Monday, December 13, 2010

Growing Muscadine Grapes

Muscadine grapes, also known as Mustang grapes, are native to the Southeastern US. They have been cultured for over 400 years. Native Americans were using the Muscadine dried fruit before any Europeans lived on these shores. In the mid 1500's it was reported that the Spanish in Florida were making Muscadine wine.

The first varieties of Muscadine were wild. They were super hardy but the fruit did not make for good eating. It was possible to make jellies, juices, and wines, however. The first recognized cultivar was a bronze selection initially referred to as the "Big White Grape". There are now many cultivars of the Muscadine. These hybrid versions include seedless grapes with higher sugar content so that the fruit is quite pleasant to eat and the grape still is used in wine making.

The Muscadine vines prefer light. Stay away from shaded areas when planting the vines. If the site of your vineyard receives more that several hours of shade each day, fruit set and production will be reduced. Full sun is best but if that is not possible, the morning sun is more important.

The Muscadine can tolerate and produce in a wide range of soils provided that the drainage is good. If there is standing water, such as after a rain, for even a short period of time, it is likely that the vines will fail. Soils with a hardpan are not suitable for growing the Muscadine. The best soils have a pH value of 6.5 and contain no more than 1.5% organic content.

The most well know cultivars are the bronze "Scuppernong" and the black "Thomas" varieties. However, there are additional much improved and highly recommended cultivars.

**Carlos-bronze, mid-season, perfect flowered, very dry stem scar. It is good for wine or the fresh fruit is great for eating.

**Doreen-bronze, very late, medium size, perfect flowered, dry stem scar. It is also good for wine or for eating the fresh fruit.

**Magnolia-bronze, early medium to large size, perfect flowered, wet stem scar, excellent flavor. It is fine for making wine or juice.

**Nesbitt-black, early, large size, perfect flowered, dry stem scar. The fresh fruit is good for eating but produces a poor wine color.

**Noble-black, early, small size, perfect flowered, we scar. It is good for eating the fresh fruit. It also produces a great wine and juice product.

**Regale-black, mid-season, medium size, perfect flowered, wet scar. The fruit can be eaten fresh and this variety also produces good wine and juice.

**Triumph-bronze, early, large size, perfect flowered, dry scar. The grapes are great when eaten fresh. The grapes yield only a fair quality of wine.

Perfect flowered cultivars are those which contain both the male and female parts. This means that a single vine will be able to bear fruits. There are other cultivars of Muscadine but they have flowers only with female parts and must be planted near the varieties that are perfect flowered in order to bear fruit. Among these are the "Fry", "Higgins", "Scuppernong", and "Jumbo" cultivar varieties.

Muscadine grapes do well when each vine has a space about 10 feet long by 6 feet wide. Like other grapes, a trellis system is required. Any type of system is fine but make sure that your trellis system is practical for the long-term management of the vines. You will need to be able to have easy access for the requisite annual pruning. Using a garden arch or pergola can create a beautiful effect but fruit production will decrease if the individuals are not maintained.

The Muscadine is a hardy plant and should do well. The main reasons that the vines die during the first year are 1) lack of watering (either during the growing season or the roots dried out before planting); 2) placing fertilizer too close to the vine; 3) killed by herbicides; or 4) damage due to cold.

If tended carefully the Muscadine grapes can produce fruit for more than 20 years. They generally start to bear fruit in the second or sometimes in the third year. The vines will reach their maximum production in their fourth year. Between their 15th and 20th years, the plants are more prone to damage due to cold. You can expect about 75-100 pounds of fruit per vine for the perfect-flowered varieties. The female-flower only will yield about 50-80 pounds per vine.

These grapes are a good choice for growing, especially if you live in the humid areas of the American South. The plants should provide you with fruit for years to come. Enjoy.

For more on Muscadine grapes see or visit for general information on growing a success vineyard.

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