Easy to grow in zones 5 through 8
If you’re wondering how to grow Concord grapes, I’m happy to tell you that it’s amazingly easy. They take little effort (read: less work than most fruits and vegetables) and yield a delicious harvest. They grow well in hardiness zones 5 through 8.
I was inspired to grow grapes after visiting George Washington’s boyhood home and was lucky enough to stumble upon grape transplants just a week after my visit, but you can find the plants in most garden centres and online.
Planting Concord grapes
Before you plant, consider the best location. These plants need six to eight hours of full 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 grape plants and recommend you do so as well.
The grape plants will need a support structure to grow on. There are two main types of support structures: horizontal and vertical. There are several options for supporting your vines. You can purchase a pre-made trellis or build your own support structure. We built our own.
In the photo above, you’ll see 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 it’s important to start with a strong support system. The structure we built is 10 feet long and uses three horizontal wires. The wire will eventually train the vines to grow up and along its length. 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 your vines
Concord grapes are pretty easy-going plants. Once they’re planted, water often, shortly after planting and until the roots 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 years, pinch off clusters. This will help strengthen the vine. In the third and fourth years 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 the vines, cut off the weakest shoots, leaving only two buds if you note the vine you’re pruning isn’t showing vigorous growth. If the vines look good and strong, tie the strongest shoot to your trellis with vinyl tape. Tie it again every 12 inches (30 cm) of growth. This will become the trunk of your grape vine.
The vines grow best in moist, but not soggy soil. Water deeply once a week in the summer. You can also fertilize once or twice more throughout the season, leaving six weeks between fertilizations. Beyond that level of feeding and maintenance, concord grape vines are pretty self-sufficient.
Diseases to watch out for
Concord grape vines are usually pretty disease-resistant. That being said, however, grapes are susceptible to a few ailments, so watch out for:
- Downy mildew: characterized by yellow spots on the leaves. Treat with a copper fungicide.
- Armillaria root rot: you’ll notice white knots on the vine’s 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 with a yellow centre. 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 plants. Treat with a fungicidal spray.
A garden disease control spray will prevent most problems with your Concord grape vines.
When to harvest Concord grapes
Although it’s tempting to grow and harvest grapes in their first and second years, it’s best to pinch off new growth and allow the plant to grow stronger. Wait to harvest in the plant’s third year. While you’ll harvest most of your fruits and vegetables in the summer, your grapes won’t be ready for harvest until September. You’ll know your grapes are ripe to be harvested when:
- they change to a deep colour
- are plump
- are sweet
Harvest on a dry morning. Use pruning shears to cut off grape clusters, rather than picking by hand.
Four ways to enjoy your harvest
You can use Concord grapes for several things, but here are four typical ways people enjoy them:
- Eat them fresh off the vine
- Make grape juice
- Make grape jelly or jam
- Make wine
I’m particularly excited about making 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. My kids, however, simply want to eat them off the vine.