How far can I chop a grapevine?
November 10, 2005 2:04 PM   Subscribe

We have old, old grape vines in our backyard, growing on a pergola-type structure that is completely rotten and is falling down. It is an overhead structure which gives awesome shade in the summer, but it isn't safe and needs to go. How do I save the vines?

We'd love to save the grapevines. Some guys are coming tomorrow to tear down the rotting wood and pipe structure, but we can't build anything new until the spring. I guess my question is how much of the grape vine can I chop off without killing the vines? We were hoping to cut off as much as possible and sort of prop up the rest until the spring.
posted by chococat to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did this a few years ago: replaced an arbor beneath an existing vine. I pruned the vine back to a single main stem, dismantled the existing arbor, built a new arbor, tied the remaining vine back to the new arbor. The vine bounced back completely by the following summer. In fact grapes do better (you get more grapes at least) with heavy pruning. The problem is that this is not pruning season for grapes; you want to wait until the winter (to avoid spreading disease and encouraging new tender growth) (and don't prune grapes in the spring when the sap is flowing). In the meanwhile, let the vine just lie where it is, do the pruning in the winter, then rebuild in the spring.
posted by TimeFactor at 2:15 PM on November 10, 2005

I should point out that you will lose grape production for a year as grapes only produce fruit on buds off 1+ year old vines.
posted by TimeFactor at 2:17 PM on November 10, 2005

If you don't mind my piggybacking, my wife and I want to put up such a pergola, perhaps with grapevines (we admired those things in Astoria, where all the Greeks have them); any suggestions? (Do we need a posthole digger?) Maybe you could post a picture of the existing structure?
posted by languagehat at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2005

That's fine about losing production for a year, we don't use the grapes. I love them when they're growing, but I curse them when they start falling on the ground.

They are kind of wild and crazy right now, as we don't really maintain them very well, so I will have to do a bit of chopping just to get them off the structure. We are in Toronto, so it's already almost winter here...can I prune them back to the main stem now or should i just chop of what I need to until we hit freezing? And will they be okay if I just lie the long stems on the ground until the spring?
posted by chococat at 2:30 PM on November 10, 2005

languagehat, it's a seriously ugly structure that the old man who used to own this house built out of old scrap beams and furnace pipes or something. I'll try and post a picture of it tomorrow (it's dark here now) before they tear it down. I can take a picture of my neighbour's also, as we live in a big Portuguese and Italian neighbourhood, and every 2nd or 3rd house has vines. But they grow them to USE them, not so much for aesthetics.
posted by chococat at 2:35 PM on November 10, 2005

The Ohio State University Extension Bulletin #919 "Midwest Grape Production Guide" will probably have an answer your question and it can be found at
Start with the sections titled "Pruning and Training" on pages 39-54 and then move on to "Crop Control and Canopy Management" on pages 55-61.

Sorry, my linking skills are nil. By the way, I am the graphic designer for the printed version of this publication.
posted by UnclePlayground at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2005

I wasn't thinking; of course you'll have to do a lot of cutting to get the vines off anyway so you might as do all the cutting now and it's late enough in the season that it should be fine First frost is forecast - say that five times fast - tonight here in Boston and I imagine you're further along in Toronto. And yes, you can leave the remaining stems on the ground until the spring.
posted by TimeFactor at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2005

If you don't want the grapes and they're a nuisance, and some of the neighbors do, you could invite the neighbors to come and get them. (I have no grape problem, because I have a raccoon problem.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:06 AM on November 11, 2005

As promised, here are some photos of the vines and the crumbling structure. Please excuse the insanely bright aquamarine paint on the back of the house, it is the last of it that I have yet to cover up, left from the previous owner. It was EVERYWHERE when we moved in.

I'm just about to start hacking off vines now.
Thanks for all the tips.
posted by chococat at 10:30 AM on November 11, 2005

Thanks for the photos, chocolat!
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on November 11, 2005

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