Muscadines just make the season sweeter. As they ripen in August and September, clusters of pinks, purples, greens, blacks, or bronzes hover among the vines. The air oozes with the fragrance of their nectar. Life is good.
These native Southern grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are the perfect fruit for the backyard gardener. Though the best time to plant the vines is during late fall or early winter, you can go ahead and look at catalogs and nurseries now to choose the types you plan to use. Here are some tips to help get you started.
Which one should you grow?
This is the fun part. There are lots of selections, each with its own flavor, sugar content, and ripening time. What really determines the type you should choose is how you want to use them. Most are good for snacking. Others are great for making jam, jelly, juice, and wine. So do a little homework, and talk to the folks at your local nursery. Refer to The Southern Living Garden Book for descriptions of various selections. Note: There are two different kinds of muscadines: self-fertile types, which are self-pollinating, and self-sterile (female) types, which must be planted near self-fertile types to produce fruit. See "Editor's Homegrown Favorites" at above, right for two great picks.
Where do you plant them?
Select a sunny location with good air circulation. The vines prefer well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5.
What do you feed them?
Fertilize with a balanced (14-14-14 or 10-10-10) product in early spring. Then in early summer, feed them again with a balanced fertilizer. If you notice leaves are yellowing, apply a supplement of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in the summer.
How do you train them?
Construct a sturdy, 5-foot-high single-wire trellis for your vine using a No. 9 or No. 10 galvanized wire. Support the trellis with 7-foot-long treated posts sunk 2 feet into the ground and spaced 20 feet apart. When planting, center the vine between the posts. Select the strongest runner to become the main trunk. Remove any spurs (side shoots) along the trunk. Use a bamboo or tomato stake to get your vine started up toward the horizontal wire. When your vine reaches the top of the wire, pinch out its tip, and let lateral arms develop along the wire. Spurs that develop along these arms will bear fruit in about two years. Once established, plants can live for decades.
When do you water them?
It is very important to provide adequate moisture during the first year. Once established, muscadines are quite drought tolerant. If they receive regular rainfall during the spring and summer, your vines will produce fine. However, for more and larger fruit, water your plants weekly (if you don't receive regular rainfall) in the spring and summer when the fruit is developing. Mulching with about 2 inches of pine bark will help preserve moisture and keep roots cool.
Why should you prune them?
Muscadines fruit on new wood, so it is important to provide an annual winter pruning. Once the trunk has reached the trellis wire and the lateral arms are established, clip the spurs so they are spaced 6 to 10 inches apart and cut back to three buds.
Muscadines are now in season. Purchase grapes at the grocery store, your local farmers market, or a you-pick vineyard in your area.
This article is from the September 2005 issue of Southern Living.