Friday, April 17, 2009

Grafting Grape Vines

Enough of the stories and back to the vineyard and a lesson on grafting vines brought to us by Pete Anderson, who knows more about grape varietals than just about anyone in San Diego. Pete, among other things, teaches a course on vineyard management at Mira Costa Community College and last Saturday gave his students a demonstration on grafting at his backyard laboratory. As a guy who still can't tie a slip knot (and working on my third vineyard installation), one key thing I learned from Pete is that he makes two parallel cuts into the vine where the graft is to be inserted which doubles the odds that the graft will take. (When John the Avocado Grower and I tried grafting an avocado tree last Thanksgiving we only made one cut and failed.) Pete is also an accomplished winemaker and after the demonstration (and the knives had been put away) he brought out 7 different bottles of wine to taste. (Pete generously gave each of us a bottle to take home so we didn't fight over the leftovers.) Below is a summary written by Pete on the grafting procedure along with a video clip. When doing this at home watch your fingers!

Grafting Grape Vines By Pete Anderson

Field grafting should take place when the bark slips as the vines begin new growth.


Cut the truck to 4 inches below the desired head height. If trunk diameter is small use loppers; if not use a chainsaw.

Using a fine toothed pruning saw, make 2 horizontal cuts on opposite sides at the base of the trunk -- these cuts will relieve the sap pressure that could cause the graft sticks to be pushed out.

Prepare the bud stick of the varietal to be grafted. Make sure you prepare only the amount to be grafted that day and keep them moist.

Bud sticks usually will have 5 - 7 nodes - using hand pruner cut them into 2-bud lengths. Caution: Make sure the orientation of the cane (bud stick) is maintained upward. Just as in potting, a cane grafted in the downward orientation will not take. The lower end should be at least 2" long; the top end should be cut at a 90 degree angle not less than 1/2" above the node.

Using a grafting knife make face cuts parallel to the vine row on opposite sides at the top of the trunk. The length of these cuts should be similar to the length of the lower end of the bud stick. The cuts will remove the outer surface of the trunk exposing the cambium. At the bottom of the face cut, make a diagonal incision approximately 30 degree angle deep enough to allow the base of the bud stick to be inserted.

Make another diagonal incision half way up the face.

Make a long diagonal cut on one side of the lower end of the bud stick the same length as the face cut on the trunk. Turn the bud stick over and make a sharp diagonal cut at the lower tip creating a sharp edge. Make a small incision on the bud stick face cut that will match the incision made on the trunk face cut.

Tap the bud stick using the grafting knife handle into the angle cuts on the trunk. Important: Cambium layers of trunk and bud stick must be in contact. It is best to have the bud stick positioned to one side of the face cut, not centered on the face cut.

Using grafting tape (1/2" works best) tightly wrap the graft making sure the bud sticks are in contact with the trunk. Seal the entire graft area with Henry Tree Seal or similar sealant. Also, put some seal on the bud stick tip.

In order to prevent the graft stick from being pushed out of contact with the trunk cambium, frequently check the small incisions at the bottom of the trunk to insure the sap pressure is being relieved. If any bleeding is seen in the area of the graft, new trunk cuts should be made to relieve the pressure.


Bertie Fox said...

Is it possible to do proximity grafting with vines? The reason I ask is that we have a number of rampant vines which grow away with no problems around our property in France (on heavy clay just above the water table) yet every grafted special variety we have planted just sulks and makes no growth. I'm thinking of moving the rootstock from one of the wild vines and trying to do a proximity graft (binding the two stems together having removed the top layers of cambium) to see if this makes a difference. What do the 'experts' think?

Craig Justice said...

If I understand correctly, you would like to graft a “varietal” onto the “wild” rootstock? Yes, that is a wonderful idea (I think). I will pass your comment on to Pete Anderson (our local grafting expert) and ask him to respond. The other thing you can do is take “cuttings” from your “wild vines” and plant the cuttings in other locations around the property. Let them establish themselves one year, then the next year “graft” on top of them. Pete, what suggestions do you have for Bertie?

Graham said...

Is it possible to graft a Centennial onto a Carignan ?
I live in the south of France and I have a very small parcel of Carignan. The local "pepinieriste" says that I must use a "porte-greffe" (root stock) that has no grapes. I presume that the Carignan must already be on a phylloxera resistant "porte-greffe". Could I graft it onto "old wood" ?

Craig Justice said...

Graham, We've asked our local grafting experts in San Diego for their opinion, and will publish their response soon.