Growing concord grapes is amazingly easy. They take little effort (read less work than most fruits and vegetables in a garden) and yield a delicious harvest. They grow well in zones 5 through 8. I was inspired to grow grapes after visiting George Washington’s Boyhood Home and lucky enough to stumble upon grape transplants just a week after my visit.
Planting Concord Grapes
Before you simply plant your concord grapes, consider the best location. They need six to eight hours of sun, well draining soil and a large enough space to accommodate a support system. Your soil should ideally have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. While some grape varieties are self pollinating, many need multiple plants to pollinate accurately. I purchased three concord grape plants and recommend doing so as well.
Concord grapes need a support structure to grow on. There are two main types of support structures: horizontal and vertical. There are quite a number of options for supporting your grape vines. You can purchase premade trellis or build your own support structure. We chose to build our own.
In the photo above, it shows two grape vines (and our dog) with one structure, but that was really just a cute photo op and a way to show what one structure looks like. We ended up building one structure for each grape vine.
Grape vines can grow big, strong and heavy over their 20 year life span, so starting with a strong support system is important. This structure is 10 feet long and uses three horizontal wires. The vines will eventually be trained to grow up and along the wire. No matter which type of support structure you choose, make sure there is enough space above and below the grape vines for air circulation.
Caring for Concord Grapes
Concord grapes are pretty easy going plants. Once planted, make sure to water often shortly after planting until the roots have a chance to establish. Clear the weeds and grass around the plant and mulch to prevent their return. Fertilize in the spring and prune slightly. In the first and second year, pinch off clusters. This will help the vine grow strong. In the third and fourth year of growth, pinch off all but one cluster on each shoot. Pruning usually takes place in the spring, though you can prune in the winter.
To prune concord grape vines, cut off the weakest shoots leaving only two buds if it did not grow strong enough previously. If the vines are looking good and strong, tie the strongest shoot to your trellis with vinyl tape. Tie it again every 12 inches (30cm) of growth. This will become the trunk of your grape vine.
Concord grape vines like moist soil, but not soggy soil. Water deeply once a week in the summer. You can also fertilize another one or two times, six weeks apart. After that, concord grape vines are pretty self sufficient.
Diseases to look out for
While concord grape vines are usually pretty disease resistant, look out for these possibilities:
- Downy mildew: This is characterized by yellow spots on the leaves. Treat with a copper fungicide.
- Armillaria Root Rot: You’ll notice white knots on the bark and a mushroom like appearance at the soil level. Armillaria root rot can kill the grape vine.
- Scale: Scale looks like circular, scaly bumps that have a yellow center. It will weaken vines, but it is treatable with insecticidal soap.
- Black rot: If your leaves develop reddish-brown spots, this can be a sign of black rot. If left untreated, it will eventually kill the concord grapes. It can be treated with a fungicidal spray.
You can use a garden disease control spray to prevent many problems with your concord grape vines.
When to harvest concord grapes
Though you’ll be tempted to grow and harvest grapes in your first and second year, it is best to pinch off new growth and allow the plant to grow stronger and harvest in the third year. While most of your fruits and vegetables will be harvested in the summer, grapes are harvested in September. You’ll know your grapes are ready to be harvested when:
- they change to a deep color
- are plump
- are sweet
Make sure to harvest on a dry morning. Use pruning shears to cut off grape clusters, rather than picking by hand.
What can you do with concord grapes?
Concord grapes can be used for a number of things, but here are four main ways people enjoy them:
- Eat them fresh off the vine
- Make grape juice
- Make jelly or jam
- Make wine
I am particularly excited to make concord jelly and jam. What’s the difference between jelly and jam? Jelly uses just the juice from the concord grapes, whereas jam uses the skin and pulp. Both are delicious and I can’t wait to make my own. The kids however simply want to eat them off the vine.