Issue: October 28, 2006

Saving grandfathers grape vine


I recently discovered that the grape vine my grandfather brought from Italy many years ago is growing in my yard. They are wine grapes, but I don't know what variety. My parents had the vine dug out some years ago, but I guess they didn't get all the roots. The vine is still growing.

I would like to restore this vine and grow the grapes. I have read about taking cuttings and rooting them in a plastic bag that serves as a greenhouse. Will you please give me specific information about how to do this?

- Judy I.


In your case, it is probable that the grape you grow will produce the same variety as the ones your grandfather grew. However, for other readers it is important to know that some grape vines are grafted, so the variety of the root is different from that of the top of the vine. Your grandfather probably brought dormant stems with him from Italy and grew them as cuttings, as you want to do. In this case, the roots are the same variety as the top.

There are several ways to accomplish the preserving of the grape vine. First is to prune your existing vine to develop the plant into a productive vine. As you prune, you can collect the prunings to use as cuttings to make more grape vines. As you cut the vines from the plant, make a slanted cut at the bottom of each vine. The plant "knows" up from down. You must put the cuttings into the propagation medium (potting soil or garden) with the bottom down and the top up. This is very important. If you make several cuttings from each pruned vine, make the top cut flat and then re-cut the next cutting to have a slanted cut at its base. Each cutting should be 4 to 8 inches long with several nodes (places where buds are located).

You can take some cuttings in the fall after the vines are dormant and all leaves have fallen. Do the major pruning in the late winter/early spring just before growth begins to avoid stimulating growth that can be killed by freezing temperatures. If you take cuttings in the fall, treat the base of the cutting with rooting hormone. Wrap the cuttings in moist (not soggy) sphagnum moss and store them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator (not freezer) for at least 6 to 8 weeks. When you remove them from this cold storage (which simulates winter conditions and prepares them for growth), place them slanted end down (bottom down) into potting soil. You can put several cuttings in each pot if you wish. Place the pot and cuttings in a plastic bag to maintain humidity around them. (I prefer long narrow plastic bags such as those surrounding newspapers on rainy days.) Place them in a bright, warm location but not in direct sun. (Direct sun will create too much heat in the bag.) Growth should begin in a few weeks but roots may not develop immediately, so keep them in the bag. As growth begins, you can open the top of the bag slightly or, with a sharp pencil, punch some holes in the bag to admit fresh air. As the vines outgrow the bag, you can open it completely and even take the plants from the bag. If they begin wilting, put them back into the bags but gradually expose them to drier air. You can do the same thing in the spring as you do major pruning, but you won't need to treat them in the refrigerator. You can apply the rooting hormone and put them directly into the potting soil. After growth begins, you can cut some of the new tender growth and do the same thing. With the new softwood cuttings taken after growth begins, the humidity in the plastic bag is even more important. Without increased humidity, these cuttings with leaves will dry before roots can form.

If you have many cuttings after pruning the vine, you may want to try rooting some cuttings in water. In this case, just prepare the cuttings and place them into buckets or jars of water.

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Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.