Tom Blalock has learned much over the years about how to care for muscadines – or the more commonly referred to scuppernong.
“I am the sharecropper for my 95-year-old neighbor and I take care of his grape vines for him, for the most part,” said the Harlem resident.
“He is my conscience in suggesting and informing; he does a marvelous job.”
Blalock said pruning the grape vines should be done by the end of March.
“I try to prune after freezing weather, but I don’t think that’s critical,” he said.
“I share the view of our Extension folks that coldest weather is not critical. If a vine bleeds after warmer weather pruning, it’s probably not doing any damage.”
However, Blalock said pruning is best done when there are cooler temperatures.
“It’s also a good time to remove weeds under the vines and trees,” he said.
“That’s a great time to repair any posts or wires in the rows that are deteriorating. The ideal time to prune is January 1 through March 31, in my opinion.”
Pruning isn’t difficult, but Blalock does recommend drastic pruning.
“Keep the main horizontal runners,” he said.
“Most orchards have one upper and one lower runner, looking much like a spiral rail fence.”
All shoots that stem from the main runner should be trimmed to two- to three-inches.
“I leave two to three bud scales on each shoot, which usually leaves the two- to three-inches,” said Blalock.
“It’s also recommended to remove crowns – groups of shoots – to leave an open space of 12 to 15 inches. I haven’t done much of this, but hope to be more vigorous in removing crowns.”
Blalock will lightly fertilize the vines in the spring. In fact, he said he often doesn’t fertilize the vines, so fertilization isn’t essential.
The vines should be watered in very dry seasons, but otherwise will be produce a successful crop without extra hydration.
“Probably the most successful person I’ve seen grow scuppernongs is Louis Newsome, who was a county agent, is retired to his own small truck farm and has the most beautiful vines and fruit I have ever seen,” said Blalock.
“He has hundreds of vines, lots of current varieties and uses for them, such as jelly, juice and nibbling.”
Proper care of the vines during the winter – which entails massive pruning – can make sure that there are plenty of grapes for those uses come summer.