Grapes can be either low or high maintenance in a backyard. Selecting a variety that works well in the local soil and climate is key to a low maintenance grape. Many grape varieties are not well suited for the Southeastern US. A few will thrive with relatively little input. In addition to muscadines, (previous post) varieties that can succeed without regular spraying are America, Cayuga, and Norton. I have several of each of these varieties in my backyard. Varieties I tried in my backyard without success include Chamborcin and Tannat.
Both Chamborcin and Tannat grow in commercial vineyards in the Southeast. I was especially hopeful for Tannat. I had tasted wine from it and done some research before selecting it. It is the national wine of Uruguay which is the same latitude as Chattanooga but in the southern hemisphere. Uruguay’s hot humid summers are similar to Chattanooga. But the combination of acidic soil and humidity is the ideal environment for soil born fungal disease. Anthracnose (aka bird’s eye rot) decimated my Tannat and Chamborcin grapes. If I had incorporated lime to a depth of three feet and regularly applied fungicides, results may have been different. We get rainy periods in which sprays would need to be applied almost daily. That’s not my style.
I prefer going with varieties that don’t need spray. America is a great tasting low maintenance grape. Its flavor is somewhat like Concord. Cayuga is a good tasting white grape. Netting is not required as birds generally only go for darker grapes. It is not as resistant to anthracnose as America, but still produces for me. Norton (aka Cynthiana) has become my favorite. Its disease resistance is great and it can be made into a nice red wine.
Grapes require a trellis and annual pruning. I also mulch with plastic 2 feet around each trunk from the end of May until September. This barrier interrupts the life cycle of the grape vine borer which is the biggest pest in Tennessee vineyards. Covering red varieties with a net for bird protection is also good practice.
Success with grapes in the Southeast is possible. Failure stories are also common. Success depends on selecting a variety appropriate for the climate, soil, and individual style.