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How to Grow a Grapevine in the Tropics

I love to help others green up their thumbs and keep their garden healthy and thriving.

This guide will provide you with all the information you will need to start your own grape vineyard and produce healthy, delicious fruit.

This guide will provide you with all the information you will need to start your own grape vineyard and produce healthy, delicious fruit.

Grapevine cultivation belongs mainly to the temperate and sub-temperate regions of the world. With good management, however, it can be cultivated in tropical regions which have distinct rainy and dry seasons in a year. For example, it can be produced successfully in the northern parts of Nigeria. It only requires good management and intensive husbandry.

The fruits from the grapevine have a variety of uses. They can be used for desserts, eaten fresh or used in the wine factories.

This article will break down everything you need to know about planting and caring for grapevines, so that you can produce and enjoy healthy, delicious fruits for years to come.

Climate and Soil Requirements

Grapes are basically grown in the temperate and sub-tropical regions. The vines shed leaves in winter, bring out new shoots in spring and mature in summer. In the tropics, however, the vines are evergreen and yield poorly unless special techniques of pruning are employed.

Humid tropical conditions are ideal for pests and diseases and therefore unsuitable for grape cultivation. Rains during flowering and ripening result in poor fruit set and berry splitting respectively. The grapevine can withstand temperatures up to 35°C during the dry season, provided they are profusely irrigated.

You can grow grapes on a variety of soils with free drainage. The root system of the grapevine does not go beyond 1 meter deep, therefore silty and loam soils are ideal. You will also need to fortify acidic soils with calcium.

Different Varieties and Their Best Uses

  • Anab-e –shahi: Table and desserts
  • Black Hambury: Juice grapes
  • Thompson seedless: Raisins and desserts
  • Muscat of Alexandria: Wine
  • Blue grapes: Wine

Propagation

If you want to cultivate grapes on a large scale, you will need to propagate your grape by cuttings. Seed propagation will be left to breeding work mainly. Grafting and budding on rootstock can be used to obtain resistance to diseases like phylloxerapest or nematods, or to increase the vigour of weak-growing varieties in grape cultivation.

If the need for propagation through the seed or rootstock has not arisen, however, cutting should be used.

You should select mature wood from the previous season’s growth at grape pruning. Each cutting should be at least 8 millimeters thick (about pencil thickness)—make the basal cut just below a bud. However, mallet cutting (cutting may bear a small portion, or heel, of the previous growth) the roots may be easier. The cutting should also be at least three buds long. You should protect the cuttings from drying out by putting them in moist sacks or in wet soil, sand or saw dust. You should plant before any root or shoot growth occurs in the cuttings.

You should plant your cutting in nursery soils that are well prepared, well fertilized and free of weeds. You may use potting containers (like polythene bags), however, to raise seedlings for transplanting. Prepare soil mixture, with two parts top soil and one part sand in a ratio of 2:1. To every 5 liters of this soil mixture, add a handful of super phosphate fertilizer. Fill the polythene bags with the soil mixture and then add water.

You can plant one cutting per bag with one or two buds above soil surface and pat the soil around them. You should water the cuttings as often as necessary until good sprouts and sufficient roots are established for transplanting.

Preparation of Land and Planting

Grapevines are planted in pits, however, it is preferable to plough and harrow the land at the beginning of the raining season. You should plant the vines at equal distances in the square system with the following spacing:

  • Anab-e –shahi: 5 x 5 meters
  • Thompson seedless: 2.5 x 2.5 meters
  • Black Hambury: 3.5 x 3.5 meters
  • Blue grapes: 3.5 x 3.5 meters

Dig rectangular pits that are 72 centimeters deep by 50 centimeters wide at specified distances. While digging, you should put the half top soil on one side and the other half of the dug soil on the opposite. Add to the top half of the soil an equal amount of well-decomposed organic matter, preferably animal manure, and mix them well. Then to this, add 5 kilograms of single phosphate and mix thoroughly.

Plant healthy and active rooted cuttings of that have aged 6–12 months. The planting of the rooted cuttings is best done any time from the month of January to June. Put the plant deep in the center of the pit with half of the plant exposed. Pat down the soil until it's firm, then water it profusely.

Staking

You should support the vine with any stick of 2 meters in height. Paint the stick with tar or old engine oil to prevent a termite attack. It will take about one month for transplanted young plants to establish. As the vine grows, you should leave only one single shoot to grow. You should tie the shoot to the stick at every half meter distance with a strip of polythene 1 centimeter in width. Nip all side branches that appear from time to time, allowing one main shoot to climb up to 2 meters in height.

Training

The following are the terms used in the training and pruning of grapevines. You need to understand them before we embark on discussion of training and pruning.

  • Trunk or main stem: This is one single stem raised up to 2 meters in height.
  • Arms or secondary stems: These are two horizontal arms (right and left of the vine along the bower) branching at 2 meters in height.
  • Tertiary: Shoots produced up to 1 meter initially, and at one time allowed to extend only up to 2 meters in length. A vine will have 20 tertiaries with 10 each.
  • Cane: Shoots that are of pencil thickness (8 millimeters) and attain brown color as they ripen. This cane ripening occurs 100 days from pruning the vine.
  • Spur: A cane that has been cut back to one bud to produce next year's fruiting cane.

You will train the vine to assume many shapes and forms. Usually these forms are in relation to the different types of support and determine the disposition of trunk, arms and canes.

Many modifications of grapevine training have been adopted the world over. In Nigeria, the overhead horizontal bower system appears most suitable for high yield.

Pruning

Pruning is another important operation performed when a vine attains one year of age. It is performed twice a year, one in September for security of fruit, and again in March after the harvest of the fruits.

In March, you should cut back the cane to produce the spur. You should remove all tendrils once every three days. You will find these tendrils—which are hair-like structures and coil-like springs—opposite each leaf. After pruning, you should bury all leaves into the soil. You should leave the vine leafless for three weeks. Apply manure to the vine, as stated under manuring below, three to five days before pruning.

In September, after the rain, do the pruning again. Cut back the canes or ripened shoots alone, leaving three to twelve buds depending on the variety grown.

  • Anab-e –shahi: 5–7 buds
  • Thompson seedless: 10–12 buds
  • Black Hambury: 3–5 buds

If you make any mistakes in cutting or pruning, this can lead to a loss of crops. You should bury all leaves and other green shoots that were removed in the vineyard, as this too is good manure.

Manuring

Grapevines are voracious feeders and need large quantities of manures and fertilizers. The initial requirement of manure and fertilizer has been described above at planting. You should give a compound fertilizer (15:15:15) at the rate of 50 grams per plant—as broadcast 1 meter distance around the vine at fortnightly intervals—beginning at one month and up to five months after planting. Rake gently with a hoe every week.

As the vine grows, you need to apply manure 100 kilogramgs per plant all over 2 meters of distance around the plant, and hoe the manure in as to penetrate 5 centimeters depth of soil. You should do the application of manure once during each pruning—that is, twice a year. This you should follow up with 15:15:15 at 2.5 kilograms per plant in six doses at fortnightly intervals.

Apply muriate of potash at 2 kilograms per plant one year after transplanting and during September pruning only.

Field Management

This section will break down the main aspects of field management: irrigation, weeding and harvesting.

Irrigation

Usually, young vines need watering on alternative days at 75 liters and old vines 350 liters at every three-day interval. You should apply water in a bowl of 2-meter diameter around each plant. You do not require irrigation during the wet season, except if there is a break in rainfall for over two weeks.

Weeding

You should give special attention to keep the vineyard free from weeds by occasional shallow cultivation. Young grapevines are very sensitive to herbicides. You should not use any herbicide for the first three to four years.

Harvesting

The fruits do not ripen or improve much after harvesting, therefore you should pluck fruits only when they are fully ripe. You should expect grape bunches to ripen 125 to 150 days after manuring. Ripeness in grapes is judged by a combination of indications like the waxy bloom of the fruits, characteristic color development, slight thickening of juice, easy detachment of berries, browning of cluster stems, freedom of seeds from pulp and sweetness of berries.

Grapes start bearing fruits from the second year of planting, and the yield increases with age. If the vines give a heavy yield one year, the succeeding year will be less due to exhaustion. Yield varies from 10–25 tonnes per hectare depending upon variety, method of training, pruning, irrigation and manuring. Under tropical conditions, your vine may continue to produce fruits for 25 years with good management. If you head or prune severely to ground level, you can revive an old grapevine.

Pest and Disease and Control Measures

Fruits in grapevines are produced during the dry season, and therefore you will not experience many disease problems. However, some of the important diseases and pests you may experience include the following:

  • Powdering mildew: This affects the berries and the leaves. It is controlled by spraying 30 grams of sulphur in 18 liters of water at weekly intervals.
  • Downy mildew: This affects twigs, buds, flowers and fruit, while growth on the lower surface of the leaves later turns brown. You can control it by pruning and burning affected parts.
  • Anthracnose: This looks like dark brown oval spot on leaves, twigs and fruits, especially in the raining season. Prune the affected part. You will also spray difiliton or dithane M 45 at 0.1% in water at weekly interval.
  • Termites: These insects affect roots and stems and kill plants. They can be controlled by applying diedrex or aldrex T or gamlin at the rate of one tablespoon in a liter of water at four weekly intervals.
  • Birds: They can destroy fruits seriously just as they ripen. You can cover fruits with cloth bags, plastic netting or chicken mesh wire. You can also use bird scarers during the day.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Eunice Godfrey (author) from Nigeria on July 12, 2020:

Well, you are entitled to your own opinion Mark. This article is for people who are interested in learning new ways. You said your grapes are doing terribly. I think it's because you're doing the wrong things. This article is based on an experiment that yielded good results. Thank you.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 12, 2020:

No, I do not think you have ever grown grapes.

Eunice Godfrey (author) from Nigeria on July 11, 2020:

I strongly suggest you read the information on pruning again Mark, and don't think about what you know about growing vines in temperate regions where they have winter. Do you any more questions?

Eunice Godfrey (author) from Nigeria on July 11, 2020:

OK Mark. . I'll try to answer the questions I can pick out. Everything in this article was written using northern Nigeria as an experiment. I have never been to Brazil so I don't know the climatic conditions of that place. But let's start this way; have you tried any of the suggestions in this article? The weather in northern Nigeria is 6 months of rainfall which is the rainy season and six months of dry cold weather which is the dry season also called harmattan. In July and August the rains are still heavy. Pruning then will be disastrous for the vine. But by September, the rains have slowed and the cold dry harmattan is already near. This is the best time to prune.

2. Rainfall doesn't wash off the entire nutrient in the soil especially if you take care to protect your soil through ploughing and mulching. In Nigeria, we only have a few horses. It's mostly used for recreational purposes. So our manure is mostly cattle manure.

3. Like I said, the experiment was conducted in the northern part of Nigeria. We haven't moved to the south or west yet. So I can't conclude with certainty that grapes will not grow anywhere else in the country.

In a place where grape cultivation is difficult, the best you can do is start small. Try applying the tips in this article and see if they work for you. Except you have already tried and they didn't work.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 11, 2020:

Yes, since we do not have winter all of the info on when to prune and not appropriate to use. I live in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil and would like to grow grapes but my vines do terribly. Do you think it would help to simulate winter by removing the leaves during July or August?

The rain washes all of the nutrients out of the soil, but 100 kilograms of manure per plant? Are you talking about cow manure, chicken manure, horse manure...? They are all different, have different levels of nutrients.

You mention that they do okay in the northern part of your country. Are there parts of Nigeria where grapes will not grow because of the weather? Here in the northeast of Brazil we have grape production but it is only is isolated areas. (In the south, grapes are a lot easier to produce and we also have a wine industry in the southern part of the country.)

Thanks for any insights.

Eunice Godfrey (author) from Nigeria on July 11, 2020:

Is there any specific thing you want to know? The entire article is about how to grow grapes in the tropics.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 11, 2020:

So are there any specific tips to growing grapes in the tropics?