Care Of Young Vines

Virgil calls the period in the life of the vine between the setting

and the first vintage, the "tender nonage," and tells us that at this

time the vines need careful rearing; so they do, now as then, American

grapes as well as the grapes of ancient Rome. Fortunately, any

departure from normal well-being is easily told in the grape, for the

color of the leaf is as accurate an index to the health and vigor of

the vine as
the color of the tongue or the beat of the pulse in man. A

change of color from the luxuriant green of thrifty grape foliage,

especially the yellow hue indicating that the leaf-green is not

functioning properly, suggests that the vines are sick or need nursing

in some detail of care. When all goes well, however, the amazing

energy of Nature is nowhere better seen among plants than in the

growth of the grape, so that much of the care is in the use of the

knife; in fact, as we shall see, the grape almost lives by the knife

the first two years out.

The first year.

The vines having been pruned and staked at planting, these operations

need no attention in the first summer. Many varieties send up several

shoots as growth starts, and, except in the case of grafted plants

and in the event of the suckers coming from the stock, these should be

left to feed the vine and help to establish a good root system. Vines

making a strong growth should be tied to the stake, at least the

strongest shoot, to keep the wind from whipping it about and to keep

the plants out of the way of the cultivator. The only knack in tying

is to keep the vine on the windward side of the stake, thus saving the

breaking of tying material.

The first year's pruning, though severe, is easily done. All but the

strongest cane are cut out and this is pruned back to two buds, nearly

to the ground, so that the vines are much as when set in the vineyard.

This pruning, and that of the next two years, has as the object the

establishment of a good root system and the production of a sturdy

trunk at the height at which the vine is to be headed. It is important

that the cane from which the trunk is to come be healthy and the wood

well ripened. Pruning may be done at any time after the leaves fall,

though most growers give preference to late winter. In cold climates

it is a good practice to plow up to the young vines for winter

protection, in which case the pruning should be done before plowing.

Every detail of vineyard management should be performed with care and

at the accepted time in this critical first year. Cultivation must be

intensive, insects and fungi must be warded off, mechanical injuries

avoided, vines that have refused to grow must be marked for discard,

and the vineyard be put down to a cover-crop in early August if it was

not earlier planted to some hoed catch-crop.

The second year.

Work begins in the spring of the second year with the setting of

trellis posts on which one wire is put up. The vine is not yet ready

to train but the slender lath of the first season is not sufficient

support, and the one wire on the future trellis saves the expense of

staking. Tying requires some care and is usually done with string or

bast. As the summer proceeds, suckers from the roots are removed and

some growers thin the shoots on the young vine; some think it

necessary also to top the growth if it becomes too luxuriant and so

keep the cane within bounds. Suckers must be cut or broken off at the

points where they originate, otherwise several new ones may start from

the base of the old. If the vines are topped, it must be kept in mind

that summer pruning is weakening, and the tips of shoots should,

therefore, be taken when small, the object being to direct the growth

into those parts of the vine which are to become permanent.

Pruning, the second winter the vine is out, depends on the vigor of

the plant. If a strong, healthy, well-matured cane over-tops the lower

wire of the trellis, it should be cut back so that the cane may be

tied to the wire; otherwise the vine should again be cut almost to the

ground, leaving but three or four buds. If the cane be left, in

addition to sturdiness and maturity, it should be straight, for it is

to become the trunk of the mature vine. The training of the young vine

is now at an end, for the next season the vine must be started toward

its permanent form, instructions for which are given in the chapter on


The summer care of the vineyard does not differ materially in the

second year from that of the first. Intensive cultivation continues,

the vines are treated for pests and the annual cover-crop follows

cultivation. Many varieties, if vigorous, will set some fruit in this

second summer, but the crop should not be allowed to mature, the

sooner removed the better, as fruiting at this stage of growth

seriously weakens the young vines.