What Kind of Grape Plants to Buy?

Grape plants produce mature fruits at different times throughout the growing season.
Grape plants produce mature fruits at different times throughout the growing season. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The type of grape plants (Vitis spp.) to purchase for home gardens depends on where you live and what you do with the fruits. Grapevine cultivars produce fruits of red, purple, green, white or blue-black. Four types of grape plants are typically grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 10 for pastries, jellies, juice, wine and eating. Climate, USDA zone and environmental conditions are important considerations when choosing plants for a backyard grape arbor.

Warm Climate

European grape cultivars (Vitis vinifera) are grown in warm climates and used for winemaking, desserts and snacks. Fruits are sweet and fleshy. European varieties such as “Thompson” -- with green grapes -- and red-fruited “Flame” grapevines are both suitable for USDA zones 7 through 9. Extreme temperatures can destroy the plants so European cultivars are not recommended for climates where the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Muscadine grape cultivars (Vitis rotundifolia) thrive in warm climates where the temperature rarely falls below 10 degrees. They are typically suitable for USDA zones 7 through 9.

Cool Climate

American bunch grapes (Vitis labrusca) are cold-hardy vines that produce seeded and seedless fruits. Cultivars suitable for USDA zones 4 through 8 include “Concord,” which produces blue-back-purple, tart-sour grapes used in winemaking, jellies and preserves. “Delaware” has red grapes best for eating fresh or made into wine. American grape cultivars can typically withstand harsh winters and prolonged temperatures below freezing. Damaged trunks can be pruned to the ground to promote new growth the following season. French and American hybrid grape species are crossbred with disease-resistant plants. Vines such as “Himrod,” suitable for USDA zones 7 through 10, are relatively cold-hardy but can die in prolonged temperatures below 20 degrees F.

Buying Grape Plants

Most grape plants do not need nearby vines for cross-pollination. For example, French hybrids and American bunch grapes are self-fertile, notes Clemson University Extension, but Muscadine grape vines do need another plant nearby to produce flowers and fruits. Grape plants produce berries at different times throughout the season so selecting different cultivars can lengthen the harvest of mature fruits.

Planting & Pruning

Planting healthy grapevines in early spring helps young stems settle into the ground before cold weather arrives. Grapevines need direct sun and well-draining sandy loam soil with pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Vines should have a 150 day frost-free growing season and temperatures above 25 degrees, depending on cultivar, advises Cornell University Extension. Grape vines typically take three years before they begin producing fruit. In the first year, pruning develops the vine’s root system and a straight trunk. In the second year after planting, thinning and training the fruiting canes to reach a trellis or other support system helps vines to strengthen and grow upward. During the third growing season, spreading vines develop clusters of fruit. Pruning large clusters of fruit allows vines to absorb nutrients. Trimming during the vine’s yearly dormancy keeps plants healthy.

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