Pruning Grape Vines: Coaxing fruit from Swenson Red

I went two seasons without fruit from my Swenson Red grape vine. It was one of the first additions to my bonsai vineyard, and I’ve been struggling with how to prune it. Two years ago, I decided that Swenson Red needs cane pruning to bear fruit.

Canes or spurs?

Canes are just long “branches” of one year old wood with one or two dozen buds along their length. If they had just a few buds, four or so, then they would be a lot shorter and we would call them spurs. I had been spur pruning because it’s easier to take vines in and out of pots, while I trim their roots, without long fragile canes whipping about.

Letting the vine decide

Easier doesn’t get you very far if the varietal doesn’t bear fruit that way, so last year I pruned to canes. I was careful not to jostle them when I tended the vine, re-potted it, or just walked past it. Well it looks like it may have been worth the effort. I’ve noticed a few clusters on my Swenson Red and I’m looking forward to my first crop in three years!

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8 thoughts on “Pruning Grape Vines: Coaxing fruit from Swenson Red

  1. joyce drabek

    Enjoyed your article on rhubarb wine making. Friends had told me that rhubarb was toxic but I had my doubts. I have made wine for 16 yrs. We are in westernmost SD and have several vineyards in the area. I only have 40 plants and it is a hobby for me. Give classes on wine making and enjoy giving/bartering with it. Some of my favorites are cherry, chokecherry and jalapeno. About 40plus members in a Grape & Berry Assoc here. Good climate in this area.

  2. Erroll Post author

    Hi Joyce,

    Jalapeno? That’s one I haven’t tried! Sounds like you’ve got a good group out there.


  3. Adam

    Hey Erroll,
    Thanks for sharing your winemaking experience with us. Have you come up with a clever name for your acidity test yet? If not, how about the Wolfe test, after Thomas Wolfe, author of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”?

  4. Erroll Post author

    Hi Adam,

    I had to look that one up, and it’s sounding like a much better name than “testing acid by CO2,” “the reactor-monometer,” or “Mr Proctor’s gadget.” Don Proctor made the device, and that’s where the last name came from.


  5. Suzi

    I just found this post about pruning, and in the drip post comments I requested information about your pruning methods.

    I know cane aka head training is common for Zinfandel vines, and I think it will work well for Mourvedre, Malbec, Perlette, and Touriga National. Not so sure about Cabernet and Tempranillo. I have on order from UC Davis: Primitivo De Gioia, Cinsaut, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Charbono, and Mandelaria for reds. Whites I have Daphnata and Assirtico. Assirtico intrigues me because it is the main vine for Santorini, Greece. Our climate is exactly like theirs, and they prune those vines on the ground into a basket shape, winding the canes around and around and up and up. Protects the vines from the sandy wind. I like what you said, “let the vine decide.” But knowing their growth habits ahead of time would sure be great. I’m still researching. Looking forward to seeing some more pictures of your vines!

    Also, what kind of soil mix/fertilizer do you use in your containers?

  6. Erroll Post author

    Hi Suzi,

    I like a vertical cordon, because it makes moving and root pruning easier. I go into more detail about how and why I prune my container grape vines. As I learned with my Swenson Red, sometimes the vine has other ideas. Per-vine yields will be lower in containers, so I thin clusters and pull leaves to get the most out of them. If you read the leaf pulling article, don’t skip the comments. Andrea pointed out that my original thoughts on the tradeoff between pulling a leaf to get sunlight onto a cluster or leaving it in the shade to get more sugar wasn’t quite right. I have since confirmed this with our local extension agent, so it makes for an easier decision.

    But it sounds like your climate is so different from mine, that my methods might not apply to your situation. I’m in the Puget Sound region, and I’ve heard growers compare it to Germany, Burgundy, and even southern England. Your climate is like Greece? Where are you?

    For a soil mix, I use 50/50 perlite and peat moss – with a handful or two of lime.

    I’m not familiar with the vines you have ordered, but I’m excited for you!


  7. Suzi

    Erroll, many of your neighbors come here to winter. We call them snow birds! I am in the Palm Springs Coachella Valley. Hot desert!! So any vines I grow will be in partial shade, and the heat is there night and day. I will protect the clusters and the only leaves I pull will be to make Dolmades!

    Here is a nice article you will love:

    I’m not familiar with the vines you grow either… Sometimes I get zone jealous! Mostly, I just live in my world and make do!

    If you look at UC Davis site, the list is long for wine grapes and the cuttings are free. You pay shipping only. I searched for grapes that are heat craving. You will find a world of cuttings there that may increase your vineyard and enhance your blends. I copied and pasted the whole list into excel, and sorted by country. Then I sorted alphabetically so I could research each grape I ordered.

    I seem to do OK with cuttings. I pruned some over vigorous green softwood canes from my Mourvedre and I now have 2 nicely growing vines for free. Easy rooters!!

  8. Erroll Post author

    Hi Suzi,

    Thank you for that article – what a different perspective. Here in the Puget Sound, we lust after every extra degree-day and try to make the most of ever bit of sunlight. A lot of people are complaining about our hot summer, but it’s going to be a great year for grapes (and tomatoes and peppers …) But after reading that, even I will be a little more careful about leaf pulling.

    Thanks too for the link to germplasm repository. For anyone wanting to grow from cuttings, and some of my bonsai vineyard is from cuttings, this is a great resource.

    Keep in touch. I’d love to follow the progress of your vines.


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