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Our native grape – the muscadine

By Ralph E. Mitchell

The first time that I tasted a muscadine grape was in Georgia.  It was a pleasant difference from what I was used to, namely northern bunch-type grapes. The thick skin and extra-large berry contained an intense grape flavor that made you want to eat more!  Better yet, muscadines are just about pest-free and are in fact Florida natives.  Available for home gardens in black, purple, pink or bronze varieties, these southern grapes make a great addition for any small fruit grower.

As mentioned above, muscadines are available in a multitude of cultivars.  Several that may be available from local garden centers or on-line plant sources are  recommended for Florida.  Now while some muscadines have  female flowers and must have a pollinizer to set fruit, these bronze cultivars – ‘Carlos’, ‘Granny Val’, ‘Pineapple’,  and ‘Tara’ – for example, are self-fertile with perfect flowers that will produce fruit without cross-pollination. These black-fruited varieties –  ‘Noble’, ‘Polyanna‘, and ‘Southern Home’– are also self-fertile.

Muscadines are adapted to a wide range of soils. Locally, these grapes most often come well-rooted in containers and you can plant them most anytime.    Make sure to provide adequate water during establishment and during droughty conditions.  Once established, fertilize each plant with one-quarter pound of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 (or its equivalent with micronutrients) in April after growth begins. Put the fertilizer down in bands about one foot to either side of the vine. During the second year, apply one pound of fertilizer per vine in March.  From then on you can apply three pounds of fertilizer per vine during March.

Common spacing for muscadines is fifteen feet between plants in rows fifteen feet apart.   Since grapes are vines, trellises will have to be constructed to support their growth.  A two-wire system is commonly used where grapes are trained to a wire at two and one-half feet and at five feet.  This allows for easier training and good fruit production.  At planting, erect a five and one-half foot stake next to each grape and tie the stake to the top wire of your trellis.  As the first shoots develop, select the best one and tie it with a string to the stake.  At this point, remove all of the remaining shoots.  This one good shoot will become your trunk.  Tie the shoot as it grows all the way to the top wire where it should be cut off.  Many lateral and base shoots will develop.  All except those to be trained along the wires should be removed.  Maintain a lateral (four total) to grow from each side of the trunk where a wire is located.  The laterals along each wire will produce the fruit.  Pruning to maintain productive fruiting can be conducted in January.  I would suggest referring to the resource publication for this article, The Muscadine Grape – https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS10000.pdf – for more details on the pruning system that will produce the most fruit.

Protecting this tasty crop from animals may be a problem.  Barriers made from bird netting or chicken wire will help keep wildlife away – squirrels has been my problem.  The only insect pest that I have had recently were aphids which can be spot-treated with insecticidal soap used as per label instruction.  Muscadines are ready to eat in August through September.  They store well in the refrigerator for a period of time.  All of your efforts will pay off however with large muscadine grapes full of juice and flavor!  For more information on all types of fruits to grow in Charlotte County, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.     Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resource:
Andersen, P. C., Crocker, T.E.,  & J. Breman  & Mortensen, J.A. (2017) The Muscadine Grape. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS10000.pdf

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