Muscadines 101

Native to Southern soil, these great-for-you grapes are a must-grow.
Rebecca Bull Reed

There’s a serious dispute in the South: Are they called muscadines or scuppernongs? Some of us just go by color on these fragrant, thick-skinned grapes, calling the purple ones muscadines and the bronze ones scuppernongs. We asked Dr. Arlie Powell, a fruit scientist, to settle it. “All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs,” he says. “A ‘Scuppernong’ is actually a specific selection of muscadine.”

History
Though purple muscadines are by far the most common, the most famous vine in the South—the “Mother Vine”—gave us the first bronze muscadine. It was discovered on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and is believed to be hundreds of years old. The many selections of bronze muscadines we now enjoy can be traced back to that one vine, which is still there.

Where to Grow
“Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are the best grapes for the South,” says Dr. Powell. Adapted to heat and humidity, they thrive in the Coastal, Lower, and Middle South, as well as protected areas of the Upper South. Muscadines grow in a variety of soil types and pH ranges if they’re given good drainage. Full sun is a must: Four hours is the minimum; six or more is preferred.

How to Grow
Install container-grown or bare-root plants from late November through early March for maximum first-year development. (If you provide adequate water, you can plant container-grown muscadines anytime during the year.) Fertilize with Ferti-lome Fruit, Citrus and Pecan Tree Food (or add a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10) from mid-January through March. A reduced-rate application of calcium nitrate after harvest in early fall may also prove beneficial. Prune muscadines from late January through mid-March and again in midsummer to open the canopy and remove shoots that are touching the ground.

Muscadines benefit from a spray schedule to keep pathogens in check. “The lighter the skin of the fruit, the more susceptible they are to fruit rot. So if you don’t want to spray, choose one of the purple selections, which are less prone to disease,” Dr. Powell recommends.

Eat the Skins
Many Southerners discard the hulls, but that’s where lots of vitamins and minerals are. The seeds, packed with antioxidants, must be crushed to be beneficial. If you prefer not to crush them with your teeth but still want the nutritional rewards, try grape seed supplements.

Muscadine Sources

Dr. Powell’s Picks

  • ‘Fry’
  • ‘Nesbitt’
  • ‘Dixie Red’
  • ‘Darlene’
  • ‘Black Beauty’
  • ‘Pam’
  • ‘Granny Val’
  • ‘Tara’