How to Grow Grapes in Containers

Loire VineyardGrapes are most often seen growing in long rows in vast fields, lined up perfectly on rolling hills in the sun baked valleys of the landscape. It would be easy to assume that it’s impossible to have a grape vine growing in a small space or even in a container. This isn’t true and with a little planning and pruning it’s possible to grow grapes in containers successfully.

I’ve had my grape vine for several years now and I’ve not had a lot of success with it except for the first couple of years and then this year. That leaves about 8 years that it’s just been a nice plant in my garden.

Micro Climates

Micro climates are little pockets of weather and temperature differences within another climate zone. These can be a small as your backyard or it can be large like a park. Many factors contribute to a micro climate, everything from nearby trees and buildings to the path of the sun compared to the wind direction and more. It can be hard to notice if you’re in a micro climate or not but if you can, it will have a big influence on the growth and health of your garden. 

Grapes 2017The house I lived at previously had a very much cooler micro climate compared to what I have at my new place. It had tall trees all around and my garden was somewhat under the huge branches of them. The path of the sun was narrow but it was solid, and the trees cooled the effect of the sun and added moisture to the whole area. So even though my area is technically warmer, my own little micro climate was cooler than that.

It’s taken me way too long to learn that I wasn’t having success because that yard was too cool for grapes to grow. I also wasn’t helping things by not keeping up on the watering.

In previous years, if I did get any grapes to start they would quickly shrivel and fall off. I’d be left with a really nice green vine for the rest of the year. It took me a long while to learn that it’s a matter of making sure the roots get a large amount of consistent watering while it’s fruiting.

The backyard that I have now is sheltered by trees but it’s also wide open to allow a lot of sun to bake through and create a very,very warm micro climate. It’s so different and so much hotter that I’m finding it a challenge to slow down the sun’s roasting of the other plants and keep them all watered and alive.

The grape vine just loves this new backyard! It’s so much hotter that the vine is happy and producing when it never did before.

Catering Tray LidClear Plastic Catering Tray Lids

The best solution that I’ve found is to collect or buy the clear plastic tray lids that are made for the large food platters that caterers sell. They make great plant trays in the garden and are often quite large so that you can set up to a 16″ container in it. These are perfect because they conserve water and maximize the amount of water that the plant can absorb.

The water run through on the containers no longer matters because the plant can soak it up from the bottom at a slower rate without it being wasted. It’s important to keep the water in the tray fresh and clean. Don’t let it become yellow or nasty in any way.

I recommend getting help lifting the plants as they can be very heavy even when the soil is dry.

Grape Plant in Toy Tub 2017I thought the vine I had was a Concord, but since the vine is now happy and growing grapes this year, it’s become obvious that it isn’t a concord at all but a variety of green grape. I’ve long since lost the tag so I have no idea what type of green grape I have. So hopefully they’ll grow to maturity and be namelessly delicious anyway.  

Basic Requirements for a Grape Vine

A very large container, such as this toy tub is perfect
Good quality soil
A well bred grape vine of your choice
A hot and sunny place to grow, minimum 6 hours of direct sun per day
They need a lot of water the first 2-3 years as well as when they’re producing fruit
They need a generous amount of nutrients to produce well

12 Month Care Schedule for Grape vines

Tasks Month to Do Them
Bare root vines: plant as soon as the soil is workable April & May
Potted grape vines: plant when frost danger is passed May & June
Vines already planted: prune in early spring before any growth starts Late February & March                  
Remove all buds and shoots that appear on the trunk April, May & June
Allow new growth to form, then train it to a wall using twine or secure to a trellis April – August
Inspect for disease and insect damage all season long April – October
Protect grapes from birds September & October
Harvest grapes as they ripen September & October
Clean up leaves and fallen fruit October & November

What to Plant It In?

Raised Bed Grow Box - Great for GrapesAs far as finding a large enough container to plant the vine in, if you don’t like the look of a toy tub then it’s also an option to use a larger raised bed type thing like this one, shown to the right.

My grape vine is pruned quite small and lives in a toy tub. It currently has 9 bunches of green grapes growing on it. For a more rustic look, I think a large half wine barrel would work as well for growing it in. It would allow plenty of space for the roots to grow as well.

Success Hint: One thing that’s different about grapes than most other plants is that grapes don’t like mulch or ground cover around their bases. The mulch (or ground cover) insulates the soil and keeps it cool. The roots need the soil temperature to be warm in order for the grapes to form and mature properly.

Half Wine BarrelGrape Vine Varieties

There are thousands of grape vine varieties but not very many are grown for commercial production and wine making. There are much fewer varieties that are commonly grown for wine making and other ones for garden growing.

One vine in a container, kept under control will grow enough grapes to eat and maybe make a jar or two of jam but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to allow it to grow enough to make any amount of wine with.

Grape Bunch 2017The subject of grapes, all the hundreds of varieties of grape plants, how to grow them and everything else that goes along with the different purposes grapes have can get very complex and confusing quite quickly.

So for our purposes here, I’ll keep it quite simple. Just how to pick a decent plant, keep it happy and healthy and harvest some grapes to eat from it in your own backyard. 

Generally grape vines like to grow in zones 4 – 8. They like to be warm and exposed to direct sun.  

The grape vines bred for cooler temperatures are the best to pick if have a colder or wet winter season.

These hardier varieties include Canadice, Niagra, Delaware, Bluebell and Concord. Concord is a familiar type because it’s the one commonly used to make grape jelly.

Grape Varieties

Click the links below to see more info on each variety, all of them are seedless:

Vanessa Red Grape – 2-3 years old and 2′-3′ tall
Concord –  6″ starter plant
Golden Muscat – 1 year old and 2′-3′ tall

Red Flame – 2 years old and 2′-3′ tall
Himrod Green – 2 years old and 2′-3′ tall
Lakemont Green – 2 years old and 2′-3′ tall
Remaily Green – 2 years old and 2′-3′ tall

Pollination

The grape vine flowers are self fertile and are pollinated by the wind, birds and the various insects passing by. Vines as young as one year are capable of producing fruit.

Pruning a Grape Vine

Prune the grape in the early spring before new leaf buds appear and the vines begin to grow. Then while the new green vines are still young and flexible, you can train it to grow on a trellis. With good pruning maintenance it’ll stay quite contained and beautiful in your small space. 

Grape Leaf 2017 This is where you can get creative and choose to grow the vine along a wall or in a unique shape to suit your space. Be careful not to over prune and cut out branches after spring leafing out because you’ll likely cut off the young flowers that are soon to be grapes.

The grape vine is easy to recognize, the leaves are very similar in shape to the maple leaf, just more round and less distinct around the edges. The leaves all hang upside down from the vines.

If you like grapes and you have decent hot sun in your backyard for 6 or more hours a day then I recommend growing grapes in containers and experience the pleasure of growing them yourself.



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