Pruning Grape Vines

All grape vines require a framework of wires and supports along which they can grow.  They are naturally vigorous climbing plants but do need something to hold on to!  This might be a wooden pergola or trellis, or simply some horizontal wires attached to a wall or fence, or strung between freestanding posts.  Wire should be placed about 45cm (18in) apart.  The most widely used system for training and pruning grape vines is the cordon system, also called the rod-and-spur system or spur pruning.  We shall concentrate on this system of pruning grapes as it is the easiest, and it is suitable for vines grown both under cover and outside.

Always do the major pruning in winter when the vine is dormant.  Grapes are very vigorous and most of the season’s growth will be removed the following winter.  Pruning involves containing the vine to the size and spread that you want.

A vine usually has one main stem.  This main stem is called the leader.  Laterals (side shoots) grow off this leader, and sub-laterals grow off the laterals.  Bunches of grapes will form on the laterals and sub-laterals.

In winter, prune back the leader by about one-third of it’s length.  Prune back the laterals to two healthy buds.

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During the growing season, laterals should be trained and tied along the nearest horizontal wire.  If the lateral is not required, then prune back to one leaf.  If you want a compact vine then prune back any sub-laterals to one leaf, otherwise leave the sub-laterals to grow.  When the fruit has formed, prune to two leaves past where the fruit has formed.  For eating grapes, allow one bunch of grapes per sub-lateral or lateral.  If you are growing them for wine then you can leave all bunches to grow.

If your vine is to cover a large structure such as an arbour or pergola, or you have a large framework in place, then do not prune the leader, or laterals.  This will give you quicker coverage.  During the growing season, prune the sub-laterals back to two buds.  Once your structure is covered then prune the leader and all laterals and sub-laterals back to one bud.

Another support framework for grapes, which is widely used in commercial vineyards, is the Guyot System.  This is a support system of posts and wires which creates fruiting arms that run along the wires and which are replaced each year.  It is more involved than the cordon system.

The pruning information we have provided will enable you to grow and prune your own grape vine, and most of us do not need to go beyond this.  Pruning grape vines can be an extremely complex subject and there are many different systems out there!  If you would like more detailed information on looking after and pruning your grape vine, then our best advice would be to purchase a book on the subject.


1. Growing Grapes – QUICKSTART GUIDE
2. Planting Grape Vines – Help on planting grape vines
3. Pruning Grape Vines – Help on pruning grape vines
4. Grape Vine Care – How to maintain a healthy and productive grape vine
5. Harvesting Grapes – When and how to pick your grapes
6. Grape Vine Tips – Some tips to help you get the most out of your grape vine
7. Grape Vine Diseases, Problems and Pests – Help if things go wrong with your grape vine
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