Grape vines are fascinating plants. When our two small vines grew eight feet in their first season, our “grape vines would be cool” approach quickly turned into “uh, ….turns out we need a drastically bigger support structure”. In the fall of 2014, I started researching grape arbors. I found lots of general information online, but it was surprisingly difficult to find the type of specific information that I hoping for. So, I read a couple books. Most books on growing grapes at home are written for those designing a backyard vineyard. I found The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture by Lon Rombough to be very useful. Grapes grow well on large trellises, but they are also particularly well suited for arbors. On arbors, they also provide shade for an outdoor area such as a patio. Basically, you need about 32 sq ft of arbor space per grape vine, so we deigned an arbor with roughly 64 sq ft. Our two vines, Himrod and Red Reliance, could easily cover a larger arbor.
Arbor build (Feb 2015):
To build the arbor, we used 4×4 redwood posts set in the ground roughly 30 inches. We did not backfill the holes with concrete, but rather simply packed in very tightly the existing soil. With our clay soil here in Utah, they are incredibly sturdy. For the perimeter of the arbor, we used redwood 2x4s and sandwiched the posts between them with a large (3/8in) bolt. We also put two 2x4s down the middle of the arbor. Perpendicular to these 2x4s we ran 9-gauge wire attached to the 2x4s with eyehooks and one turnbuckle at each end. My father-in-law helped a lot with the design and execution of this project. We cut the ends with curves, giving the arbor a decorative look. It turned out great:
Paver Patio (July 2015):
We built the arbor with idea that it would be lovely to build a patio underneath, so we could sit in the shade with a view of colorful grapes hanging through the leaves. Once pavers went on sale at Home Depot and Lowes (they typically have sales around Memorial Day and Labor Day), we purchased gray 12 in square pavers and red 2×4 pavers to create a little pattern with the two colors.
Fresh Grapes (August 2016):
The grape vines grew like crazy in 2015. By the end of the growing season they had reached the far end of the arbor. In late winter 2016, around February, it was time to prune them. Pruning grape vines is important for good fruit production. At first, the heavy pruning seems quite drastic, but it helps the vines thrive. In a given year, it’s best to remove roughly 90% of the vine. I pruned our vines leaving only what would become cordons: the horizontal top of a T shaped vine. Learning to prune grape vines takes some dedicated study. It’s one of those things that appears quite complicated at first, but after you have done it a few times, you later wonder why you once thought it was tricky. I’ll add links to some of our videos on pruning grapes below. Also, the following link provided by Oregon State’s extension office is a very readable description of both cane and spur pruning techniques.
Video: How to trellis grapes: build a trellis, prune a vine
By June 2016 the vines had completely covered the arbor. By the end of July gorgeous bunches of grapes were hanging down over the patio.
Around mid August we were eating incredibly delicious home grown table grapes. They were every bit as sweet as grocery store grapes but the flavor was more intense. Absolutely delicious. Grape vines are fascinating.