NDSU Plant Propagation 368 Student Factsheets

Propagation Methods

There are several methods of rooting grapes.  However, neither is 100 percent successful.  The most practiced methods of propagating grapes include layering, cuttings, grafting, or by seed.  These methods are introduced and then further explored when recommending propagation methods for different midwestern states/areas.  It is important to note that it is illegal to propagate patented cultivars without permission.


The first method is called layering.  Types of layering include tip, simple, compound, air, mound and trench.  A good link to further demonstrate layer types is found at http://rps.uvi.edu/CES/gf13.PDF.  Grape layering is often used to replace a vine.  Some of the canes are allowed to lie on or touch the ground and then partially covered with soil.  The end should be exposed and allowed to grow.  Roots should form on the stem buried under the soil.  The newly rooted cane is separated from the mother plant and replanted.


Tip Layering                               Simple Layering    trench layering                                    Air Layering                                 

Trench Layering

  Compound Layering              Mound Layering



Cuttings can be taken anytime in the late fall until plants are leafing out in the spring.  Cuttings should consist of at least five buds off the previous year's growth.  A single cane could yield four or five cuttings.  Make sure you notice which end of the cutting is closest to the plant.  Some people prefer to make an angle cut at the base of the cutting (closest to the plant) and a small cutting at the top.   This makes it easier to remember which end is planted (the angled end.)

Early spring cuttings can be directly rooted into the soil.  Make sure the soil is loose and well drained.  You can dip the cutting in a rooting hormone and into the soil, however research shows that rooting hormones do not seem to effect cutting growth in the Midwest.  At least two buds should be buried.  Cuttings should start budding and rooting within a month.  Allow a year's growth before transplanting.

Fall cuttings should be stored, covered in damp, wrung out sphagnum moss.  Place moss and cuttings in a plastic bag and keep cool, using an old refrigerator is available.  Loosely seal the plastic bag.  Check on the condition of cuttings throughout the winter.  If mold is present, open the bag and allow the moss to dry out. If cuttings appear dry and shriveling, moisten sphagnum moss.  Follow above steps for rooting the cuttings in the spring.  Choose only disease free, top quality grapes for propagating.


Plant 2 buds above, 2 or 3 below.       


The principal advantages to be gained by this method are:

1.        The facility by which new and rare kinds may be increased, by grafting them on strong stocks of healthy varieties, when they will often grow from ten to twenty feet the first season, producing an abundance of wood to propagate.

2.        The short time in which fruit can be obtained from new and untried varieties, as their grafts will generally bear the next season. 

3.        In every vineyard there are, in these days of many varieties, vines that have proved inferior.  Yet, by grafting into them some superior variety, they may be made very valuable.

The vine, however, does not unite as readily as pear and apple would when grafted.  To ensure success, grape vines must be grafted under ground, which makes the operation a difficult and disagreeable one.  It will therefore hardly become a general practice; but, for the purposes above named, is of sufficient importance, to make it desirable that every vineyardist should be able to perform it.  Generally the best time to successfully graft in the Midwest is in about the middle of March, in the following manner: Dig away the ground around the vine you wish to graft, until you come to a smooth place to insert your scion; then cut off the vine with a sharp knife, and insert one or two scions, as in common cleft-grafting, taking care to cut the wedge on the scion very thin, with shoulders on both sides, cutting your scion with two eyes to better insure success. 

Great care must be taken to insert the scion properly, as the inner bark or liber of the vine is very thin, and the success of the operation depends upon a perfect junction of the stock and scion.  If the vine is strong enough to hold the scion firmly, no further bandage is necessary; if not, it should be wound firmly and evenly with bass bark.  Then press the soil firmly on the cut, and fill up the hole with well-pulverized earth, to the top of the scion.  Examine the stock from time to time, and remove all wild shoots and suckers, which it may throw up, as they will rob the graft of’ nourishment and enfeeble it.



Propagating grapes from seed is the only method that we can depend for obtaining new and more valuable varieties, and to which we are indebted for all the progress we’ve made in developing hardy grapes for the Midwest region. 

The grapes from which the seed is to be used, should be fully ripe, and none but well developed, large berries, should be taken.  Keep these during the winter, either in the pulp, or in cool, moist sand, so that their vitality may remain unimpaired.  The soil upon which your seed-bed is made, should be light, deep and rich, and if it is not so naturally, should be made so with well decomposed leaf-mould.  As soon as the weather in spring will permit, dig up the soil to the depth of at least eighteen inches, pulverizing it well; then sow the seed in drills, about a foot apart, and about one inch apart in the rows, covering them about three-quarters of an inch deep.

It will often be found necessary to shade the young plants when they come up, to prevent the sun from scalding them, but this should not be continued too long, as the plants will become too tender if protected too long.  When the young plants have grown about six inches, they may be supplied with small sticks, to which they will cling readily; the ground should be kept clean and mellow, and light mulch should be applied, which will keep the soil loose and moist.  The young plants should be closely watched, and if any of them show signs of disease, they should at once be pulled up; also those which show a very feeble and delicate growth.  In the fall, the young plants should be either taken up and carefully heeled in, or they should be protected by earth, straw, or litter thrown over them.  In the spring, they may be transplanted to their permanent locations; the tops shortened in to six inches, and the roots shortened in to about six inches from the stem.  The soil for their reception should be moderately light and rich, and loosened up to the depth of at least eighteen inches.

Make a hole about eight inches deep, then throw in soil so as to raise a small mound in the center of the hole, about two inches high; on this place the young vine, and carefully spread the roots in all directions; then fill with well pulverized soil, so that the upper eye or bud is even with the surface of the ground; then press the soil down lightly; place a good stake, of about four feet high, with the plant, and allow but one shoot to grow, which should be neatly tied to the stake as it grows. 


Grape seeds                                           Grape seedlings

Nursery Stock

It is not uncommon in the northern Midwest states for grape growers to purchase grape stock from nurseryman that are one- or two-year-old plants.  This is a common practice done in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, etc.  Buying stock also hastens the time the owner buys the plants to when they start to profit off it.  Nursery stock most often ensures quality stock without having to produce it yourself.  

Propagation Methods for Specific Regions

North Dakota/South Dakota 

According to NDSUs Extension Office, spring planting is recommended of nursery stock.  Prune back at planting time to only 2 or 3 buds.  Space plants eight feet apart in the row with eight to ten feet between rows.  Nursery stock varieties that grow in this northern region may cost $1.50 to $6.00 per vine.  NDSU and SDSU might be willing to work with potential growers in this region.  They can also direct you to available and appropriate stock.  Check out the following links to find information:

·         Marketplace of Ideas.  http://www.marketplaceofideas.com/index.html

·         Harlene Hatterman-Valenti.  NDSU Plant Science Faculty http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/plantsci/faculty.htm

·         Anne Fennell.  SDSU Horticulturist.  http://www3.sdstate.edu/Academics/CollegeOfAgricultureAndBiologicalSciences/HorticultureForestryLandscapeandParks/Faculty/AnneFennell/Index.cfm

·         “Grape Growers” by Lance Nixon.  http://agbiopubs.sdstate.edu/articles/FHR_grape.pdf


Remember that grapes need full sunlight and high temperatures to ripen, so plant on southern slopes, the south side of windbreaks, or the south sides of buildings.  Avoid northern slopes and low ground since these will be cooler throughout the growing season, delaying ripening of the fruit.  If the grower is able and willing, they can develop vines from cuttings or trench layering.  Growers generally use layering if only a few plants are needed.  Lay the cane flat in the trench, and cover at least two buds with soil.  Cut off the tip, leaving two buds above the soil.  Canes usually root well and can be cut from the parent, dug and transplanted the following spring.  An alternative to trenching is to lay down a sheet of black plastic.  Cut holes in the plastic where you want to plant.  Push cuttings through the holes and firm the soil.  The plastic heats the soil and prevents competition with weeds.  You’ll need a soaker hose beneath the plastic to water the plants.

With cuttings, take sections of the canes from healthy, moderately vigorous vines while they are dormant.  This can be either in late fall or in early spring before growth starts; early spring is preferred because once the cuttings have leafed out and formed roots they can be placed outside, first in the shade, and then planted out in the vineyard.  Cut the sections directly from the vine or from brush that has recently been pruned off.  Rooting will be enhanced if the cuttings are placed in a humid environment. After rooting has taken place, move the cuttings outside if the temperature remains above freezing.  Protect new plants from direct sun. After the cuttings have adjusted to the outside environment, they can be planted in the vineyard. It is important to not let the cuttings dry out during this process.  Greenhouse-grown plants should be acclimated in an outdoor lath house or cold frame before transplanting to the field.


Choose deep, well-drained soils to avoid standing water in the spring and encourage early growth.  Plant in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Use healthy plants with well-developed root systems. Space the plants six to eight feet apart. Before planting the vine, remove all canes except the most vigorous one. Trim off any broken or excessively long roots.  Dig a hole large enough so you can spread the root system out without bending the roots. Plant vines at the same depth as in the nursery. Do not plant too deeply. Spread the roots and cover them completely with soil. After planting, shorten the remaining cane to two strong buds. Each bud will develop into a cane.


Plant grafted stock of French and American hybrids if

·         replanting a commercial vineyard

·         soilborne pest problems occur

·         planting in high pH or alkaline soils

·         cultivars lack vigor on their own root systems.

Most grape cultivars grown in Nebraska are usually propagated by hardwood cuttings, rather than grafted. Collect dormant cuttings from healthy plants in late fall after the leaves have dropped off.  One-year-old canes (new shoots that grew the previous summer) that are 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter with 4 to 6 inch long internodes are best suited for cuttings.  Insert the cuttings in garden soil that has been prepared with organic matter earlier in the fall.  The basal and center buds should be below ground, with the top bud 2 to 3 inches above ground.  Plant the cuttings 6 to 8 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.  Approximately 50 percent of the cuttings will successfully root, so plant twice as many as you need.

After inserting the cuttings, thoroughly water the site.  When the soil has frozen (about Thanksgiving), mulch the site with 6 to 8 inches of straw or other organic matter to prevent soil heaving caused by winter freezing and thawing.  Although rooting will not take place in the fall, callus tissue will develop. You also are assured that the cuttings have the earliest possible start in the spring.

The cuttings are very susceptible to drought during the first growing season.  Water as necessary and control competing weeds, diseases, and insects.  The plants can be dug the next spring and moved to their permanent location.  Plant dormant grape vines in the spring, two weeks before the last spring frost is expected.

The following reasons are why a Nebraskan might consider grafting and budding:

·         The cultivars are no longer economically viable.  Wineries may pay more for cultivars that are in higher demand in the marketplace ot believe soon will be.

·         Productivity might be poor on existing cultivars or is diseases susceptible.

·         Vigor of a cultivar on it’s own rootstock might be less then desired.  A good rootstock is using our native grape, Riparia.  Riparia varies greatly with individual clones, but in general in heavier soils with good moisture holding capacities it will give great vigor as a rootstock, in sandy soils that can dry easily, it may shut down midsummer and not properly ripen fruit.

·         A cultivar might need to be tested for quality reasons and the grower does not want to wait for three or four years. A grafted vine may be fruited in the following year after grafting.

 The most common methods used are T-budding ( which is being replaced with chip budding ), cleft grafting, and long whip. 


Planting stock is generally used.  Stock should be ordered well in advance of the planned planting date.  One year number one rooted cuttings are recommended.  Popular or difficult to root vines like Norton/Cynthiana, may have to be ordered two years in advance.  Missouri uses mechanical planting before the trellis is constructed.  Spring planting is recommended.  Fall planting is possible, but with cold hardy varieties only.  If plants cannot be placed in the ground immediately, store in a cool place and keep moist until planting.  Cold storage should be kept just above freezing.  Plants can also be placed in a shallow trench will soil or mulch covering the roots in a shady location for planting later.

Information found and/or abridged from:

·         “Grapes – propagation” written by The Old House Web in 1994.  http://www.oldhouseweb.net/gardening/Detailed/421.shtml

·         “Culture of the Grape” by George Husmann of the Missouri Grape Growers association. http://www.missourigrapegrowers.org/hu3.shtml

·         “Growing grapes for home use” written by Emily Hoover, U of M Extension Horticulturist, and Peter Hemstad, Assistant Scientist of U of M Department of Horticulturist Science.  2004.  http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG1103.html

·         “Growing grapes in Wisconsin” written by Roper, Mahr, McManus and Smith with the University of Wisconsin Extension Service. 1998.  http://cecommerce.uwex.edu/pdfs/A1656.PDF

·         “Grapes: cultivars, training and pruning” written by Donald Steinegger, University of Nebraska Extension Horticulturist.  Revised in 1989. http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/horticulture/g618.htm#propagation

·         “Growing grapes in Nebraska” written by Cuthill’s Vineyards.  http://www.cuthills.com/Growing%20Grapes.htm#Grafting

·         “Growing grapes in Missouri” written by Southwest Missouri State University-Mountain Grove. http://mtngrv.smsu.edu/Publications/grapepub.pdf

·          “Growing grapes” written by NDSU Extension Service Horticulturist.  Revised June 1996.  http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/askext/fruits/133.htm