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Wheeler: Caring for muscadines
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The children are back in school, and the weather has been a little bit cooler for a change. It is still summertime for sure, but there is a hint of what is to come with the fall.

I guess all the summer heat has me tired and worn down because I was having trouble coming up with a topic for this article.

But I have learned early on to surround myself with brilliant people. Between Wanda, the Program Assistant, and Sally, Hall County Master Gardener, I was persuaded to talk about muscadines.

At this time of year, muscadines are slowly maturing and changing color. They are definitely becoming irresistible, and every day it becomes harder and harder to leave them alone to mature.

The birds are beginning to discover the same thing as well. If you have a lot of problem with birds feeding on your muscadines, consider using bird netting to keep them at beaks length away.

Many of the commercial grape producers in the mountains of North Georgia employ a similar technique at this time of year as well. Netting works best if the birds have not fully discovered the fruit, so get it on as soon as you can to protect the maturing muscadines.

After harvest this fall, there are a few things that are worth considering doing to insure the health of your vines.

Remove any old fruit from the vine itself and from the ground. If the old fruit is left, they can harbor disease from one year to the next. After leaf drop, rake up all of the fallen leaves and remove also to help reduce disease problems for next year.

As the leaves from the oaks and hickories fall, shred them up and add a three-inch layer around the vines.

Mulch is a great way to add nutrients back to the soil. It also helps fight weeds and most importantly it helps the soil to retain moisture. Take a soil sample to see if you need to make any adjustments to the soil pH this fall.

One thing to keep in mind is to only put down a small amount of mulch directly at the vine. A thick layer of mulch touching the vine will cause rot issues and allow insects and disease easy access to the plant.

In late winter, about mid-February, all shoot growth from this year should be cut back to spurs with two to four buds each. Prune along the cordon to maintain a spacing of six inches between spurs.

Also, look for any dead or diseased wood and remove from the vine. If your muscadines have gone unpruned and have become a tangled mess, consider cutting them back to the original cordon.

If you cut the entire plant back to the original cordon, however, you will have far less fruit next year.

An alternative would be to prune one side back to the original cordon, and the other side back leaving only two to four buds of this summer’s growth. Then next winter you can do the reverse by pruning the other side back to the cordon.

You’ll then have grapes each year and still be able to clean up your vines by next winter. On overgrown arbors, where you have seven or eight major branches, you can remove one or two large arms each year. That way, you can completely renovate the arbor in a few years.

Muscadines are a great treat this time of year, but they do require a little TLC from time to time in order to keep them producing. If you have any questions of concerns, please feel free to give me a call.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on
gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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