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Pruning grapevine, tips and guidance to succeed

Pruning grapevine

The pruning of a grapevine is an important step that determines proper fruit formation and harvest.

It isn’t difficult, but there are a few rules to follow so that the plant may bear magnificent grape bunches.

Don’t be afraid of starting, because there is no “bad pruning”: your experience will build up until you perfectly master the pruning of a grapevine.

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When to prune grapevine

Grapevine is pruned twice during the year, at the end of winter after the stronger frost spells and in summer during fruit formation.

This is also when fruit tree fertilizer is added, which guarantees an abundant harvest.

Winter or autumn pruning of grapevine

A cordon-type pruned grapevine in autumn.At this time, grapevine is dormant and the sap has gathered in the roots.

The ideal timing is thus between February and March, while avoiding frost spells.

If the weather is mild in your area, it is possible to prune your vines as soon as the leaves have fallen off.

Spring pruning in areas where winters are cold

In colder regions, or in places where deep freezing might still occur in March, best is to wait until the very beginning of spring to prune, but it is the last chance.

Summer pruning of grapevine

This is a fruit-inducing pruning which isn’t mandatory.

It boils down to reducing the number of bunches down to 5 per stem, and cutting each shoot that doesn’t bear any fruits back to the trunk.

You can also eliminate the small and tiny bunches of grapes because their productivity would be weak.

General guidelines for winter pruning

The pruning of grapevine is actually the art of choosing the right buds which are also called eyes.

Some buds won’t bear any grapes while others will be very fertile.

  • The more fertile buds:
    These are those that appear on one-year-old wood (growth from the previous year).
  • Buds that won’t bear anything:
    The buds that grow from the intersections of older branches or off a previously cut shoot.

Basic pruning to grow nice bunches on your grapevine

  • First, remove dead wood.
  • Then, remove stems that grow from the lower part of the vine trunk.
  • Afterwards, focus on the shoots that have grown during the previous year.- Cut these shoots retaining at least 3 buds (eyes) per shoot.
    – These will be the most fertile shoots and they will bear grapes.
    – If you cut the entire shoot off, you won’t have any grapes.
  • As years go by, you’ll progressively remove old wood and replace it with new shoots.- And experience will show you the way…
    – You mus renew the grapevine as years go by in that you remove old wood and let new shoots grow longer.
    – These are the important shoots, and after bearing they will also be removed.


Tips on how to shape your vine

  • Directional pruning

This is important and restricts the plant to only two main shoots for future growth.

That way, you’ll have 2 vigorous shoots, rather than many scrawny shoots.

After this, there are different types of pruning, each of which relies on the same underlying principles:

  • Avoid elongating the trunk by favoring the growth of the 2 stems you have selected.
  • Restrict the number of buds to the description explained above.

Here are a few examples of how to train and prune your grapevine

  • Guyot pruningBowl, or goblet pruning – 3 to 5 main arms, each ending in a spur with 3 or 4 buds. Also called head pruning.
  • Cordon pruning – 1 or 2 horizontal cordons (older shoots), each with 3 or 4 spurs with 2 buds per spur.
  • Guyot pruning – Also called cane pruning. Only one or 2 canes are kept, each with 3 to 5 buds. Shown here in the picture.


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Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Jim Fischer
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: ytblue, Alasam
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  • Keith wrote on 20 April 2018 at 19 h 55 min

    Hi, I inherited an old grape vine which has two large branches coming from the main stem / trunk, these have always born a mass of fruit following pruning.
    This year only one branch is producing new buds.
    Should I remove the complete branch at the end of the year or can I stimulate it in some way to start bud formation?
    Many thanks.

    • Gaspard Lorthiois wrote on 24 April 2018 at 9 h 16 min

      Hi Keith, thanks for your comment. When an old grapevine starts lacking the strength to bear new shoots along all structural branches, it usually means it needs more nourishment and can’t send sap along the entire plant. If you cut the seemingly deadened branch back by a third (leaving two-thirds on the plant), this will alleviate the load and it may start growing back, perhaps even this year and if not, the next. A second complementary course of action would be to start nourishing the soil with slow-decay mulch and occasional enriching with fermented teas. Nothing drastic, but regular since it must trickle down to the deep vine roots over time.