Muscadines in the South

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Want to grow grapes in the South? If so, you have two choices – plant muscadines or plant another type of grape and fight diseases and pests. Muscadine grapes, Vitis rotundifolia, are often referred to as scuppernongs. This grape flourishes in our southern climate as it is native to the Southeastern United States, and has been cultured here for more than 400 years. The oldest known cultivated grapevine in our nation, known as the ‘Mother Vine’, was grown near Manteo. While table, wine, and concord type grapes rarely live for more than a few years in our area because of our climate and disease pressure, muscadines thrive. This tough native grape can be found growing along woodland edges throughout the south and is easily cultivated in home gardens.

Muscadines can be grown in a wide variety of soils except those that don’t drain well. Sandy soils will do just fine. These plants produce the highest yields in full sun, but will also do well in partly shaded sites. Another plus – muscadines have few pest problems and are easily grown with little to no pesticide usage or fertility inputs. Several bred varieties of muscadine grapes are available. Because some muscadine grapes are female vines and require a pollinator, read the label to make sure you know the pollination requirements before you purchase plants.

Bronze, red and black muscadine varieties are available in the horticulture trade. Many are delicious to eat fresh, with a concentrated sweet taste. They make delicious jams, jellies, juices, and wines. The first muscadine ever selected and named was a bronze variety called ‘Scuppernong’. This name has evolved over time to become the name for all bronze muscadine varieties.

‘Nesbitt’, ‘Fry’, ‘Tara’, ‘Southern Home’, ‘Summit’, and ‘Supreme’ are all recommended varieties for fresh eating; whereas ‘Carlos’ and ‘Noble’ are the varieties most commonly grown for wine or juice production. Yet another plus – Muscadines and muscadine products are a good source of valuable antioxidants and dietary fiber.

Muscadines are vigorous growers and must be grown on trellis structures. There are a few options for trellis strategies, but you should put up the trellis before the vines are even planted.

While muscadine grapes ripen from late summer through fall, the vines are best planted in spring, around March or April. Space new vines at least 10’. You must be prepared for a 3-4 year development period to start heavily bearing grapes.

Established vines are pruned heavily each winter, about December to February, when they are dormant, as they will produce fruit on new wood. According to the 2019 Southeast Regional Muscadine Grape Integrated Management Guide, prune back all wood (called “canes”) that grew the previous year in the dormant season, leaving only 3-4 inch stubs (spurs) of 1-yr-old wood protruding from the main cordon or previous season’s wood. Selectively thin these spurs or spur clusters to space them approximately 4-6 inches along the cordon. It is critical to do this BEFORE sap starts flowing! January or February are the perfect time, as long as the long range forecast is not below 28 degrees Fahrenheit for a sustained period of time.

Growing muscadines in the South can be fairly easy, but requires annual pruning and seasonal maintenance. It can all be worth it to harvest the succulent fruit in the late summer and early fall.

Article adapted from an article from 2019 by Minda Daughtry, the then Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Amanda Wilkins is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Resources:

NC State’s Muscadine Portal for Growing Resources