Questions on: Grapevines

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I planted several Concord grape vines during the past few years. I got a couple of very tiny grape buds this year, but they dried up and died. What am I doing wrong? (e-mail reference)

A: Everyone always assumes they are doing something wrong when a plant fails to perform to their expectations. Grapes need pollinator activity to set viable fruit, but there is a shortage of bee activity throughout the country. When the flower cannot be pollinated by bees, the resulting fruit usually atrophies. It is not your fault, just a shortcoming in nature's network.


Q: I stumbled upon your Web site today as I was searching for information on maintaining Concord grapes. We just moved into our house. There are two fantastic grapevines in our yard that have to be at least 20 years old, but have not been maintained. We are brand new to grape growing, so we are hoping that you may be able to give us some advice on fertilizing, pruning and bird protection. We would appreciate any assistance! (Wakefield, Mass.)

A: Pruning vines on an annual basis is enough of a challenge, but yours is in the impossible area after looking at the photos you sent! I have no idea how to tell you where to begin. They are survivors, so probably anything you do will not kill the vines. All I can advise is to prune anything that is inconvenient for you or your movement around the property. After looking at the photos, you don't need to fertilize. Netting and scare balloons seem to work best to keep the birds away.


Q: I have operated a bed and breakfast in Asheville, N.C., for almost three years. The home on the property was built in 1885. We think that the grapevine is probably more than 100 years old. There is a root/vine that is running on top of the ground. Every foot or so, a few roots have grown out of the root/vine and are anchored into the ground. Do we somehow need to guide this root onto another training system or do we prune the root back? (e-mail reference)

A: The grapevine is exhibiting a talent for serpentine layering. Roots form at nodes that come into contact with the soil. These can be separated from the mother plant and grown as a stand-alone grapevine. You might have a special grapevine, so I would suggest contacting a horticulturist at North Carolina State to see if someone is interested in grand, old plants such as this. Something that has survived and produced this long may be a launcher of some tough, new grapevines for commercial production that may be of value to the wine industry.


Q: I moved into a house in September 2006 that has a nice grapevine. I share the fence the vine is on with my neighbor. She has asked me to cut down the grapevine so that she can repaint the fence. Is it possible for me to cut it all the way back without destroying it? I enjoy what little privacy it provides between our backyards. (e-mail reference)

A: If this is a grapevine with any age to it, I can almost guarantee you that it will regrow with a vengeance after you cut it down. I would suggest coordinating it with your neighbor so that when you cut it back, she can get right on with the job of painting the fence within a day or two. I also would suggest that you cover the cut stump or stumps with a bucket or anything that will keep the paint from drifting onto the plant. This whole operation should take place while the vine is still dormant, not the middle of the growing season when it is in full leaf.


Q: I had a client inquire about growing Marquette grapes (MN 1211) in the Bismarck area. Have you heard of anyone having success growing this new variety? Should I recommend that she stick with a Beta or Valiant? (e-mail reference)
A: I would take a chance on this one, unless the client is going into heavy grape growing. If we stay with the same old varieties, we'll never progress! Here is a write-up describing Marquette. “Marquette is a promising new red wine variety from the University of Minnesota that combines high levels of cold hardiness and disease resistance with excellent wine quality. Marquette has withstood temperatures as low as minus 36 without serious injury. Resistance to common grape diseases, such as downy and powdery mildew and black rot, has been excellent and the vine only requires a minimal spray program. Resistance to infestation by foliar phylloxera has been moderate. The open and orderly growth habit of Marquette is considered highly desirable. Sugar levels have been high, averaging 26.1 brix. Acid levels averaged 1.21 percent lower than that of Frontenac. Yields have averaged 5.46 Kg per vine or 3.6 tons per acre. Tasters have noted an attractive, deep red color, desirable aromas of cherry, black pepper, spice and berry, plus a substantial tannin structure rarely found in hybrid wines.” My vote is to go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Q: I attended your seminar at the Marketplace for Entrepreneurs in Fargo to listen to your discussion about growing grapes and making wine. It was crowded in the room, so I wasn't able to take very good notes. Can you please give me the basics for growing grapes in North Dakota? (e-mail reference)

A: As a hobby, grape growing is fun, but growing grapes as a business requires a lot more investment in learning than what I can give you in this column. Grapes thrive in warm locations and in soil of moderate fertility. Given too rich a soil or one that is heavily fertilized, a vigorous vine will result, but will bear little fruit. Soil that has decent drainage also is important, so don't locate any vines at the bottom of a swale or where water tends to collect following a heavy rain. Look for varieties that are hardy so you won’t have to bury the vine each year. Some examples are native beta, valiant, Swenson's red, king of the north and frontenac. Plant in early spring while the vines are dormant (if possible). Be sure to give the vines a good initial watering. The vines take off with initial vigor, which, if not tied to a stake the first year, will wander all over the place. In subsequent years, you want to establish a permanent trunk so you can train the plant to bear fruit efficiently. With proper training, it will take about three years before fruit of any quantity is produced. After that, you need to be a good manager of the vine or vines, which includes timely pruning, monitoring for disease and insect problems, keeping bunnies and deer at bay, and when the fruit starts to mature, keeping the birds from wiping out the crop. There are almost limitless variations that can influence the success or failure of growing a new crop. I encourage people interested in such ventures to educate themselves as much as possible through reading reputable books, attending seminars, taking notes on your successes and failures and learning from other growers. Most growers are willing to share their knowledge.


Q: We had a person call today inquiring about growing grapes in North Dakota. He has valiant grape plants hardy for zones 3 to 8. After he pruned his plants, he planted the cuttings in pots.

What does he do with the cuttings for the winter? (e-mail reference)

A: Assuming they have rooted in the containers, when fall comes and the leaves drop, have him plant them where he wants them to grow and water them well. They will survive, unless we have a record-breaking low temperature, with little to no snow. If he doesn't want to take them out of the pots because they will be planted elsewhere or given to someone, have him put the plant, pot and all, into the ground and water in. The following spring he can lift them out and give them away or plant them where he desires.


Q: I inherited a grapevine that I assumed was wild, but who knows. In the spring, I get tiny grape clusters, but they disappear in a few weeks. It's like they burst into flower and then they're done. Is there anything I can do to get fruit? (e-mail reference)

A: You may be seeing the flower buds, but not the fruit. If the flowers were not fertilized, they will not produce fruit. You may have one of those all-male vines that do not produce female flowers or vice versa. Most grapevines are hermaphroditic, which means both sex organs are present ("perfect flower"). The vines are wind-pollinated, so with no other vine in the area, you won’t get fruit set.


Q: My husband and I recently bought a house with a very large grape vine growing in the alley. Is it too late to prune it? When can we expect to have grapes? The previous owners cut it down last year, so they have no idea if it will produce fruit. (e-mail reference)

A: You can tell if it is going to have grapes this year by looking along the vine. You should see little clusters about the size of BB shot. You can prune it now to reduce the vigorous vegetative growth. The best time to prune to bring the vine under control is in the early spring while it is still dormant. You can prune it back to a couple of cordons or a single stem. Groom the plant from there into the vine that you want. The vine should bear fruit and be less foliar productive.


Q: I am interested in propagating a grapevine. Would you please mail me a copy of the publication on this subject? (e-mail reference)

A: You can download the propagation bulletin faster than I can mail it to you. Go to www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/landscap/h1257.pdf. Go to P. 7 of the publication and take a look at sketch No.16, which shows simple layering. This is the easiest and fastest way to propagate grapevines.


Q: I purchased a valiant grape plant this spring. I asked the garden center about the beta grape because I would like to plant one or two of those along with the valiant. Because the garden center did not know anything about the beta, I gave them your name as a source of information. I hope that they will do that because I plan to go back this spring to purchase the beta. The climbing area is 8 or 10 feet long and equally as high. It appears that three plants (including the valiant I already have) would be appropriate for that space, judging by the size the valiant got to the first year. Does my thinking seem reasonable? Will beta and valiant plants get along in the space I will provide? Can you please send me any information you have on how to care for my grape plants and any information on how to process the grapes into jams, juice or wine? (Osnabrock, N.D.)

A: Here is a Web site for you to check, www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/askext/mainlist.htm. For specifics on grape varieties, go to www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG1103.html.


Q: I have a Concord grapevine in my garden. The grapes are turning brown on the vine and a few of the leaves have red dots. Any idea of what I can do? (e-mail reference)

A: The fruit symptoms sound like botrytis fungus and the leaf symptoms resemble a fungal disease known as black rot, but only a lab analysis can confirm these guesses. Fungicidal sprays, such as Captan, will control further spread, but will not cure what already has taken place. Keep in mind that some fungicides should not be used, such as the sulfur-based types, when the temperature is 85 degrees or higher. Be sure to read the label directions. Both of these maladies show up during rainy periods and times of high humidity. Proper pruning, good air circulation, avoiding water splash during irrigation and preventative applications of fungicides will control these diseases.


Q: We inherited a robust grape vine (we think it is a Concord) when we bought this house 12 years ago. Each year we pick the ripe grapes and make grape juice (adding organic apple juice to sweeten it). Someone suggested we cut back the leaves so the grapes get more sun and are sweeter. Would you recommend this very labor-intensive approach? The vines have never been pruned to our knowledge, but don’t seem to get bigger. Should we leave the vines the way they are or start pruning now? (e-mail reference)

A: Sun-ripened grapes will have higher sugar content than those grown in the shade of the leaves. However, why change if you are happy with the process you are going through and not inclined to get into pruning?


Q: I think that my grapevine leaves have a disease or parasites (I see small worms on the leaves). I just moved into a house with a grape arbor, but I don’t know how to take care of it. It is growing like wildfire, but many leaves have holes. Some leaves are completely eaten away or destroyed. What does this mean? Can I save my grapes? (e-mail reference)

A: It means that you have some critter out that is finding your grape leaves very tasty! Spray the plant with Sevin insecticide. Be sure to cover all leaf surfaces.


Q: My daughter in Utah sent me cuttings from her edible grape vines. There are numerous leaves opening on each stem. How do I plant the cuttings? (e-mail reference)

A: Get them in a moist media as soon as possible. Use a 50/50 mix of sand and peat. Keep the cuttings out of direct sunlight if possible. They easily root when dormant, but in the leaf stage, it depends somewhat on luck. Good luck


Q: I want to grow grapes for eating and making a few gallons of wine. My soil is fairly heavy. What varieties would work for this area? I am more interested in making wine than eating grapes. Should I mix sand or anything else in the planting hole? I would assume that when they begin to bear fruit, I would need to cover the grapes to minimize bird damage. Can you give me some planting instructions? I always enjoy reading your column. (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Thanks for the compliment! I would prefer to send you complete information through the mail, so send me your mailing address. Adding sand to heavy soil will turn it into brick unless the volume ratio is at least 8-to-1 (sand/soil).


Q: I have had grapevines for about 10 years. Until two years ago, they produced good crops. In recent years, I get adequate vine growth and many florets that begin to develop into grape clusters. However, when the grapes get to 1/8 inch in diameter, the grapes turn hard, black and do not develop into edible grapes. Last year, the vines produced minimal edible grapes. I added superphosphate to the root system, but it did not help. (e-mail reference)

A: It could be fruit rot or botrytis bunch rot. An on-site collection of the grapes and perhaps a lab culture will be needed to make a positive identification. Without knowing the pathogen, I would suggest starting a spray program using a bordeaux mixture as the plants begin to show new growth. Spray again on a two-week basis. I would encourage you to get an application on the grape clusters before they close to be sure the fungicide hits all sides of the individual grapes. This is a generic recommendation that should provide some protection. It’s like a doctor telling you to take “two aspirins,” hoping it will take care of the problem.


Q: I have a client who would like to start grape cuttings (indoors). When is the best time to do this? (e-mail reference)

A: It depends on whether or not your client has cold storage capabilities. If not, then wait until the cuttings can be set directly outdoors early this spring. If cold storage exists, then anytime should be acceptable. Assuming not too many are going to be taken, here is a routine that can be followed to have fair success in getting them to root. First, callus tissue must form before the cuttings can root and before they can be placed outside. Make sure there are at least three nodes per cutting. Stand the cuttings in water for several hours or overnight to allow them to imbibe as much as possible. Dip the cuttings in a medium-strength rooting hormone. Dip the cuttings for about five seconds if using something such as Dip’n’Grow. Then dip the cuttings in powdered endomycorrhizal fungi. Fill a 6-inch tall plastic or open-bottomed paper pot with light potting soil or a mix of perlite and peat (3-1 mix). Set the pots in a flat and place the flat on a heat mat. Be sure the bottoms are within an inch of the heated area, tamp in lightly and water it well. Keep the flat in a cool area and out of direct sunlight. The sun isn’t needed until the buds break. Keep the soil moist, but water as little as possible. Water cools the root zone and slows root formation. It will take two to four weeks for the cuttings to root. When rooting takes place, they can be moved to larger pots, which are usually gallon containers or directly set out in a permanent location. This information was gleaned from the book “The Grape Grower - A Guide to Organic Viticulture” by Lon Rombough.


Q: I live at Lake Metigoshe (Bottineau, N.D.) and have nine Valiant grapevines in my back yard, which I cut back in the spring of 2003 before it warmed up. That year I hardly had any grapes. I let them go last spring and had a good crop for wine. I’ve been told they need to be cut back, but in my case, it produced a much smaller crop. A note for wine makers, freezing the grapes before fermentation produces a better wine. (e-mail reference)

A: Proper pruning of the vine should result in increased production. There’s a possibility that your particular plants rambled so much that more grapes were produced. Keep in mind that vine production needs to tie in with the ease of harvest. Same holds true for raspberries and strawberries. Thanks for the tip on freezing in relation to making wine.


Q: A couple of days ago I was reading your column. Someone wrote in to ask about a killer grape. You said it probably was a beta grape. Does it have another name? Will it grow in our area? Do you know where I can get it? (Park River, N.D.)

A: A beta grape is still a beta grape by any other name. I don’t know of another name for it, but a better choice is the valiant grape. Its growth is more moderate and produces better fruit. Valiant grape will grow in Park River!


Q: I was in New York city this summer and bought some really good, large, red grapes. I gave some to a friend and she suggested that I save the seeds and plant them next year. Can you tell me when is the best time to put the seeds in the ground and how many years it would take to grow some grapes? (e-mail reference)

A: Having never done this myself, I am depending on one of my research references. The seeds need at least 60 days of temperature stratification to cause germination. The data says the seeds will germinate best with light, rather than darkness, so do not plant the seed deep. I would simply scatter the seeds over a pre-moistened, sterile media and pat them gently into the surface with the palm of your hand.


Q: What is the name of the winery in Bowman or in the southwestern part of the state? Do you know of others in western N.D. beside Pointe of View Winery in Burlington? (e-mail reference)

A: It is the Golden Valley Winery. Their phone number is (701) 523-2949. The names of the proprietors are Brian and Roxanne Loken, very nice folks.


Q: Is a grapevine the only plant to produce fruit without first producing blooms? (e-mail reference)

A: It does produce flowers; you just don’t see them.


Q: I have orange spots on the leaves of my valiant grape vine. The grapes are turning a red-blue color and withering away. (e-mail reference)

A: Controlling diseases on grapes is not difficult, provided you follow strict disease control practices such as pruning, cultivating and spraying. If you are not prepared to carry out all three practices, you will not be a successful grape grower. Of all the diseases that can affect grape growing, your description appears to fit that of the fungus, downy mildew. The fungus attacks all the green parts of the vine. Initially, lesions are yellowish and oily and then become angular with yellow to reddish-brown spots. Infected shoots thicken and curl, then turn brown and die. Young berries become gray when infected. The fungus overwinters primarily in infected leaves on the ground. It may also survive as mycelium in buds during mild winters. Pre-bloom sprays are necessary for control. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done now. Spray with a Bordeaux mixture next spring as foliage unfolds and again 10 days later. Repeat in 30 days. The best action is sanitation, so excellent fall clean-up is essential.


Q: Three summers ago a friend gave me a slip from a grape vine. I thought for sure that I had killed it the first summer because it looked sickly, but it survived. Last summer I purchased an arbor, planted it and had maybe a dozen small, purple grape clusters. This year, it looked like I’d been invaded by a killer grape! It totally took over the arbor and tried to latch on to the nearby tartan honeysuckle. When and how do I prune the offending plant? (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)

A: Grapes are typically pruned in late spring before leaf-out takes place. Don’t be afraid to cut it back hard. It sounds like a beta grape, which is as tough as nails. I have one myself and it does the same thing, even with the hard pruning in the spring. Cut it off the shrubs and trees you don’t want it climbing on. You want to cut it back to about an 18 to 24 inch stub next spring. Don’t worry, it will take off again. I’ve had mine for 18 years and have not given it one bit of encouragement!


Q: What causes rot spots to form on grapes? We have beautiful bunches of grapes, but they look like they are rotting. (e-mail reference)

A: The grapes probably have black rot fungus, which is caused by certain weather conditions. Spray the unaffected grapes with a Bordeaux mixture to stop the fungus from spreading. Next spring, while the plants are dormant, spray the vines with lime-sulfur to sanitize the plants. Remove and destroy all infected grape clusters.


Q: I recently heard a news report about North Dakota wineries perhaps not having enough grape suppliers to satisfy the requirement for locally grown grapes. I have been thinking about growing grapes for wine production. What type of grapes would be best for my area? (Moffit, N.D.)

A: I suggest contacting the wineries to see what varieties of grapes they want because there are many varieties that have the potential. It’s better to grow what the wineries want and have a reliable market source than to grow something no one wants. Valiant is the hardiest variety available and is being successfully grown in central Manitoba. However, it is probably the one least wanted by the wine makers. Ask them anyway. Frontenac, from the University of Minnesota, is a red wine grape, fairly disease resistant, bears heavily and produces a wine that is medium bodied with delightful plum and cherry flavors. It has high acid content that needs to be dealt with in wine production. King of the North is from southern Wisconsin. It is a heavy producer and yields a concord-type red wine, which is very customer-friendly. Chontay is an old Hansen hybrid from South Dakota. It has excellent hardiness, vigor and productivity. It makes a dark wine, jelly or juice. White wine producing grapes are not as numerous and hardy for the north, but here are a few to consider anyway. Prairie Star has good vigor, bearing capacity and excellent cold hardiness. It is often used in blending and produces a California style white wine. Frontenac gris is a mutant (chimera) from the original frontenac vine. It produces a nearly white wine but is culturally identical to the original frontenac in every other way. La Crescent produces a good white wine that has an apricot/pineapple flavor that is usually favored as desert wine. The NDSU Department of Plant Sciences is in the launching stage of grape-wine production research. We will be growing these and other varieties from Russia and China at our Fargo and Williston Experiment Stations. There is a possibility we will add a third site. To grow grapes, you need to locate land that has a gentle slope and is well drained. The slope should have a southern exposure to maximize good heat units. There should be nothing blocking the cold air drainage (buildings, dense shelterbelt, etc.) at the base of the slope. If at all possible, select a site near a large body of water for temperature modulation in spring and fall. Try to avoid placing the vineyard anywhere near where adjacent land is going to be sprayed for broadleaf weed control. You simply cannot give yourself too much of a buffer between land that is going to be sprayed (especially from the air) because the grape vine is very sensitive to phenoxy air-borne products. Ideally you should have a water source available for drip irrigation to carry the plants through extended drought periods. Be prepared for visits by the local mammalian rodent populations, including those with antlers. Electric fencing can be put in place that will offer some protection (9-wire fence) against raccoons, rabbits, voles, and deer. This can be done for about $1,000 an acre by a contractor. Work this year to get the site as weed-free as possible. Kill off existing grassy or weedy vegetation with RoundUp. Cultivate and allow vegetation to grow before killing it again with RoundUp in late summer or early fall. Sprinkle a creeping red fescue cultivar where you will be driving your equipment and till the area where the vines are to be planted the following spring. Place your order for cuttings by early February and store damp (moistened sphagnum moss) between 33 to 40 degrees until planting can take place in a weed-free location. Incorporate a pre-emergent herbicide like Treflan or Surflan to keep anything from sprouting while the vines get established the first year. Growing grapes for commercial purposes is a lot of hard, dirty work. You might get lucky and make money if the weather, market and your cultural practices all line up in a favorable manner. I will be speaking in Williston at the Farm Show in March (17-18). A possible source for vines is Great River Vineyard, 35680 Highway 61 Boulevard, Lake City, Minn. 55041. Their toll-free phone number is (877) 345-3531. They are probably out of some of the varieties I have mentioned. Like any other new venture, start out small and slowly, so you can afford to learn from your mistakes. Good luck!


Q: I would like to plant wild fox grapevines to make into wine. Is there a domestic variety or can you get larger grapes from wild vines by pruning them? Where can I buy plants? We have a row of Lombardy poplar trees that need to be taken down because of age. I like the shade they give. Is there a better tree that is narrow and fast growing? Lombardy poplar seems to have a bad reputation. What about balleana poplar or a hybrid poplar screen variety? The trees will be planted in northeast South Dakota. (Elk River, Minn.)

A: I found the fox name under Vitis labrusea, which is also know as skunk grape or concord grape. I do not have a list of suppliers. The Lombardy poplars have a richly deserved bad reputation but I won't waste space discussing it. The upright European aspen, populus tremala erecta is a much better selection for our part of the country. Any other poplar would be better than the Lombardy.


Q: A gentleman just asked me if he needs to freeze grape seeds before he plants them. He is looking to plant crimson red around an archway or in a row. (Mandan, N.D.)

A: He can freeze them or plant them outside. Mother nature will take care of the freezing process in our part of the country!


Q: I'm not a plant expert, but want to do a favor for my in laws. They want to move a 30-year-old grapevine so they can take it with them this fall. Is there a way to transplant it or part of it from rootstock? Should they use cuttings and try to root them? (E-mail reference)

A: You would need dynamite to get it out of the ground so save your back and take cuttings. They root easily and your in laws can then have several plants to harvest. Perhaps they will share the bounty with you, their favorite son in law!


Q: I purchased beta grape plants this spring and planted them in a wind protected area of my garden. I ran lawn edging in a circle around them about 10-inches from the center of the plant and added white rock on top of the soil to help hold in moisture. I put them about 3 feet apart and built a trellis for them to vine up. I gently tied the old branches and stronger new ones with yarn to hold them up. Is this the proper way to support them? Can you tell me the proper way to prune to promote the best fruit for next year? Is it necessary to add any type of fertilizer? (Battle View, N.D.)

A: Get rid of the rocks. They have no purpose and will cause problems as time passes. Replace the rocks with organic mulch such as shredded bark. I will send you a flier on grape care.


Q: I have a grape arbor in the back yard which produces very well and is now growing along the fence. This vine is now about five years old and I have never pruned it. Should I do so, and if so how far back should I prune it? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Good grief - never pruned in five years? I am surprised it has not taken over your house! The time to prune a grapevine is in the early spring before new growth begins, and in your case, I don't think it would make any difference how far back you pruned it, it would shoot up again with rampant growth!


Q: We have a grapevine that we planted about three years ago. It has really outdone itself growing this year. A few days ago, my husband noticed some of the leaves have little bumps on them. When he turned it over it looks like when spiders make an egg nest. Now they (the under side spots) are turning brown, but the leaves are still green and otherwise healthy looking. The grapes are starting to turn their purple color. What is it? We don't want to spray unless we have to. Would just removing the affected leaves help? (Dilworth, Minn.)

A: Yes, I would just remove the affected leaves, since I don't know what it could be, and I don't like to advise spraying with anything unless it is a strong necessity.


Q: My son bought a home in Wadena, Minn., last summer and has beautiful grapevines that produce delicious dark purple grapes. He does not know what kind they are. I would love to dig a few vines and transplant them in my back yard. Do grapes do well in southeastern North Dakota? If so, what time of the year should I try to move them and do they need much sun? Do the plants multiply? (Oakes, N.D.)

A: Grape vines can be propagated via serpentine layering. If you will send me your mailing address I will forward a copy of our publication "Home Propagation Techniques," which describes the process along with many others.


Q: I have three Beta grapes that are 3 years old. They grew into a large vine last year and I did get some grapes. Someone said that I should cut them back to 18 - 24 inches. Should I cut them back? (Elgin, N.D.)

A: You bet -- every year or they will take over the area!


Q: We just moved to our farm here near Ellendale and want to plant some fruit trees and bushes What kind of apple trees would grow best here? I would also like to plant some gooseberries. I know gooseberries will grow , as a neighbor has an old one they would like to get rid of. The gooseberry bush, located underneath another tree, is around 50 years old and quite large. I know I cannot safely remove the entire plant without damaging the tree. The bottom of the bush, with all its branches, is about 3 feet by 3 feet. How much will I need to take to get a viable plant , and when would be the best time to dig them? Also, I have a chance to get some mature grape vines from a friend in Minneapolis. Will they grow here? (Ellendale, N.D.)

A: Plenty of apples: Hazen, Sweet Sixteen, Haralson, Fireside, Honeygold, Prairie Spy, State Fair and Redwell to give you some selections off the top of my head. Concerning the gooseberry bush, dig ASAP and get as much of the root system as possible, after cutting it back to about 4-inch stubs. Grapes will grow in North Dakota, but it depends on the variety. If the friend is willing to give you some canes to root and try, give it a shot. Your location is almost in what is considered the "banana belt" of North Dakota, so your options would be open for better selections than for much of the rest of the state.


Q: My grapes have spots on the leaves. Some spots are 1/8 inch or less, round with dark borders and tan centers. As they get larger the tan centers get bigger and the dark border stays the same, Some up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Some have fallen off. Any ideas? (Fessenden, N.D.)

A: Spray with Bordeaux mixture right away to control the further spread of the fungus. I don't know what it is called offhand, but I know it will spread fast, especially in rainy, humid conditions.


Q: We bought a home that has a grape vine growing on the clothes line. The fruit is purple and sweet. The soil under the sod is an old gravel pit. Last year the fruit had a white mold or fungus growing on it. What do I treat with? How do I prune it? What should I fertilize with? ( Valley City, N.D.)

A: Pruning, the remedial kind anyway, is out for now. That should be done in the early spring when the vine is dormant. Spray the vine with Bordeaux mixture, which is obtainable at any garden supply store, and follow the directions on the label. Fertilize in the early spring while still dormant with 1 pound of 10-6-4 or something similar.


Q: We want to plant a couple of backyard shade trees next spring, probably basswood or ash. In a recent column you spoke of Autumn Blaze maple. I am not familiar with this tree. How might it compare overall with ash or basswood? 

Also, last fall I put in a grape. It really grew this year, but no blossoms. Do you need two? Should I cut it down for winter? (Aneta, N.D.)

A: The Autumn Blaze maple has striking fall color--red to orange,whereas the ash has yellow only and the linden has none. As far as dependability goes, you won't go wrong with any of them.

I assume you planted a Beta grape. If so, there is no need to do anything. Anything else needs protection by laying the vine over in a trench.


Q: Our concord grapes have these little white bugs on them. How to I get rid of them? (Montpelier, N.D.)

A: The white insects are likely mealybugs, a piercing, sucking type that in high enough numbers can debilitate plants. The flying ones could possibly be flying ants--going after the honeydew secreted by the mealybugs. While there are effective natural parasites, you cannot afford the time at this point, or you will lose your crop. I suggest a spray with Sevin, making sure you have covered undersides of the leaves.


Q: Enclosed is a sample of my grapevines that I have been having trouble with. In the spring the fruit looks like it is going to produce, but then they start to dry up. I can't believe it is the frost that is doing this. Can you please help me? (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.)

A: After giving your sample a thorough examination under the microscope and digging through some references, my only conclusion is that something is causing your flowers to abort.

Here is my thinking. There is likely a lack of pollinating insects, or you are using Sevin insecticide as a preventative spray which is very toxic to the insects that carry out this task. Additionally, the Sevin may act as an embryo arborter to the grapes at a specific stage of development.

I could find no disease or insect activity or evidence. This is the best conclusion I can arrive at.


Q: I have a few questions that I hope you can help me with. I want to cover an arbor and would like
to know what kind of vine would be winter hardy as well as quick growing and nice looking? What grape varieties can you recommend? Could we use one to cover an arbor?

We have a sheepnose apple tree that's 50-plus years old. Would it be a good apple to use with others to make sweet cider? Can you also tell me where I can find more of these apple trees? I have sent scion wood to a friend in Ohio to make a new tree, but he cannot get it to take. (Freeman, S.D.)

A: Both the Beta and Valiant grapes are excellent choices for growing over arbors. You could also grow the vine honeysuckle as an arbor covering. As a temporary covering while the others are getting established, try morning glory and moonflower.

I have never heard of the sheepnose apple. Are you sure it is grafted, or is it a seedling? Have you tried to root cuttings? Try those two procedures this year—seed and cuttings—to see if anything takes. If it doesn't, send me some scion wood next winter and I'll see if our grafting expert, NDSU research specialist Larry Chaput, can succeed.


Q: Is it a dumb idea to plant beta grapes 3 feet from my decks edge to provide shade, or would it be better to plant moonflower and morning glory plants? The deck is on the south side of our house and really needs some shade. (Willow City, N.D.)

A: First, there is no such thing as a dumb idea. Secondly, yes, grapes would grow and provide shade. My only concern (from firsthand experience) is the problem with yellow jackets and bird droppings from feeding on the ripening fruit. At that point, your grapes would be like Jack's bean stalk, huge and difficult to remove.

Your idea of moonflower and morning glory is more appealing, and if you add a honey suckle or Trumpet vine, as they would offer a woody base similar to the grape. Honeybees and hummingbirds would be attracted to all of these flowers, and would not be the problem yellow jackets and the fruit-eating bird population would be.


Q: Enclosed I've sent what I call black grapes. Is this what they are and can we grow them in central South Dakota? Also, can bing cherries be grown here? (Midland, S.D.)

A: Assuming you don't have severe exposure problems, I would say yes to both questions. Check with a local nursery to be sure. Thanks for writing.


Q: Can you tell me what kind of vine I have enclosed and how to care for it? (Bemidji, Minn.)

A: Your leaf very strongly resembled a grape leaf, although it was much larger than I've ever seen. If it is, you should be, able to just let it grow as it has in the past years. Grape vines are, or should be available at most nurseries or garden centers in your area. You may want to start out with Beta grapes as they are hardiest in our part of the country.


Q: When should I trim my wild plum trees, grape vines and cranberry trees? I also have sandy soil and I am wondering how I can get a nice lawn. I also would like to know what I can do to get larger apples on my tree? (Park Rapids, Minn.)

A: All of the above would be pruned in early spring before new growth emerges. Refer to the enclosed extension publication, "You Can Have a Beautiful Lawn" (H244) to answer your next question, and to get larger apples, do some picking in early June to thin them out somewhat.


Q: Enclosed is a leaf from our "beta" grape vines that looks kind of ragged. Is this caused by a disease or insects? (Absaraka, N.D.)

A: The ragged appearance of the leaves appear to be flea beetle damage. Control is most effective when Sevin is sprayed on opening leaf buds in the spring.


Q. How long does it take blueberries, Juneberries and grapes to bear fruit? (Devils Lake, N.D.)

A. Blueberries can only be grown with Herculean effort in North Dakota. I am sure there are a few devoted gardeners who have succeeded, but it is not worth the effort and expense. Generally, they begin producing after two to three years. 

Juneberries are the most logical small fruit to grow from your selection. Mine started producing after three years, but the birds get them all as they ripen.

Grapes also require about three years before any production can come off to any degree. Beta, Canadice and King of the North are the most dependable cultivars to try. All are good for making jams, jellies and wine (or grape juice). Others can be grown, but generally require extra protection for survival and production. 


Q. I read your column all the time and enjoy your expert advice and knowledge.

I am sending some leaves from our grape vines. Two out of eight plants have this condition. They are in their second year. We have not used any chemical on them. We water them about once a week--a good soaking. We have put Miracle-Gro in the water at times.

Please advise what we can do this year or next year to have healthier plants.

Thank you. (Verona, N.D.)

A. Don't use a phenoxy herbicide near the plant. Grapes are very sensitive to broad-leaf herbicide esters or droplets, especially of the 2,4-D class.

Generally, they out grow these effects within a couple of years. Most grapes that I am familiar with don't need a lot of encouragement to grow. If they are hardy, once established, they can become vine-spreading monsters unless they are regularly cared for.

Thanks for being a faithful reader of the column. I appreciate your interest.


Q: We transplanted some wild grapes by the garage and are encouraging them to grow up the wall onto an arbor. They are about 6 years old and doing quite well,
except for this twofold problem: First, the vines will fill with small grape clusters in the spring but will eventually all die off so there is no fruit in the fall. What could be
causing this?

The second problem may hold a key. The vines are just full of small gnat-like insects that fly all around a person when you are close to the vines. How do I get rid of
these bugs, and are they detrimental to the vines? (Adrian, N.D., e-mail)

A: I would use a pyrethrin spray. It has good knock-down power and very low mammalian toxicity. Be sure there are no pollinators active at the time.
Early morning or afternoon is usually the best time to carry this out. A couple of applications may be necessary to bring them under control.

As to what the insects are, I can't say for sure. Grape vines attract a good selection of pests, from mosquitos to fruit flies, and many things in between.


Q: I planted around two hundred grape hyacinth bulbs the fall of ‘99 and they were beautiful this spring. But this fall they grew up about 5 inches. Will this keep them from blooming in the spring? Some of my perennials also came up with the nice fall we had. I hope they will be fine come spring time. (E-mail reference, Minot, N.D.)

A: The grape hyacinths and other perennials that are coming up are vulnerable to our upcoming winter weather. There is nothing you can do at this point except let nature take its course. Those that bloomed will likely not bloom next spring, unless our winter is unbelievably mild with little to no snow cover. Those that were just vegetative now may bloom next spring. I suggest mulching with straw or Remay (a geotextile product) to provide some protection. Other than that, all we can do is hope for the best next spring!


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