I really enjoy muscadines. I fondly remember picking the sweet, fresh fruit off the wild vines growing our dirt road back home. I also remember climbing trees with my siblings to shake the wild muscadine vines once all the easy-to-reach fruit was all picked.
Despite the popularity of muscadines in our area, I find that many folks are confused about how to prune them. Popular opinion would have you believe that pruning muscadine vines is only slightly less difficult that solving differential equations, sequencing human DNA or understanding the IRS tax code.
In fact, muscadine pruning is relatively simple and has a major impact on the production of high quality fruit, and now is the time to get started on this annual chore.
I think one of the reasons folks get confused is because we tend to let our muscadine vines get out of control before we start proper pruning and training. Vines grown on old fashioned arbors are almost impossible to prune. Neglected vines on trellis systems can develop into a mass of interwoven shoots that form a tangled mess.
You can severely prune a seriously neglected vine to whip it back into shape but this will normally result in greatly decreased fruit production the following growing season.
Now, the key point to all fruit-related pruning is understanding where the fruit is borne. For muscadines, fruit is borne on the new shoots that arise from last year’s growth. Let me say that again. Muscadine fruit comes from the new shoots that sprout from last year’s growth, which is one-year old wood.
So, when you prune, leave about 2 or 3 inches of growth on those shoots that were produced during the last growing season. This will allow about three or four buds to remain on wood that was produced last year. The tender new shoots that sprout from these buds will produce fruit during the coming growing season.
If you cut back severely and remove all of last year’s wood some new shoots will emerge from the older growth. They just won’t bear any fruit.
It is easy to identify the one year old wood. It is generally a light brown color and will contain numerous small brown buds distributed along its surface. Older wood is darker colored and appears tougher and woodier.
A well trained Muscadine vine will have a single trunk which divides into two to four major fruiting arms or “cordons” which grow along the trellis wires. Over a period of years the practice of saving three to four buds per shoot on the previous year’s wood will allow a series of short zig-zagging old wood to remain on the cordons.
These clumps of old growth form what we commonly call “fruiting spurs,” which end up looking like gnarly deer antlers as the vine gets older. Ideally, we would like to see fruiting spurs spaced about every six to eight inches along the cordons. After several years of production you may have to thin out every other fruiting spur along the cordons to prevent overcrowding.
We can prune muscadines as late as early March. In general, the later the vines are pruned the more vine “bleeding” you will see. Don’t worry if your vine “bleeds.” Dripping sap will not kill the vine and I guarantee no transfusion will be necessary!
Keep in mind that if you leave too many buds on a muscadine vine, then it tends to overproduce fruit. The fruit quality will be poor. As with most plants remove diseased wood including old spent fruit stems as you prune. Tendrils that wrap around spurs or cordons should also be removed. Otherwise they may girdle the growth and reduce fruit production.
Pruning muscadines is really not that difficult. Just remember to leave three to four buds on shoots that grew last year and you will be in business. You will have a better crop and healthier vines. Now if I just had a jar of mothers homemade muscadine jelly…
To get more tips about pruning muscadines or other fruit crops, contact us at the Liberty County Extension office at 912-876-2133 or visit us at our office located in downtown Hinesville in the Historic Courthouse at 100 Main Street. You can also shoot use an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on our Facebook page to keep up with programs and events!