If you want muscadine grapes, now's the time

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Fruit gardening can be a rewarding experience for gardeners. Naturally, some fruits are easier to grow than others.

Among the easiest and most rewarding are muscadine grapes. If you have been considering them, the time is about here for you to get them planted.

Select a well-drained site with full sun most of the day. If you don't have this, try to put them where they get a minimum of six hours of sun. Take a soil sample and apply dolomitic lime if it is needed. The pH should be kept at about 5.5 to 6.2. If there is less than one part magnesium to 10 parts calcium (you only know by taking a soil sample), plan to apply some Epson salts (magnesium sulfate) to correct the magnesium deficiency. One-half handful every few months broadcast over a 3-foot circle should be enough.

Select large fruited bronze muscadines such as Fry, Summit, Granny Val, Tara, and Triumph for the bulk of your planting. Muscadine varieties can be either female or perfect flowered. Female varieties require cross pollination from perfect flowered varieties. Perfect flowered varieties will produce fruit by themselves. For best results, at least every third row should be the perfect flowered. The pollen is mostly wind borne.

Good black muscadines to consider for our area are Cowart, Loomis, Nesbit and Noble. One the oldest and most planted muscadines is the Scuppernong. In fact, people use the terms muscadines and scuppernongs interchangeably, even though Scuppernong is just a variety of muscadine. Scuppernongs are fine, but the above mentioned are superior varieties.

Muscadines will require a minimum 20 feet of trellis per plant. The trellis should be very sturdy because the vines live a long time. Use No. 9 wire and posts at least 3 inches in diameter. Because of disease problems, it's probably better to use a single-wire trellis.

Plant your vines this month or in February if possible. Provide a string or stick for the young vine to climb to the wire. Allow only one shoot to grow toward the wire. When it gets about 4 inches from the wire, pinch the tip off to make it branch. Then keep one branch on each side to develop as your arms.

Apply 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 or its equivalent per plant in the early spring of the first growing season. Broadcast the fertilizer over an area 2 feet in diameter but avoid placing fertilizer within 6 inches of the trunk. Additional nitrogen, applied in late May and early July, will help growth the first season. Sidedress with 2 ounces of ammonium nitrate (34 percent N) in the May and July applications.

During the second year, three applications of fertilizer should be made. The timing and method of applications should be the same as the year before. However, double the rate and increase the diameter of the broadcast circle to 3 feet.

For the third year, if the vine has grown well the first two years and you expect a crop, apply 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per vine in March. Apply 1 pound of the same in May. Broadcast in a 6-foot circle. If plants have not done well, fertilize as instructed for the second year.

For established vines, apply 3 to 5 pounds of 10-10-10 or equivalent in March of each year. Then apply 1/2 pound of ammonium nitrate around June 1. Check the soil pH about every three to five years.

Occasionally insects and diseases may be severe enough to warrant spraying. Use a fruit tree spray, which a garden center will have.

Keeping weeds down the first year is important. This can be accomplished by shallow cultivation or a careful application of glyphosate (Roundup). Protect the young vine with something like a milk carton or aluminum foil.

REACH SID MULLIS, THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY, AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.


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