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Growing Grapes in the Desert

Grape vines grow quickly, and require lots of support. They can be placed against a wall, or trained over an arbor. In addition to the support, be sure you give them plenty of space and lots of water. I don't have much shade in my backyard, so I went with the arbor. This way I not only get delicious grapes, but also a place to grow my shade-loving plants, and a refuge for myself when it gets too hot. The arbor is about 12 ft wide, 7ft deep, and 8ft high at it's peak. That gives me plenty of room for a shade garden and sitting area underneath, and enough room for the vines to grow.

I wanted a combination of red and green grapes, so I planted a Thompson seedless vine on the east side of the arbor, and a Red Flame seedless vine on the west side. They started out as small transplants in February of 2009, grew quickly, and covered the entire arbor by the end of the summer. Grape vines usually have ripe clusters of grapes by early summer, but I didn't have (or expect) any the first summer. Grapes only form on 2nd year vines, and I didn't have any of those yet. I was surprised, however, by a single Red Flame cluster that ripened out of season in November. The vines produced lots of grapes the following summer (2010), but I was out of town and the birds got to them. 2011 was my first good year. I had lots of grapes that summer, and put up netting to keep the birds away. See the slideshow below for a quick look at growing grapes on an arbor.

Growing Grapes on an Arbor


Pests and Problems

Grapes love the summer sun, and their large leaves will give you shade all summer. Unless, of course, you get an infestation of White Flies. They don't show up on my grape leaves until late June, after the grapes are ripe, but when they do, there's lots of them. They don't bother the grapes, but they kill the leaves by sucking all the juice out of them. By mid August, all of the original leaves are dead and falling off. The grape vine seems to make a comeback in late August, with lots of new leaves. I still see white flies, but the grape vines now seem to have the upper hand.

You can see a magnified photo of the tiny White Flies and the damage they do to the leaves in the two photos on the right. I grow organic, so I haven't tried any pesticides. I've heard soapy water kills them, but haven't tried it yet.

Another common pest on grape leaves is the Skeletonizer catapillar. These black and yellow striped catapillers hatch from eggs laid on the underside of the leaves, and suck all the juice out of the leaves. The only thing left once they are done is the leaf's "skeleton".

Red Flame Seedless Grapes



Thompson Seedless Grapes

The biggest threat to the grapes are the birds. The only way to keep them from devouring all of your grapes is to cover the arbor with bird netting. I purchased some 3/4 inch bird netting at Amazon.com, and it kept the birds (except for one very small finch) out of my grapes.