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Grapevines in Pots


Present-day gardeners would have had a hard time surpassing the efforts of the estate gardeners of Victorian England. Fruit wasn’t easily shipped long distances in those days, so it took real work and creativity to find ways to make fruits available on demand by His Lordship during the “off” season. It was a test of status among estate holders as to who had the most elaborate gardens, the best plant collections, and could have fresh fruit in the greatest variety at untypical times and in unusual ways.

One fruit that typified the effort that went into this production of off-season produce was grapes. Victorian gardeners found ways to extend the season at both ends, to make fresh grapes possible all year round. Most of these tricks included a warm greenhouse, but one trick was to take a living grape cane from an older vine, and train it through the hole in the bottom of a large pot of soil. Because it was still attached to the parent vine, the cane would be able to produce fruit.

At the same time, it would root in the soil of the pot. By the time the fruit was ripe, the potted vine could be cut loose and was then used as a banquet table centerpiece from which guests picked dessert on the spot. This sort of presentation of potted vines or other fruit was common enough that some banquet tables were built with a hole in the center to accommodate the pots.

The advantage to this method over just growing a vine in a pot is that the shoot still attached to the vine, can produce proportionately more fruit in a small pot than a vine growing by itself in a small pot. A vine growing in a one-gallon container can usually produce a maximum of a pound of grapes, often less. But a cane attached to an older vine can be rooted in a one or two gallon pot and still yield five or more pounds of fruit because it can draw on the older vine for energy.

The classic English container grape is the vinifera variety ‘Black Hamburg’, an excellent, attractive, though seeded, black grape with large meaty berries. Its offspring ‘Muscat Hamburg’ though somewhat irregular in cluster, is unsurpassed in flavor. Other vinifera varieties worth trying in pots are ‘Delight’, a white seedless with a more compact vine than most; ‘Early Muscat’ an intensely-flavored white grape; ‘Beauty Seedless’, a large-clustered blue seedless grape; and ‘Emperor’, a late red grape that will store well. Many of the seedless vinifera varieties, such as ‘Thompson Seedless’ and ‘Flame Seedless’ are not well suited to pots.

By growing grapes in pots, obviously you have plants that can be moved to a warmer location when the weather turns cold. Just make sure wherever you put your grapes they get bright sun, but the root systems can’t get too hot. Black or dark plastic pots draw heat to the soil and can hurt the roots when placed in full sun, so in warm seasons try and place the plant so that the upper plant is in full sun, but the container itself is in the shade. Or you can put the plant in a wooden planter to keep the sun off the roots.

Grapes like good silt loam soil, that is kept moist, but not soggy, and very little fertilizer. A low nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, applied three times in a growing season usually suffices. Stop fertilizing by mid-summer to slow the vine growth and help the fruit ripen.

Train the vines on stakes or something like a fan trellis. Classic English vines were usually trained with a central trunk about three feet tall with short fruiting spurs coming out of it at intervals of six inches or so. After bloom time, especially when the vine is young, thin the fruit clusters to prevent overloading the vine. Start with one or two clusters when the vine is a year old, and allow another one or two each year until you reach a maximum of one pound of fruit per gallon of pot. Each winter, the dormant shoots of that season’s new growth will be cut back to spurs having one or two buds.


All but a few grapes are self-pollinating, though shaking the vine at bloom time helps insure good set. Be sure to smell the flowers too. Grapes have a wonderful, sweet scent in flower. When the fruit is ripe, sit back and imagine yourself in Victorian England!

It is possible to grow grapevines in pots, however vines thrive better when grown in the ground.

Miniature Grapevine

The smallest grapevine variety for perennial pot cultivation, for pots < 10 litres.

Compact Grapevine

A compact, small, perennial variety, which can be trained in various cordon systems, for pots >10 litres.

Ornamental Grapevine (“Prachtrebe”: literally translated “Magnificent Grapevine”)

This is rather an ornamental variety of vine for florists and mostly an annual plant. Bears large crop of fruit in the 2nd year, perennial thereafter with reservations, for pots > 10 litres, requires heavy fertilising after flowering.

Winter Protection

Overwintering is possible in a cellar or similar storage room (or an unheated shed), as long as the pot is kept moist and the temperature remains well and truly below the critical 12ºC limit. Otherwise, bud burst will occur prematurely and the plant may die. In modern cellars, the temperature is usually not low enough, unless the cellar is unheated and permanently aerated.

If the vine is overwintered in a glasshouse or similar, it must be transferred outdoors early (around end of February). It is imperative to prevent premature bud burst under the glass with subsequent transfer into the open. Plants which have already burst bud must only be transferred to the open from April / May, because the young shoots are very susceptible to frost.

Potted Vines

Potted Vines on balcony or terrace


Lush ornamental grapevine (“Magnificent” Grapevine), historic illustration<

Wein im Kübel

Miniature Vine, almost a Bonsai

Kübel mit Reben

Compact Grapevine (left) and Miniature Grapevine (right), historic illustration. The scale of the two vines has been adjusted to fit into this image, the compact grape would require a much larger pot and has much lusher foliage.

Wein im Topf
Training of a Compact Grapevine on a garage with Wire Rope System 2040.
Diagram 02: Two shoots arise from the two buds of the spur, which ideally produce 1 – 2 grape bunches. For Summer Pruning, both shoots are trimmed back to approx. 6 leaves beyond the last grape. Retain max. 1 grape bunch on the lower shoot.
Diagram 03: The upper part of the stem is treated as a side shoot position and is Spur Pruned now and all following years.
Diagram 05: In the second year, 3 shoots arise from the 3 buds, which ideally produce 1 – 2 grape bunches each. For Summer Pruning, the shoots are trimmed back to approx. 6 leaves beyond the last grape. If vine growth is rather weak, retain max. 1 grape per shoot.
Diagram 06: Depending on the local situation, the vine is then trained either into a small Vertical Cordon (“Schnurbaum”), Fan Form or Horizontal Cordon usually by Spur Pruning. However, even if the container capacity is 50 litres, the vine should not have more than 5 – 6 side shoot positions, 10 – 12 new shoots and 20 – 30 grape bunches per year.
Diagram 08: The fruiting cane is carefully bent into a circle (“Circular Cane”) and tied like a horizontal ring onto a trellis made of eg bamboo sticks. In the 2. year, shoots arise from the 6 – 8 buds, which ideally produce 1 – 2 grapes each. Infertile shoots (ie shoots without flower buds) are removed, and after flowering the plant is fertilised thoroughly. For Summer Pruning, the shoots are trimmed back to approx. 4 – 6 leaves beyond the last grape bunch.
Diagram 09: After the harvest, this type of grapevine has virtually reached its end, and, in bygone times, was disposed of. However, it is possible to trim the plant back to its initial form (Diagram 07) and subsequently transfer it to the open ground elsewhere. Replanted into a container with renewed soil and given a year to recover, the plant may be used as ornamental grapevine again.






5 responses

  1. nature has kindly granted me free grapes :), we have wild ones around here, so good and no added pectin needed with wild fruits when making jam.

    May 18, 2013 at 1:29 am

  2. 🙂 very, i love to go hunting for hidden treasures lol
    also have whole row of wild black raspberries about 2 city blocks away from house, go out there in am when everyone is sleep 😛

    May 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    • 😀 Just got rid of my wild raspberry bush ( Got too invasive ), and will plant red climbing SPINACH 😉
      HELL is nothing when it comes to roots & runners of these wild raspberries…Still hunting with the crowbar for runners coming up from time to time …LOL

      May 19, 2013 at 11:31 am

      • lol, am glad mine are in woodline of farmers field 🙂

        May 19, 2013 at 11:40 am

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