Eric Stafne, Mississippi State University
This article will answer the following basic questions:
- How do I plant a grape vine?
- What is the best time of year to plant grapes?
- When should I plant grape vines?
- What kind of plant material should I buy?
Planting Method for Bare-Root Vines
- Be sure to keep vines moist right up to planting.
- Dig a small hole with a hand-held or tractor-mounted post digger about 6 inches in diameter, 4 inches to 6 inches deep. In soils with high clay content, glazing of the sides of the hole may occur, which can impede root growth. In this situation, break up the glazed areas using a shovel or equivalent tool.
- Immediately prior to planting, trim the roots to fit the hole and cut the top growth back to only two to three buds (above the graft union on grafted vines) on the strongest cane. Remove all other canes.
- Stand the plant in the hole and pack the same soil back into the hole around the plant. If you are using grafted vines, make sure the graft union is above the soil line by approximately 6 inches.
- Install a stake next to the vine to provide stability.
- Water the vine with two or three gallons of water immediately after planting.
- As new shoots begin to grow, watch for signs of pest damage that may inhibit vigorous growth.
- Do not allow weeds to grow near the vine row, and keep the young vines well watered. The amount and frequency of irrigation will vary depending on region and environmental conditions.
Green growing (potted) vines should be acclimated to seasonal weather conditions in a protected area for a few days prior to planting. Do not plant potted vines until after the risk of frost has passed in the spring. Be sure to remove the vine from pots before planting. If you are using grow tubes, install them after planting, lightly covering the base with soil to exclude herbicide sprays. Do not bury them too deep into the soil as root constriction may occur.
In most of the U.S., the best time to plant grape vines is very late winter or early spring, if irrigation is available.
To ensure the highest quality vines and a specific cultivar or rootstock, order vines from a reputable nursery  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 . For example, you will probably miss out on the best rooted cuttings (often termed #1), and poor quality vines can be too weak to survive. The nursery should ship the vines at or near your desired timeframe around planting.
Once delivered, vines should be planted immediately, if possible, and not stored. Storage of dormant vines leads to desiccation of the roots and buds. This will prohibit the vine from growing optimally and may lead to death.
If vines are received before the site is ready for planting (e.g., soil preparation, irrigation set up or trellis construction has not been completed), unpack the vines and cover them with soil in the shade until planting. This is known as “heeling-in.” Vines will remain healthy in the heel bed for up to four months. Do not store vines in water or a refrigerator for long periods of time. Water the heel bed periodically to keep the roots moist but not wet. Never allow the roots to dry out, as this will lead to poor growth or vine death.
Nursery Stock and Standards
Most grapevines are sold as dormant rooted cuttings and are either grafted or own-rooted. Rooted cuttings are graded by nursery industry standards. Becoming familiar with these standards is important to help you make decisions on plant material and can make the difference between success and failure of a new vineyard. For further information see Quality Guidelines for Grapevine Nursery Stock.
A 2-year-old #1 vine is more vigorous and will transplant with better success and become productive quicker than a #2 vine. A #1 rooted cutting is produced in a phylloxera-free nursery and certified as virus tested. Although certified virus-tested vines are initially more expensive, they are cheaper in the long run as this avoids problems with lower production and poor plant health associated with virus-infected vines. Remember, virus-tested vines from the nursery may not stay that way in the vineyard if efficient vectors are present, and virus-tested vines are not guaranteed to be completely virus free. Virus-infected vines can never be cured. Virus-tested cuttings should be ordered as far in advance as possible (up to one year prior to planting) to ensure availability of planting stock. Vineyard establishment from non-rooted cuttings is a gamble and you should consider success from them as atypical. This method, although less expensive initially, often leads to slower growing vines that do not come into bearing as quickly as purchased vines. You can also inadvertently introduce diseases and viruses into the vineyard by taking cuttings from another vineyard. All new vines should be free of viruses, insects, and disease.
Tips on Growing Grapes, University of Minnesota
Planting Grapes, Iowa State University
Growing Grapes, Ohio State University
Reviewed by Patty Skinkis, Oregon State University
and Keith Striegler, University of Missouri