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Late Winter Prime Time to Prune Muscadines

On that warm, late-winter day when you feel the urge to get outdoors, think ahead to late summer and sweet muscadines fresh off the vine.

Hey, the vine could use a helping hand now.

"Muscadines grow so vigorously every season the vines can get very congested if they go unpruned," said Gerard Krewer, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

The weeks ahead, Krewer said, are prime time for muscadine pruning.

"You can prune muscadines anytime they're dormant," he said. "But in late winter the vines are less likely to be cold-damaged after you prune."

Muscadines, Krewer said, produce most of their flower-bearing shoots from the bottom part of the previous year's growth.

So the bottom -- the first two to four buds -- of that part of the vines that grew during 1995 will wind up growing the shoots and blooms and, ultimately, the grapes of '96.

That's how you prune your muscadines. The part of the vine that grew after those first two to four buds of '95 is unneeded growth. Cut that off.

Start at the tip of each shoot, Krewer said, and follow it back to the first raised bump on the stem, the "collar" that marks where last year's growth began. That should be anywhere from six inches to five feet from the tip.

When you come to the "collar" where the '95 growth begins, back up to the second to fourth bud and make your pruning cut. The vines may "bleed," or ooze sap, Krewer said, but that won't harm the plants.

Besides keeping your vines from getting unmanageably tangled over the years, pruning will also assure you of more reliable crops of grapes.

"If you let muscadines go unpruned," Krewer said, "they tend to produce too heavily, which leads into alternate bearing seasons. That becomes a feast-or-famine kind of production."

If you've let your muscadines go unpruned long enough that they're a tangled mess already, consider cutting them back to the original cane running down the wire.

If you do that, though, you won't have grapes this year, since this year's grapes will grow only on shoots that emerge from 1995 buds.

"Unless you're willing to almost forgo a crop this year," Krewer said, "I would suggest pruning one side back to the original cane and the other side back to the bottom two to four buds of 1995 growth.

"Then next winter you can do the reverse," he said, "severely pruning the other side. In that way you'll have grapes each year and still be able to clean up your vines by next winter."

On overgrown arbors, where you have seven or eight major canes, "you might want to take out one or two large canes each year," he said, "That way you can completely renovate the arbor in a few years.

"Each year, be sure to cut the previous season's growth back to two to four buds," he said, "to keep the arbor from becoming overgrown again."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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