First Year

Winter is loosening its grip and spring approaches. As detailed in The Vineyard Plan and associated topic blocks, you’ve developed a plan and approach for planting a vineyard. Double-check your plan to ensure the steps below are covered.

The first vineyard planting stage begins by ensuring the site is ready, equipment is available, vines or rootstock and associated supportive growth materials are ordered, and the planting approach is determined. The second stage is planting. The third and fourth stages involve ongoing maintenance during the first growing season, and lastly, winter prep.

The size of the vineyard from a few dozen plants to an acre or more, combined with the site conditions, drive different preparation approaches. Several activities are in store, including affirming soil type and health, tilling, stone removal, and vegetation and weed mitigation.

Using dormant rootstock is advised in establishing vines for a new vineyard. This is because the resulting new root growth after planting occurs in the soil the vine lives in permanently, as compared to having grown in a previous soil type and then having to adapt to your soil. Most importantly, grape rootstock is typically also phylloxera-resistant while nursery-grown vines may not be. This is important for the future health of the plants and vineyard. There are several online sources for ordering grape rootstock.

Determining how the holes are dug must be affirmed before the arrival of the rootstock or vines. They can be dug by hand with a shovel or by a mechanical device, such as an auger, trencher, or backhoe. The decision is driven by the state of the soil, the number of vines to be planted, personal capabilities, and resources. If the soil is relatively easy to till and the number of vines to be planted can be managed by a person or two, digging by hand works perfectly well. Attempting a few test holes affirms this approach. Should the number of vines exceed the availability of muscle to dig holes, a mechanical one or two-person auger should make swift work of the task. If the soil is heavy with distributed rocks and stones, a backhoe with either a small bucket or auger should be considered.

First-year goals for the vines are root development, with upward vine growth ranging from 4 to 8 feet. While a trellis system is not required in the first year, having tall stakes for each plant provides support for upward growth. The use of growth cones protecting early vine growth from small and large pests is recommended. If your area receives less than 24 inches of annual precipitation, you should supplement Mother Nature’s moisture. This can be accomplished by adding a drip system with a timer attached to a faucet or by adding zones to an existing irrigation system. 

Having a weeding regime is important—new vine root growth shouldn’t compete with weed root growth. While not required, ground cover assists in controlling weeds, as well as limiting erosion and promoting soil health. When irrigating ground cover, careful attention should be paid to not applying water to the leaf canopies of the vines. Consistent excess moisture on the canopies promotes powdery mildew, a plant disease limiting leaf and fruit growth.

If the vineyard is located in a cold weather climate (winter temps below 20 degrees F), the soil should be mounded along the bottom of the vines to protect the tender rootstock graft unions before winter sets in. Once the vine matures in subsequent seasons mounding isn’t required, unless the vineyard is located in the further northern latitudes where temps can dip below -5 F (and lower). 

Providing fencing is another end-of-season consideration if the vineyard has the potential for multiple wildlife visitations with the onset of winter.

During the first season with vine growth of 4 to 8 feet in height and winter protection in place before the end of fall, the vineyard is in a good position to weather the harsher elements and be ready to spring forth come spring. Winter is a great time to hone plans for the second year of growth, applying what was learned during the first season.

Find online topic links below, helpful in working through first-year vineyard establishment activities and requirements.

Boots in the Vineyard

Vineyard Site Preparation (Cornell Cooperative Extension)

After selection of a good site, proper site preparation is one of the most important factors in the ultimate success or failure of a vineyard. This is the time when changes can be made to the site to improve soil conditions, water handling, and the overall efficiency of managing the vineyard. Many experienced grape growers will say that investing the time and money in good site preparation will save both in the long run.

Planting a new vineyard

Planting Grapevines (Extension Foundation)

In most of the U.S., the best time to plant grape vines is very late winter or early spring. To ensure the highest quality vines and a specific cultivar or rootstock, order vines from a reputable nursery [1] in the summer or early fall prior to planting in spring. If you wait until January or February to order, you could have problems with plant availability and/or quality.

Planting Rootstock

Planting Dormant Grapevines (WineMaker)

Establishing a vineyard is an exciting and rewarding adventure. Like all of life’s challenges, your success or failure will be dictated by the amount of research, planning, effort and perseverance you exhibit throughout the process. If you’ve read my last few articles you know one thing is certain — there’s a lot to do before putting vines into the ground.

Grape Rootstock Pic

How to Plant Wine Grapes (The Home Winemaking Channel)

In this six minute video, I show how to plant dormant grape vines and start your own backyard vineyard. If you want to grow grapes in your yard, check out this video. The grapes that I am growing are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Traminette, Riesling, Noiret, and Marquette. Most of the grape vines are grafted but a couple of the hybrids are own rooted.

First Year Vineyard Pic

First Year Vineyard Care (WineMaker)

Planting a vineyard takes time, effort and planning. But your work is not over once the vines are in the ground. In order to have usable grapes by your third year, you’ll need to carefully manage the growth of your vines. The first year of vine growth is meant to establish a strong and vigorous root system and build stores of nutrients to hasten growth in subsequent years.

Cover Crops

Cover Cropping Systems for Organically Farmed Vineyards (LODI Wine Growers)

Vineyard cover cropping practices have been refined over the past 15 years. Following multiple trials conducted by the author and cooperating growers, we have identified a broad “plant palette” from which to choose in addressing specific cultural issues in vineyards, such as protection from soil erosion while building soil structure, organic matter, and overall soil quality. 

Vineyard rows

Weed Management in Organic Vineyards (UC Integrated Pest Management)

Weed control in vineyards enhances the establishment of newly planted vines and improves the growth and yield of established vines. Growers have many weed management tools available to achieve these objectives, which should be an integral part of an overall vineyard management system.

Weeding a Vineyard with a Grape Hoe (The Home Winemaking Channel)

In this three-minute video, I’ll illustrate the usage of my absolute favorite garden tool which is a tremendous help in the vineyard. It is my Rogue 7-inch Grape Hoe. These are similar to a normal garden hoe but much heavier, which allows you to dig into harder ground and chop weeds out easily.

Pruning Backyard Grapevines in the First Three Years (Ohio State Extension)

Grape gardeners often become confused as to what should be pruned off and when. Proper pruning will help maintain a grapevine’s potential of producing a good quality fruit crop, develop good vine structure, increase sunlight exposure into the canopy, promote the development of next year’s fruiting wood, and potentially reduce disease and insect pressure.

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