How To Keep Your Grapevines Alive Through The Winter

After my grapes went through their first winter, I wasn’t sure they had survived. Well, after my fruit trees had all budded out and leaves were appearing, my grapes still hadn’t shown any signs of life. I began to suspect the Alberta winter had killed them.

Grapes after nearly being winter killedHowever, eventually, a couple of the stems on my Valiant grapevine began to sprout out some leaves. Then along came my Prairie Star not long after. But my Kay Gray didn’t seem like it had any life at all. I was just about to uproot the lifeless stick when a little bud appeared just at the base of the plant.

At the end of the day, all three grapevines made a full recovery, but at least 80% of last year’s growth was winter killed. Because of that, there was no fruit to be had that year.

So let me share with you some of the lesson’s I’ve learned.

What Didn’t Work

Since my grapes were inside a cold frame, I thought that protection from the wind would help protect the plant through the winter. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake for two reasons.

  1. The plant had no protection from the severely cold temperatures (even without the wind there were days as cold as -35 degrees Celsius.) The coldframe kept the layers of insulation snow from doing any insulating.
  2. The greenhouse would warm up to plus temperatures in the sun, only to drop below freezing again at night. Plants don’t enjoy that.

What I’ve Done Now

This year I’ve tried something different. After the grapevines had lost all their leaves, I dismantled the greenhouse (since I’m building a new one this spring) and pruned the vines.

Grapes pruned and ready for mulch

Once the grapes had been pruned (and some strawberries transplanted around the base – though that isn’t important to this discussion), I carefully laid down the grapevines on the ground. Then, after removing the trellis, I covered the whole lot in some old hay. It looks deeper than it would need to be because some the branches were a little stiff to try to lay flat without breaking them, so I stuffed straw underneath and over top.

Grapevines covered in old hay

One of my concerns at first was whether or not the wind would blow the hay away. But here it is in mid January and we’ve had some good winds blow through (70 – 90 kms per hour last week) and the pile is still there – not all over my driveway.

Once spring rolls around, I’ll peel back the hay (use it for mulch elsewhere) and see if my theories worked.

If you’ve had any experience in this area, I’d love to hear from you. What have you done? How has it worked? Lemme know!

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37 Responses to How To Keep Your Grapevines Alive Through The Winter

  1. kate says:

    This was an interesting post – I don’t grow grapevines, but my dad does at the lake. I will ask him what he does to over-winter them. They produce copious quantities of grapes, most of which my mum takes away to make grape jelly and juice. I want to try making wine from them, although that would mean harvesting the grapes before my mum got to them.

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for your comments. I’d sure be interested to know how your dad over-winters his grapes. This is in Saskachewan, I presume?

  3. Jennifer says:

    Good for you for trying…I have no suggestions…but I will follow this as it would be great to try some grapes!!!

    Good Luck!

    Jennifer

  4. Barb says:

    I have Valiant vines that I cloned from some plants at my work. I took them from plants in Southern Alberta that had never produced fruit and planted them in my yard in SouthEastern Alberta where chinooks aren’t quite as prevalent. I don’t do anything special to over winter them other than make sure they are well watered after I have picked off all the fruit in late Sept early October. The only mulch they get is from the dogwood and cotoeaster hedges that drop their leaves. Last summer was an exceptional year and they produced about 4 – 4L pails of fruit which I juiced and made jelly from. I am trying 3 new varieties this summer in my test orchard which is also well sheltered but not as much as the existing vines, we’ll see how they do.

    I’ll let ya know
    Barb

  5. Dave says:

    Cool – thanks for the info. Was that 4 pails from one vine or a few? And how long ago did you plant them?

  6. Barb says:

    4 pails from 4 vines, that was their third year, they produced the year before as well but only half that much. As I learn more they seem to produce more, it will be interesting to see what the other varieties do as well. I bought some Concord vines at Walmart the other day, we’ll see how they do!!

  7. Alex says:

    Can you give us an update on your grapes this year?

  8. Dave says:

    Super-duper slow. I was sure they had all died, but about mid summer I saw some green stuff popping up. I think our spring was just too cold – not enough heat to accomplish anything. Anyone else get any grapes growing in the central Alberta area this year?

  9. Barb says:

    Hi Alex

    All of the grape vines I planted this spring are growing like crazy. The 4 year old Valients have alot of ripe grapes on them at the moment but not as many as last year, just not enough heat this season. I’ll still get quite a few pints of jelly but will have to be stingy about who I give it to!! I am going to mulch the more tender grape plants with peatmoss once we get a killing frost and some consistently cooler days (and nights). I haven’t taken the Valient grapes off the vine yet, they are much sweeter after they’ve had a killing frost.

  10. Teresa says:

    Hello, When I lived in Kamloops, I grew grapes like mad then I moved to Edmonton and tried again, the first year was like yours..are you alive?? then in late late June I saw my first shoot. The next fall I built a chicken wire “cage” and AFTER a couple of killing frosts- I pruned them a bit and laid down their trellises, put newspaper inside against the upright wire walls for the bottom 1 foot. against the chicken wire to hold in the peat moss, just one sheet so it doesnt block all the air, and once everything compacts it doesnt fall out so, you dont need it anymore. Then I Threw in lots of peat moss for 2 grapes planted 3 feet apart, I broke apart and used a large bale, dry and covered the plants. Then threw in leaves etc, to fill it up to the top of the 3″ chicken wire. Early the next spring, I removed the front of the wire cage, and took out all the insulators but left about 2 inches of peat moss right up againt the stem. I did not stand the trellises until after the June 1, so past any frost dates..I had very very little pruning of dead anything, just a few tips of vines..We had a few hard frosts after it was renmoved, but that spring, by the fist of JUne my vines were obviously growing well and I had alot of grapes, It has worked every year since.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Thanks Teresa!! I was sure I could not keep grapes in central alberta!! Ill be trying them out next year!!

  12. helena says:

    this is my second year trying to grow grapes in ireland i covered them with frost covers and let them in the greenhouse but they look dead.
    when should i espect to see any sign of growth and help what do ever i would be greatful thanks

  13. John Kitt says:

    I have heard of laying climbing rose bushes down to help protect them from the cold winds of a northern winter, so it stands to reason that grape vines may benifit also. I am conserned that by putting hay over the vines you would be creating a cozy nest for mice to invade and perhaps eat the bark on the vines, killing them. What do you think?

    Do you just unwind the vines from the trellis to be able to lay them down? Any help is appreciated, we are novices! John

    • Dave says:

      Hey John, I have heard concerns about mice before, but I haven’t had enough personal experience to say with any certainty one way or the other. Perhaps someone else with more grape growing experience could weigh in?

    • heath says:

      I grow my grapes on a strings that start low on the ground near the base of the vine, and run to a stake about 3 feet high at the other end. At the end of the season, I put down a bed of leaves, untie the upper end of the string and lay the vine down on the bed of leaves. Then cover over vines with more leaves.

      This is my first summer and winter with grapes, hope it works. The idea of growing the vines at a slope, allowing them to easily be laid down, comes from a excellent tree pruning book.

  14. km says:

    Interesting feedback. I have Cliche, Frontenac, Severnyi, Eona, Clinton, Sabrevois, Valiant, Osbu. There area lot of different viitculture methods that you can try to grow grapes ie mulches, cluster thiining, rootstocks in our climate. The folks at Olds Collage and the Devonian Botanical Gardens have had me lecture on the subject. I’d like to get some feedback on what folks are trying. Nice website.

    Cheers

  15. Tammy says:

    Hi I just came across your article, when searching for info. on growing grapes. Last spring i through some grape seeds in a pot of soil and up grew so grapevines. They grew ralitivity slow. Here it is early November and the grapevines are in a plant pot growing on my kitchen counter. can anyone give me any advise on what to do now to keep them growing……..

  16. glenn wright says:

    Suggest mulching with straw rather than hay. Hay tends to pack down if wet. Also mice seem to love hay to overwinter in. Spreading some smallish tree branches over the laid down grapes and then spreading the straw will help trap the early snow. I have wintered over Valiant north of Edmonton for about 10 yrs. They survive but do not bloom or fruit-perhaps because they do not leaf out untill early – mid June. Have planted Frontenac, Eona and other U of Minnesota hybrids in 2009. Most overwintered fine except for some dieback but suffered from a very late start last spring acheiving only miminal growth this past summer. This fall I put more effort in at least a little protection and hope for better results in the spring.
    Glenn

  17. dennis says:

    planted grape vines was leafed out than cold snap came and nothing will they come back 2 yr plants first time trying to grow upstate ny

    • Dave says:

      Dennis: I think they should, but it’s hard to say. Give it a few weeks – you should start to see new growth by then.

  18. Laura says:

    Hi, I live just outside of Edmonton. I bought 5 grape vines last year in late summer when they all went on sale. I didn’t want to waste money on vines that I was figuring wouldn’t grow here in central Alberta. So they got a late start last year. Just after the first frost, I didn’t have any straw to cover them, so I took some very old quilts that I had for the kids to play with outside, and covered the vines with those. One of the vines is going great guns, another is starting to bud out, and the other three I am waiting to see if they survived. It’s June 4, and it was 2 weeks ago the first one started leafing out. Hope that gives you some help.

  19. Jayne says:

    I live southeast of Edmonton and have grown the Valiant variety for about 8 years with great success. This year I had a bumper crop.

    I winter my grapes by lying them on the ground, covering with soil, peat moss and leaves in that order and then cover completely with burlap.

  20. pearl gregor says:

    I am trying (3rds year) to grow Valiant grapes. So far, slow but steady and this summer fine growth. Problem? no fruit. And, now that winter is close, how much water shall I give them?

    These plants are growing on south wall of garden shed where there is absolutely no wind. Summer temperatures are very very high. I have never mulched at all. I thought grapes like dry so haven’t summer watered much….advice?? I am reading the posts and thinking many have much more grape growing experience than I!

    • Dave says:

      Pearl: Grapes actually require regular watering. (And mulch is good for everything!) I have mine mulched and under the eaves of my garage (on the south wall), so they get all the rain that falls on the garage roof. I don’t usually water anything in the fall, but I might give things a good soak just before the ground freezes up.

  21. Steve Walters says:

    I would like some help and guidance in starting grapes in northern alberta zone 4

    • Dave says:

      Steve: Once you have chosen a hardy variety (like Valiant, for example), I would recommend planting it in a protected, south facing area. (I have mine on the south wall of my garage.) For the winter, you can cover the vines with mulch or just lots of snow. If you further specific questions, feel free to contact me through the contact page.

  22. Michelle says:

    I have a Concord grape vine (don’t know brand) that is doing very well in Edmonton. It’s latticed to a shed therefore wind is not often a factor. Every winter we bring it off it’s lattice, lay it down and cover it with leaves, then the snow takes over. I haven’t had any problems with it coming back every year stronger. This year, with all the rain we got, it has grown a lot. I was wondering if this year, being it’s 4th year, if we could leave it up on the lattice since it is so much bigger? Any ideas or thoughts?

    • Dave says:

      Michelle: I didn’t do anything with my grapes this past year and they are growing wonderfully this summer! You should be able to do the same.

  23. Fred says:

    I am a little north of Edmonton. Five years ago I planted five different varieties of grapes in a 50 foot line with six steel and wooden posts with an assortment of poly ropes strung at various heights between them. In preparation for the first winter they were carefully covered with leaves and wood chips. Since then they were left on the lines or ropes during the winters. Some wood chips were used over the roots as a protection. A little winter kill was removed in spring after the vines showed plenty of life. They were permitted to grow wild. Could have filled a 20 litre bucket last fall but left them for the spring time birds to enjoy. I have just removed a large amount of new growth vines to expose a good crop of grapes. The vines are doing very well without any special treatment.

  24. lisa mcfarland says:

    i bought a grape vine this year and left it in its med size pot through our very short(northern canada)summer on my covered deck, in a sunny location. Before the winter hits and the 35 minus temps what should i do with it.I do not know the species but bought it locally. I have a garage with lots of windows and though of putting it on a shelf in there. Would this be adequate or should i put it in the ground in its pot and winterize the ground? The leave are starting to go yellow already, we have had 3 nights of hard frost, can i prune it or should i wait for constant colder temps?

    • Dave says:

      Once the plant has lost it’s leaves and gone dormant, you can prune it for the winter. I would recommend planting the pot in the ground and covering it with several inches of mulch.

  25. Dave C says:

    Hi, I planted 6 Concord 4 years ago and they are doing very well, I always take them down and cover with about 12-16 inches of grass clipping from my compost pile then string them up the next year. However last year the canes were too big so they were left on the trellis, mulched the same way, we had great crop to make some 23 litres of great wine, however one must prune out the growing vines with no fruit so the sun can grow the ones covered. Hope some help east of Red Deer

  26. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added
    I get several e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Bless you!

    • Dave says:

      I believe there should be a link at the bottom of the emails you receive that you can click to unsubscribe.

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