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Plant muscadines now for fall fruit

Posted: February 12, 2012 - 1:13am  |  Updated: February 12, 2012 - 6:02am

One of my favorite times of the year is early fall, when muscadines start ripening.

Muscadines are native to this area. The native vines produce fruit, but it is not as sweet as the named varieties. The native plants can become a pest problem because they grow in shrub beds and will cover trees.

I have plenty of wild muscadines around my house, and it is a constant battle to keep them out of my trees and plants.

Gardeners call these plants by two names, muscadines and scuppernongs.

Scuppernong is a variety of muscadine that is bronze in color.

Muscadines come in different colors. The two most common are bronze and black. Native muscadines are black. A few years ago, a variety of muscadine was introduced that is reddish in color.

Everyone who grows muscadines has a favorite variety and color. I like the bronze varieties because those were the ones growing at my parents’ home.

There are degrees of sweetness associated with this fruit, which range in sugar content from 15 percent to 23 percent.

When choosing a muscadine variety, there is another factor to look at: the flower type. There are perfect flowered (self-pollinating) and female varieties. In small spaces where only one vine can grow, the variety must be perfect flowered to produce fruit.

Female varieties should be planted with perfect flowered varieties for better pollination and fruit set.

Muscadines do best when they are in full sun for most of the day. Also, muscadines will grow fairly well in most soil types but do not like soils that hold moisture or where water stands after rains. This can cause root rot.

When planting muscadines, dig a hole large enough to accommodate a bushel basket. Then adjust the soil pH to 6.0 to 6.5. If the pH is unknown, take a soil sample.

If a soil sample can’t be taken, mix one-half cup of dolomitic limestone to the soil taken from the hole. Then, plant the vine the same depth it grew in the nursery and water it. The soil line can be seen on the plant. Water the plant, then cut it off, leaving about 6 inches of the plant above the soil line. When fertilizing, do not mix fertilizer in the planting hole. The first fertilization should be when the plant starts putting on leaves.

Muscadine vines can live for decades, so a strong supporting structure is needed. Muscadines require a minimum of 20 feet of trellis per plant. If more than one row is planted, space them 12 feet apart. The trellis posts should be 20 feet apart. Plant the muscadines a foot from the post, because the crop load is usually heaviest in the center of the vine.

To train the vine to the trellis, choose two shoots to run down the wire once the vine has reached the top of the trellis. All shoots other than the arms growing from the trunk should be kept pinched back. Once the trunk and arms have developed, the vine is ready to start fruiting. Shoots will grow each year from the young arms.

Because the fruit is borne on new shoots arising from last year’s growth, the shoots must be pruned back to the wood that grew the previous year. About 3 inches of growth should be left to form spurs. Pruning should be in February or early March. Also, don’t be alarmed if the vines “bleed” at pruning cuts. Bleeding does not harm the vines.

When too many buds are left on the vine, the plant over-produces and fruit is poor. After three or four years of production, every other spur cluster will need to be removed to prevent overcrowding. Try to leave spurs that are on the top of the arms. It is a good idea to remove old fruit stems because they are a source of disease.

Another practice is to remove tendrils that wrap around the arms or spurs. Tendrils are finger-like plant parts muscadines use to attach themselves to supporting structure. If tendrils are not removed, they will girdle the arms or spurs and cause reduced production.

Muscadines have few insect or disease problemsand require very little pesticide treatment.

 

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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