Pruning is the most important activity in the vineyard because it defines vine architecture, vine balance, and the longevity of your vines.
Your pruning techniques can dramatically affect (for better or worse) how your vines grow each season and over the life of your vineyard.
If you are not sure where to start or how to know if you are making the cut with your pruning skills, these tips will help steer your pruning shears in the right direction.
Tips for New Pruners
- Try to learn from experienced pruners in your region that are seeing success. But don’t just copy and paste everything they’re doing either. Not all vineyards are the same so you have to figure out which strategies work best on your vineyard. Over time, your personal experience and observation will help guide you.
- Avoid large pruning wounds whenever possible. Large pruning wounds require more time to heal and they result in larger dieback of wood in the healing process. If large pruning cuts are needed, learn to allow for the proper amount of “buffer wood” for dieback to occur with minimal intervention of good living tissue on the trunk, cordon or any permanent vine structure.
- Shoot thinning is a critical vineyard activity that should be done by someone with knowledge of how the vineyard was pruned. If shoot thinning is done in a way that complements the goals of dormant pruning, it will make pruning easier the following season and will reduce the overall number of cuts per plant, and as a result reduce entry points for fungal infection.
- Follow the vine growth carefully throughout the season to observe how your pruning practices influence the growth, vigor and fruitfulness of the resulting shoots. Careful observation during the season can help a grower to adjust the pruning based on each variety of grape in their vineyard, in order to balance vigor, crop load and the resulting wine quality. Being a part of a community of growers like the Virtual Viticulture Academy may also improve success, as you will have access to real-time feedback and pruning strategies that you can immediately apply to improve your vineyard.
Signs of Improper Pruning
- Uneven spacing between each spur and variability in diameter of canes – An ideal cordon is composed of spurs that are positioned and spaced evenly and according to the cluster size and fruitfulness of the grape variety. The space should be even in between each spur, and canes should be of similar diameter – not too big, not too small.
- Unbalanced and uneven or even missing canopy due to the accumulation of bad cuts (ex. large cuts, dirty cuts, and flesh cuts) – A dirty cut can occur when shoot thinning is not done properly or if a pruner cuts too close to the living vascular tissue of trunks or cordons. Poor cuts are defined by those leaving too much new wood behind or cuts made too close to important vascular tissue of the trunk or cordon. For example, if water shoots or sucker shoots are not removed during shoot thinning and must be pruned in the winter, it is possible that a grower may not cut them out close enough to the old wood, leaving buds that will grow unwanted shoots in the spring. Conversely, if you cut it too close to the trunk, you could end up harming the phloem or vascular tissue on the trunk.
- Not shoot thinning properly – If you leave junk on the trunk or shoots on the cordon, they then have to be cut during dormant pruning, leaving them more susceptible to wounds and infections. Whereas proper shoot thinning eliminates the need for a dormant pruning cut and you won’t run the risk of making unnecessary pruning wounds..
Pruning has consequences, but only through awareness, can you improve your technique. We need to prune every year, but we have to do it properly and in a way that’s respectful to the vine.
If you want to learn more about strategies for vineyard pruning, check out vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/vu006