Compost, Mulch, Etc

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!

65 replies on “How To Keep Your Grapevines Alive Through The Winter”

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.

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

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

I just bought a valiant and a beta grape and am wondering about the trellis training. Is that necessary to produce fruit?

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

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!!

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?

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.

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.

Thanks for the detailed info, Teresa! I’m going to have to try that myself this fall.

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

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

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

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?

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.

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.


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……..

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

I wonder if these tips works or are necessary in the San Antonio Texas area. What do you think Dave or anyone?

Steve: I wouldn’t think this would apply very well to Texas! You might need summer protection from the heat rather than winter protection for the cold!

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?

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.

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.

I would be interested in knowing what type of grapes you planted as I am trying to grow grapes 500 miles north of Edmonton

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?

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.

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

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!

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

I have wild grape vines but no grapes. I have a cutting which will hopefully pollinate then. Should I keep growing it inside until spring?

I bought a “Marquette” grape vine from Canadian Tire this June and had it in a pot all summer. It is 7′ tall now and as we’ve had 2 frosts and its losing its leaves.. Im thinking I should find it a permanent home for the winter ( in Slave Lake. .3hrs North of Edmonton)
Can someone elaborate if any cutting back should occur before laying the vine down. . And if so. . How much.?
I appreciate any suggestions.
Thank you

Hi Laura, I also bought a Marquette grape plant and have it on the sunny side of the house near Red Deer.. I see you would have had your plant a year by now. How well did it winter? I’m also wondering what I need to do to prepare it for winter.

Hi. I find your page very informative and I get to know about planting conditions in other parts of Canada. I live in Ontario and planted my grapes 3 years ago. No fruits in the first year. Some fruits in the second. On the third year I got 2 liters of fruit but found out its not seedless! What’s the best eating variety? BTW I don’t have any winter prep except for 3 inches of wood chips for mulch. Thanks

In Spring, 2012, I planted several Scuppernong and Muscadine grape vines here in NW Ohio. They are native mainly to the southern states and enjoy the warmer climate but I thought I’d give it a try because I wanted to use them for wine.
Winter, Dec. 2013- Feb. ’14 was horrendous. More snow than during the Blizzard of ’78 and temps often -25 degrees. In fall after frost, I lay the vines down and covered them with cornstalks. Cornstalks because mice don’t like to chew them and leave the vines alone. On top of the cornstalks I covered them with at least 6″ of mulch. “12 of snow usually covered the mulch. Anxious at spring, I uncovered. Some vines did ok. Others I found, 6” from the base, appeared to have taken up water and split the trunk. To save them, I pruned to just below the split. Took all summer for the vine to get back to 3′ tall, even when fertilized. Hopefully, this winter will have a little less gusto. Concords? They did just fine with no issues.

P.S. -25 degree winters? Check out Midwest supplies in spring for cold hardy variety grapevines grown in Minnesota. I have 4 of these vines and they are thriving, even out growing my Concords. Order early. They sell out fast!

hi e1!
happy Gardening. I bought concord grape vines last year on a whim hoping they would grow and produce fruit and to my surprise they did and I did this just on a whim.,
didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was doing as I am really fairly new to gardening. I live in Massachusetts, where the last winter we had was brutal
and I planted the grape vines on a chain link fence. Where they are starting to produce and I didn’t cover the vines or anything during the winter .I just spotted the little green grapes and guess I’ll have to cover them with screening to protect them from the birds. hope I have helped someone out there.

I am two hours south east of Calgary. I planted three grape varieties in June 2015 and trained them to a pergola this summer. I used miracle grow in liquid form to feed them. Two vines made it to seven feet tall and one produced fruit and made it to five feet tall. I believe I was sold one variety that is not hardy to this zone. I plan to insulate them at the base with mulch and peat. I’m thinking of using rolls of foam packing wrap around the woody growth, up the pergola posts. I’ll post my results as soon as possible.

Hi Danielle – can you tell me how you ended up insulating your grapes and how they did this year? Mine are trained to a pergola/ladder too and I don’t think I can free them from the frame without breaking it as it winds through the rungs. Last winter I didn’t do anything in terms of mulching/insulating and they came back fine but it was a pretty mild winter here in Manitoba. This year is supposed to be brutal cold so I want to make sure they’re protected.

Hi Danielle, this is my first post and I’m so confused about repotting my grapevine. I have the vine in a greenhouse but the pot is not very big. I want to repot but I’m scared of it dying. I was told the vine is over 20yrs old!! Can you or anyone help guide me step by step? I don’t know what variety it is, I do know they are purple!
As I said I have a greenhouse and it’s a 8x6ft and it’s paved throughout. I live in the north of the UK in a cold and windy area. I look forward to hearing your ideas.

I live in northern MN and our winters can be extremely cold. I have St. Theresa Grapes and have had good luck laying them down over the winter. Instead of having one main stem, I have trained the grape vine to have 2 main stems, which make a V shape from the base. This makes it easier to lay the vines down to overwinter them. After laying them down, I cover them with a few inches of soil and then add a layer of straw over the soil. Sometimes I need to use a rock to hold the vines down while I cover them with soil. One thing I wish I had done was tie a cord or ribbon to the top of the vine to help me find it in the spring. I have been very pleased with this method. In the spring, I set the straw aside but not too far away from the vine. If I get a cold snap in the spring, I lay it down again and cover it with the straw or a frost blanket. I sometimes have to do this a few times when the night temperatures drop. If I don’t cover them when the temperatures drop at night, I will loss all of the little clusters that are developing. I hope my experience will help.

I live in Northern Ontario and I have 3 different types of grape vines. I’ve had them for about 5 years and they’ve been producing well. This winter we had a good amount of snowfall so I thought we had lots of protection. It wasn’t the winter that was hard on the vines, but something has chewed them all right down to the main stock. Do you think they will survive this or will I have to buy new plants this year, and what do you suppose chewed them- I’m thinking mice and how can I stop them next year from doing the same thing.

Catherine: I would guess that as long as the main stock is intact, it should survive. I’m not sure what all the critters are out east, but it well could be mice that have done this. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what would be the best way to deter them. Perhaps someone else reading this has had a similar issue?

I have had great success protecting grapes and shrubs etc from mouse damage over winter by putting a dollar store tiny zip lock bag of poisoned mouse seed next to the stem of the plant under the mulch. If you are concerned about birds or pet exposure place the bait (inside its bag) in a small plastic bottle on it’s side with the opening next to your plant. This also keeps the bait dry and usable until a rodent finds it and chews through the plastic bag. This has saved dozens of my shrubs and roses and baby trees from being killed by being girdled by mice.

I live near Ottawa. I asked the local vintner what they do to winter their vines. He said to avoid organic matter (hay, straw, etc.) because of the mice problems. They lay their vines down and cover them with 1 foot of soil. I’m wondering how flexible my trunks will be by fall. I’m afraid to break them.

I live just NE of Edmonton and planted 2 vines (Frontenac) 3 years ago. I was not doing anything to prepare them for the winter, and each year they would come back in early/mid June. This year, they did not survive the winter. I spoke with the folks at the local greenhouse to help figure out what went wrong; turns out I had watered them in the early fall just before it turned cold… the water froze and killed the vines.

This year, I replanted 2 Frontenac and 1 Frontenac Gris. Taking the advice of the greenhouse staff, I’ve added a thick layer of mulch (wood chips) to the base, and will be covering the vines in the fall to help protect against the cold. As they are planted next to our back deck, they’ve also suggested to cover them with snow anytime I shovel off the deck as it will add an extra layer of insulation against the cold. Certainly interested in any other tips people have to help get them through the winter!

Have 2 valiant on tresses only produces 2 clusters per plant massive growth of vine tho and only about 18 inches off the ground the clusters appear never higher why ,live in Camrose area of alberta

Hi Gil, I live in Peace River which is in northern Alberta. I planted a Valiant grape in 2004. It does fabulously well. It is at least 12 feet high, and about as wide. I cut it back hard last year, and it regrew as if I hadn’t touched it.
It produces well every year. This year I thought to weigh them, and got about 35lbs of grapes. (Friends had already picked some, but I don’t know how much they took). They are an excellent flavour, and grow in beautiful, plump clusters.

It faces directly west with south sun exposure as well. I planted it just off my deck, and next to the outlet of my roof down-spout. So whenever it rains it gets watered well. It is on a slight slope so water never stands in that area.

I don’t do anything for it in preparation for winter. Although sometimes snow is pushed off the upper deck above it, so this would help insulate the roots. But this is more by chance than by plan.
So I’d say it’s direction of sun exposure, and abundance of water that are the 2 factors of greatest importance.

I have read many, maybe all of the comments here…I find them helpful….My son,who lives in Winnipeg, MB., gave me 10 canes 18 lnch long started in a pot which were from his pruning in March…in May transplanted them each into their own pot…..(lost only one)…in June planted them out in different places. They are now about 6’ to 8’…I have pruned them to one stem during the summer. I plan to take some down to cover for the winter and a couple leave to see if they winter kill..These grape canes are “no name” …nobody knows their origin…….I know they make great juice..
P.S. I live in Swan River, MB.

My husband bought two grape plants at Canadian Tire this spring,—we’ve planted them in buckets; we’re moving in April and of course want to take the grapes with us. Any suggestions as to how to winter them, knowing we’ll want to move them early in the season? Can we keep them in the buckets but store them in the shed, covered somehow, to be able to transport them? They’re only about four feet tall and on stakes.

Rebecca: I would plant them in their containers in your garden. That won’t disturb the plant, but will protect the roots from the harsh winter. You could add a thick layer of much on top of that and make sure it gets lots of snow cover. (I had mine by the sidewalk and so I shovelled all my snow on top of them.)

I was given two mystery grape vines late in the season and haven’t yet had a chance to plant them, so I brought them inside … I have been watering once a week but it now occurs to me that they probably want to be dormant for the winter. They both look pretty dismal actually. Is it too late to plant them, temps now are hovering just below zero celsius although we haven’t had snow yet? I live just east of Ottawa. Is it too late to plant them as the ground hasn’t frozen yet? If I keep them inside do I water them but sparingly?

Nancy: If the ground hasn’t frozen yet, I should think you can still plant them for the winter – which is probably better than keeping them indoors.

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