvest and flowering the following spring.

Depending upon the location, weather and blueberry variety, flowering may begin as early as February, making frost damage a very real possibility. Again, consulting with your Cooperative Extension Service for appropriate varieties for your area can be helpful.

Blueberry harvest spans 4 to 6 weeks, perhaps longer if varieties with different harvest times are selected. A normal season can extend from late May to late July. Blueberries should not be harvested until they are ripe. They won't ripen off the bush. A mature shrub can produce up to 15 pounds of fruit.

Rabbiteye blueberries have few pests; birds are the peskiest. The few diseases that afflict them are usually associated with environmental stresses such as drought or overwatering. They can usually be controlled by maintaining a proper environment, and pruning out affected parts.

In addition to the fruit, rabbiteye blueberries can be ornamental. A profusion of white to pale pink, bell-shaped flowers are beautiful in spring. Fall turns the foliage to scarlet.

Considering the fruit, landscape value, and ease of cultivation, it's no wonder that rabbiteye blueberries are so popular throughout the south.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A question about the best time to plant.

When is the best time to plant fruit trees?

Anytime is a good time to plant container-grown fruit trees, even during summer. The same goes for fruiting shrubs. What more is involved than preparing the site, digging some holes, watering them in their pots, lifting them from their containers, putting them in the ground, watering some more, and adding a layer of mulch? As long as the soil isn't shaken from their roots in the process, the plants should do well. They will require watering whether planted or not, but less watering  if planted.

Container-grown fruit trees and shrubs planted in fall should not succumb to cold temperatures during winter, provided that they are in good health to begin with and cold hardy in your area.  The roots are better protected in the ground.  Though the branches and foliage will not grow during cold weather, the roots will establish themselves.  As a result, they will be ready to get growing the following spring, and they'll need a little less watering when hot weather arrives.

It's different when planting bare-root fruit trees. They must be dug and planted during dormancy for a good chance of survival. Because roots establish themselves throughout the winter, I would personally rather plant them during fall, but it would be very unlikely to find them on the market. Growers may begin digging their bare-root stock during late winter, weather permitting, and may not be able to ship until early spring. So spring planting is likely the only option.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Question: What's going on with my persimmon tree?

I have a Japanese persimmon tree with two different kinds of leaves. One part of the tree has longer, narrower leaves. Another part has fatter leaves. The part with the narrow leaves doesn't bear fruit. What's going on with my persimmon tree?

I'm often asked questions such as this, mostly about common fruit trees like apples, peaches and pears. Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) scions are often grafted onto American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) seedling rootstocks. It sounds to me like the rootstock of your tree sprouted and grew, perhaps even overtaking your Japanese persimmon. The American persimmon is the one with the narrower leaves. You should remove the rootstock sprout, but it will surely sprout again - maybe even producing more sprouts next time. The larger the rootstock sprout has become the more new sprouts it will produce. If the rootstock sprout is as thick as your arm, you've got trouble. You'll have to stay on top of the situation and remove the new sprouts as soon as they appear.

 John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Another question about pruning old muscadine grapes gone wild.

I recently moved to home in Florida and the yard is overgrown with muscadine vines, which I would like to save! The property is on 1.25 acres and I have long farm fence I can use as a trellis or arbor.   The previous owners planted about ten plants, but the yard has not been maintained and vines grew long and into the yard (covering the Brazilian peppers which I've been removing) . Most of the vines start at the fence line.  The vines are skinny and produce small fruit,  but run 50 feet or so. I want to know how much I should cut back or prune. Do I cut them off at the top of the fence line?  How do I get them to "T" off? How do I know if I am cutting too much?

 I think I understand that the long farm fence may have been the support for the previously planted vines. If that's not correct, let me know.

I wouldn't use the farm fence as a trellis. It will make pruning much more difficult. Vines will grow into it, tendrils will attach to it, you'll have a difficult time removing them, sooner or later you'll feel like giving up...which is probably what the previous owner did. If it were mine, I'd get rid of everything growing in that fence. Then I'd build a proper trellis and plant new vines.

A proper trellis would be constructed of a single-wire trellis. The end posts should be sturdy and braced to allow the wire to be tightly strung without bowing or sagging. If you leave the fence, construct the trellis far enough away from the fence line to prevent the vines from growing into it.

But, if you decide to go ahead with the farm fence as a vine support, start by cutting all the vines off that stick out from the sides of the fence. Then cut off all the vines at the top of the fence. (Shave it both sides and on top.) This will allow you to see what you're doing.

Next, see if you can find the oldest grape vine trunks. Ideally the original vines should have been planted 20' apart, but there's no telling. If the oldest grape vine trunks are healthy and are spaced reasonably far apart, mark them somehow (colored plastic ribbon). See if you can identify two lateral vines at the tops of the trunks inclined to opposite directions along the fence to use as horizontal arms. Mark them, too, and try not to remove them. After that, remove everything else. That procedure should give you something approaching the T-shape you want. Take whatever is left of the lateral vines (soon-to-be arms) and train them horizontally at the top of the fence, going in opposite directions. Bear in mind that whatever errant vines and roots that remain in the ground will try to sprout next spring, so you'll have to stay on top of that situation.

If you think you've cut off too much for the health of the vines, don't worry about it. Even if you cut them all back to ground level, they'll sprout next spring.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Question about muscadine vines growing along the ground.

I have several 2 year old muscadine vines that are producing well.  The vines hang to the ground.  Am I  supposed to keep the vines pruned back off the ground?

It doesn't hurt anything for the vines to hang to the ground.  They may get in the way of your lawn mower.  There's also the greater possibility for them to be sprayed if you apply herbicide under the vines to kill weeds.  Other than that, there's no harm in letting the vines grow to the ground.

On the other hand, if you wish to prune your vines to tidy up a bit, it won't hurt them in the least.  I suggest you prune them so that they hang no lower than your knees.  I'm assuming that you are growing them on a single wire trellis.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Question about pruning a father's old muscadine vines.

I have inherited my fathers property which include his coveted muscadine vines. He could put anything in the ground and it would grow. These vines are at least 20+ years and it looks as if they need a little pruning. Dad made it to 90 years old and I don't think he could care for them the last couple of years like he use to. There are still some green leaves on them and I was wondering if this month (October) is a good time to do some pruning?  We live in south central Louisiana in case the region would need to be taken into consideration.

You could do some pruning now if you simply need to thin out some of the vines or trim them up so they don't run along the ground.  But if you need to do some radical pruning, as described in my Youtube videos, you should wait until the vines drop their leaves and become dormant.  Around here, that would be after Thanksgiving.  Don't be alarmed if the spurs (remaining stubs of the cut vines) drip water during warm spells; the will not "bleed" to death.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Question about pruning old muscadine vines gone wild.

I just purchased a home in Louisiana. There are two muscadine vines that appear to not have been pruned for some time. I definitely want to keep them but I'm not sure what to do at this point. Is it too late to prune?  I'm not even sure how to properly prune them. The two trunks are growing toward each other instead of the T shape that I've normally seen. Please advise.

The month of June is a little late to prune. You might remove too much and the plant be weakened. Besides, it would be easier to see what you're doing without leaves on the vines.

Since you know that the T-shape is ideal, you know what to work towards. I once heard an anecdote about advice given by a sculptor to his student. The student was unsure how to carve a fish from a block of stone. The sculptor told him to remove everything that didn't look like the fish.

Pruning the grape vine is kind of like that. Identify the main trunk and remove the others. Choose two long vines for arms (one to grow in each direction). They should be well-placed near the top of the trunk, and hopefully will be long enough and stout. Mark them, remove all others. Identify well-placed vines (spurs) that grow from the horizontal arms. Remove all others. Prune the remaining spurs to the length of 3 or 4 buds.

I've made many mistakes pruning grape vines. Thankfully, the vines are rather forgiving. You always get another chance, even if it comes next year.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Question about a muscadine vine growing in the woods.

I recently discovered a muscadine vine at the edge of the woods around my yard. The vine is growing as high as 15 feet into the trees. I can't see much fruit, maybe 3 or 4 grapes so far. Should I try to cut it back this fall or in the spring? If so, how much should I prune from it? There's also a lot of vines in the back of my house in the trees as high as 20 or 30 ft .I don't see any grapes on them. Are they needed for the others to produce? Thank you so much for any information you can give me.

Some muscadines are perfect-flowered, meaning that they have both male and female flower parts. Therefore they pollinate themselves and produce fruit. Other muscadines are pistillate, meaning that they only have female flower parts. They require the pollen from a perfect-flowered variety to produce fruit.

If a vine has only a few fruits, it could be that it is pistillate and a pollinator is not near enough to share much pollen. Or it could mean that the vine is perfect-flowered, but growing in too much shade. Vines growing in shade don't produce as much fruit or flowers.

If a vine bears no fruit, it is probably pistillate and needs a pollinator.

I doubt that pruning would help much because the vine should be grown on a trellis. In addition, it probably isn't getting much sun since it is growing at the edge of the woods.

If you like the characteristics of the fruit, I recommend that you attempt to reproduce the vine through layering. (I intend to explain that technique in another post.) Later you can plant the young ones further out in the yard on a trellis where they can get some sun.

Unless you wish to clear the woods, I'd leave alone the ones growing in the trees. You may discover later that they will begin to produce fruit. Even if they don't produce fruit, I like the ones growing in the woods because the yellow foliage looks like golden garlands draped in the trees during fall.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Pruning Muscadine Grapes, Video #3

Pruning Muscadine Grapes, Video #2

Pruning Muscadine Grapes, Video #1

Welcome to Backyard Fruit Guide

Hello friends and followers of goGardenNow! I've received so many e-mails asking for advice about backyard fruit growing, that I have decided to begin a blog on the subject. I hope you'll benefit. If you have questions about backyard fruit growing, feel free to contact me at the e-mail address provided in my profile.

If you're new to this blog and have never heard of goGardenNow, check it out. There you'll find articles on ornamental plants such as perennials, ground covers, flower bulbs, answers to frequently asked questions, articles about botanical gardens and more. I'm pleased you're joining us, and I hope to hear from you frequently.

John J Marshall
John also blogs at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.