Issue: April 2003

Grapes Ideal for New Mexico Home Gardens

New Mexico's climate is ideal for growing grapes, and April is time to plant them. Like chile, grapes have historic roots in New Mexico. Catholic priests first introduced the "Mission" grape in the late 17th century, planting them at newly established missions in New Spain's far-northern frontier from New Mexico to California. Today, the 'Mission" grape's high sugar content still makes it an excellent dessert wine.

European or Vinifera-type grapes like "Mission" account for 90 percent of the world's grapes under cultivation. They require mild, dry climates like that of southern New Mexico. Temperatures below 0 degrees F can injure vines.

Other popular wine grapes include "Zinfandel", "Merlot", and "Cabernet Sauvignon". "Flame Seedless" is one of the more popular table grapes.

American-type grapes tend to be more winter-hardy, but generally make poorer wines. Varieties like "Concord" are mostly used to make grape juice. Crosses between these two types of grapes are called American and French hybrids. The hybrids generally exhibit more cold tolerance than Vinifera varieties and better wine qualities than American varieties. "Himrod Seedless", "Marquis Seedless", 'Suffolk Red Seedless" and "Mars Seedless" are all excellent table grapes suitable for colder areas of the state.

Cut back newly established plants to one cane with two buds to balance top growth with root growth. Allow unrestricted growth in the first season after planting to develop a strong root system. Before bud-break the following spring, select the strongest cane and tie it to a post. Remove the rest of the canes.

In northern New Mexico, two canes can be tied to a post to help offset cane loss from winterkill. The tied canes will become permanent trunks for the vine.

Select a plant training system the third spring. Most gardeners choose either a cane or cordon system. When pruning and training, remember that fruits are produced on canes that developed the previous growing season.

A four-cane Kniffin System consists of four one-year-old canes originating from the main trunk and being trained along two wires attached to posts. Set the first wire 3 feet high and the second between 5 and 7 feet, with posts 6 to 8 feet apart. Replace canes each year with new one-year-old canes.

For a cordon system, establish two permanent lateral canes along the lower wire. Head back these permanent canes to about 24 inches. The following spring cut back annual canes that develop along the permanent cordon to spurs with two buds each. Fruit will develop from buds along the spurs on the cordon. Remove all growth that develops on the underside. Train new growth or canes upward over the upper wire.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on:
KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays,
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and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)