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TRISH DEHOND: Hearts, flowers and grapes for your Valentine

February 10, 2019
Trish DeHond

The correct pruning of trees, particularly the popular crape myrtle, was discussed in my last column. Since Valentine’s Day is approaching, it is time to think about hearts and flowers, but it also is time to put pruning on our calendars.

With this unusually warm weather, it would be easy to think it is time to run out and start fertilizing our lawn, but let’s hold off on that until it fully greens up. You can wait until the middle of May to fertilize centipede grass lawns. Now IS the time to take soil samples, though, and bring them to your local county Clemson Extension office for shipping to our lab. For $6, you will get great information on growing a beautiful, healthy lawn (or trees, shrubs, vegetable garden, etc.).

Let us begin our pruning lesson with those juicy treats of Southern summers, the muscadine grapes. Muscadines and scuppernongs ( Vitis rotundifolia ) are native to the Carolinas, making them a relatively low-maintenance fruit that is well adapted to our warm and humid climate. I often hear from home gardeners about low fruit yield or no grapes at all. This problem can be a result of a lack of sunlight, poor pollination, poor nutrition or a lack of proper pruning. Pruning of grape vines should be done annually to keep the plants at a manageable size and to allow the plant to use its energy for fruit production instead of shoot and leaf production.

A well-trained muscadine plant consists of a single trunk with two to four trellised arms, or “cordons,” that bear shorter, smaller fruiting stems called spurs. If the vines have been neglected for more than a year, work in small sections so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Start by removing any competing stems, suckers or water sprouts that are growing from the main trunk. Muscadines typically flower on new growth produced on last year’s growth; older stems tend to produce little to no fruit, so we cut those off.

The younger canes can be identified by their lighter brown color with numerous brown buds present. Spurs should be spaced six to eight inches apart across the cordons for good air circulation. Remove all older woody stems from the cordons and then prune back last year’s stems, leaving only three to four nodes or buds. These will produce fruit in the coming season.

Regardless of whether you are tending to neglected vines or doing annual upkeep, it will seem like an excessive amount of plant material is being removed. Also, remember that you can make decorative grapevine wreaths and swags from the pile of canes you have generated!

If you would like to learn more, please see our Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) Fact Sheet on “Muscadine Grape,” which includes variety selection and illustrations on pruning at https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/muscadine-grape/

With these warm days, I have been seeing many beautiful saucer magnolias (M. soulangeana) and star magnolias (M. stellata) around the Pee Dee, with their purplish-pink and white flowers, respectively. Enjoy them while you can, because if we have a cold snap, those lovely blooms will turn to mush!

I also love those large-flowered, rough-leaved Formosa azaleas that bloom in April, so we will discuss pruning those next week as promised earlier. So, get those pruning tools sharp and ready for your Valentine. More pruning tips coming soon!

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