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Best Practices for Pruning in the Vineyard

Vineyard pruning in the United States generally begins as early as January and sometimes as late as March, it really depends on the weather and changes in the climate.  During vineyard pruning season many vineyards try to get a good start on this important and very expensive task.  The goal is to have the vines all wrapped up and pruned so they can move on to the next task.Best Practices For Pruning In The Vineyard

  • Vineyard pruning in the United States generally begins as early as January and sometimes as late as March
  • Climate variations and other environmental changes vary timing from season to season
  • Vineyards try to get a good start on this important and very expensive task
  • The goal is to have all the trimming wrapped up so they can quickly move on the next task such as tying and training

The Basics of Vineyard Pruning

The basic idea behind vineyard pruning is to eliminate excess old vineyard plant growth from the previous year so the vines can channel the energy into growing for the New Year.  Vineyard grapevines produce fruit on wood that’s one year old, so the goal of pruning is to maximize the one-year-old wood on each vine.  This process also helps train the vines to grow in an ideal way to produce high-quality wine grapes.The Basics of Vineyard PruningTop Tips, Strategies and Techniques for Vineyard Pruning

  • The basic idea behind vineyard pruning is to eliminate excess old plant growth from the previous year
  • Vineyard pruning helps vines channel the energy into growing for the New Year
  • Vineyard grapevines produce fruit on wood that’s one year old
  • The goal of vineyard pruning is to maximize the one-year-old wood on each vine
  • Vineyard pruning helps train the vines to grow in an ideal way to produce high-quality wine grapes

Vineyard Pruning Done With Both Man and Machine

Vineyard Pruning Done With Both Man and MachinePruning can be done by hand, by machine or in a combination of both methods.  New hybrid hand machine tools take pruning to a whole new dimension.  No matter what method, it’s critical to prune in a way that does not damage the plant in any way.  It is typical to remove between 70 percent and 90 percent of the previous year’s growth while pruning.

  • Pruning can be done by hand, by machine or in a combination of both methods
  • New hybrid battery powered hand-held tools take pruning to a whole new dimension
  • No matter what method, it’s critical to prune in a way that does not damage the plant in any way
  • It is typical to remove between 70 percent and 90 percent of the previous year’s growth while pruning

Top Tips, Strategies and Techniques for Vineyard Pruning

With experience, vineyards have learned which pruning strategies and practices work best for their specific plants.  Even good pruning practice starts with a set of sharp and well-maintained tools to cut the canes or spurs. Cuts should be made through the next node past the last bud retained to prevent it from producing a shoot.  Pruning cuts should be at a 45-degree angle with the lower end angling away from the bud.

Top Tips, Strategies and Techniques for Vineyard Pruning

To get a general sense of the best time for pruning, check the frost-free date maps. These are available through your local extension office.

Frost-free date maps are available through your local extension office

  • Learn which pruning strategies and practices work best for specific plants
  • Keep sharp and well-maintained tools to cut the canes or spurs
  • Cuts should be made through the next node past the last bud retained to prevent it from producing a shoot
  • Pruning cuts should be at a 45-degree angle with the lower end angling away from the bud
  • To get a general sense of the best time for pruning, check the frost-free date maps
  • Frost-free date maps are available through your local extension office

Vineyard Tips To Start The Vineyard Pruning Process

Many expert pruners choose to start the process by first cutting off old fruiting wood and then removing the suckers.  As a logistical measure, it often works well to toss discarded pruning materials at the end of every other row to make it less challenging to move through the vineyard.  For those who aren’t sure how many buds to retain, over-pruning is better than under pruning.  This is especially true if a vine is a weak grower or hasn’t been thriving.

Vineyard Tips To Start The Vineyard Pruning Process

  • Start the process by first cutting off old fruiting wood and then removing the suckers
  • Make it less challenging to move through the vineyard by tossing discarded pruning materials at the end of every other row
  • For those who aren’t sure how many buds to retain, over-pruning is better than under pruning
  • Over-pruning is best if a vine is a weak grower or hasn’t been thriving

Important Vineyard Tip Regarding Vineyard Pruning and Controlling Disease

Promptly remove any diseased wood and making cuts that are flush to the branch or trunk, or at least an inch above a bud.  Make sure to sterilize your pruning tools after each vine to reduce the spread of disease.  Sterilize by dipping blades into an isopropyl alcohol solution.

Important Vineyard Tip Regarding Vineyard Pruning and Controlling Disease

  • Promptly remove any diseased wood and making cuts that are flush to the branch or trunk, or at least an inch above a bud
  • Make sure to sterilize your pruning tools after each vine to reduce the spread of disease
  • Sterilize by dipping blades into an isopropyl alcohol solution

Vineyard Hand Pruning Methods

Cane vineyard pruning is typically used for Concord and other American varieties of grapes.  This is a good technique to use if your canes are fruitful far from the base of the plant. Spur pruning is commonly used for French hybrid varieties since their vines bear most of the buds toward the base of the canes.

Vineyard Hand Pruning Methods

  • Cane vineyard pruning is typically used for Concord and other American varieties of grapes
  • Cane vineyard pruning  is a good technique to use if your canes are fruitful far from the base of the plant
  • Spur vineyard pruning is commonly used for French hybrid varieties
  • French vineyard hybrid vines bear most of the buds toward the base of the canes

Vineyard Pros and Cons of Hand PruningZenport Pruner QZ402 Classic Professional Pruner, 1-Inch Cut, 8.5-Inch Long

Many vineyards around the country will swear by hand pruning, which has a range of pros and cons.  Pruning by hand involves pulling leaves off grapevines to allow more sunlight to reach the grape and removing parts that have been affected by mold or disease.  Pruning by hand retains most control over the vines and ensures that the finished wine expresses the grapes’ qualities in the most authentic way possible. Subtle imperfections can add to a wine’s unique character, a sentiment widely embraced in the wine industry.

  • Many vineyards around the country still hand prune
  • Pruning by hand involves pulling leaves off grapevines to allow more sunlight to reach the grape
  • Pruning by hand also involves removing parts that have been affected by mold or disease
  • Pruning by hand retains most control over the vines
  • Pruning by hand ensures that the finished wine expresses the grapes’ qualities in the most authentic way possible
  • Subtle imperfections can add to a wine’s unique character, a sentiment widely embraced in the wine industry

Vineyard Hand Pruning with Different Vineyard Characteristics

Winemakers prune different varieties by hand because of the different characteristics of the vines.  Until artificial intelligence catches up, there is no substitute for a well-trained pruner.   Every varietal is diverse and many be pruning in a different way than one another depending on crop load.

  • Winemakers prune different varieties by hand because of different vine characteristics
  • There is no substitute for a well-trained pruner
  • Pruning may be done a different way depending on crop load

Vineyard Pruning Quality Versus Quantity

Hand pruning is very labor intensive, and not every vineyard has the capacity to complete the task manually.  If insufficient crews are overworked or overwhelmed by the job, too many nodes could be left behind and result in vines that are over-cropped.

  • Hand pruning is very labor intensive
  • Not every vineyard has the capacity to complete the task manually
  • Insufficient crews are overworked or overwhelmed by the job, too many nodes could be left behind and result in vines that are over-cropped

Vineyard Pros and Cons of Machine Pruning

Vineyard Pros and Cons of Machine PruningMany vineyards have adopted mechanization strategies for their yearly pruning efforts.  Common reasons behind the mechanization movement include lower long-term costs and reduced labor dependence.  

 

In addition to labor concerns, mechanization may help to regulate yields by reducing shoot density of pruned vines and also produce higher-quality fruit.

  • Many vineyards have adopted mechanization strategies for their yearly pruning efforts
  • Common reasons behind the mechanization movement include lower long-term costs and reduced labor dependence
  • Help to regulate yields by reducing shoot density of pruned vines and also produce higher-quality fruit

Using Pruning Mechanization and Manual Hand Vineyard Pruning

Operations that do adopt mechanization usually do so in a selective way.  It isn’t unusual to see an operation only use mechanized methods for upwards to 45 percent of the pre-pruning and still the remaining 55 percent require up-close precision pruning.  The remaining grape varieties usually aren’t adaptable to mechanization because of required precision pruning providing variations of input of nutrients and water to achieve the desire specific characteristics of the grape, yields or both.

  • Operations that do adopt mechanization usually do so in a selective way
  • It isn’t unusual to see an operation only use mechanized methods for upwards to 45 percent of the pre-pruning
  • Remaining 55 percent require up-close precision pruning
  • The remaining grape varieties aren’t adaptable to mechanization
  • Some varieties require precision pruning to achieve the desired yields, specific characteristics of the grape, or both

Vineyard Variety and Environmental Conditions May Not Allow Mechanization

Some pruning jobs can’t be entirely mechanized and require a fair amount of on-the-ground labor anyway because of environmental variables.  Also, the up-front cost for high-end pruning machines can be unattainable for small wineries just getting off the ground.  Large vineyards can afford the most expensive equipment.  In most cases it isn’t financially feasible for most vineyards to purchase the equipment.

  • Some pruning jobs can’t be entirely mechanized and require a fair amount of on-the-ground labor anyway because of environmental variables
  • Also, the up-front cost for high-end pruning machines can be unattainable for small wineries just getting off the ground
  • Large vineyards can afford the most expensive equipment
  • In most cases it isn’t financially feasible for most vineyards to purchase the equipment

Pruning the Vineyard by Hand in the Winter and Headge Shears in Summer

Many vineyards appreciate the lower upfront pruning tool cost and precision that manual pruning provides.  Some vineyards in the winter prune by hand, as the precise cuts required are better achieved by hand.  However, in the summer they prune using hedge shears because cuts don’t need to be as precise.

Pruning the Vineyard by Hand in the Winter and Headge Shears in Summer

  • Many vineyards appreciate the lower upfront cost and precision that manual pruning provides
  • Some vineyards in the winter prune by hand, as the precise cuts required are better achieved by hand
  • However, in the summer they prune using hedge shears because cuts don’t need to be as precise

Portable Battery Powered Vineyard Pruning Shears

Battery powered electric pruning shears have really given vineyards a big boost by combining both methodologies together.  Vineyards are able to reduce labor costs but utilizing less people and still retain the precision of the manual operator.  Not only does the vineyard achieve cost savings with increased productivity and precise cuts but also better overall health and happiness of the crew!

  • Battery powered electric pruning shears have really given vineyards a real boost by combining both methodologies together
  • Vineyards are able to reduce labor costs but utilizing less people and still retain the precision of the manual operator
  • Not only does the vineyard achieve cost savings with increased productivity and precise cuts
  • Better overall health and happiness of the crew

Vineyard Machine Pruning Methods

Hedge, or box pruning, requires hedging the canopy back into a box based on the dimensions of the trellis. A “V” or minimally pruned cordon train system involves making a V-cut from the cordon up and out to leave upright growth. Crews are still needed to follow behind the pruning machines to clean up debris.

Vineyard Machine Pruning Methods

  • Hedge is also called box pruning
  • Hedging requires hedging the canopy into a box
  • The box is based on the dimensions of the trellis
  • A “V” or minimally pruned cordon train system
  • Involves making a V-cut from the cordon up
  • The V-cut is tapered out to leave upright growth
  • Crews are still needed to follow behind the pruning machines to clean up debris

Vineyard Equipment and Technology for Pruning

Vineyard Equipment and Technology for PruningZenport manufactures a variety of tools for vineyard use.  Zenport manufactures a wide range of battery powered pruning, harvesting and tying tools.  Zenport’s most popular battery powered tool for the vineyard is the EP2.  The EP2 offers the power of the EP3 but blades specifically designed for cane pruning.  On a single battery charge you can make well over 10,000 cuts and do 12-hours of continuous pruning.

  • Zenport manufactures a variety of tools for vineyard use
  • Zenport manufactures a wide range of battery powered pruning, harvesting and tying tools
  • Zenport’s most popular battery powered tool for the vineyard is the EP2
  • The EP2 offers the power of the EP3 but blades specifically designed for cane pruning
  • On a single battery charge you can make well over 10,000 cuts and do 12-hours of continuous pruning

Planning for Vineyard Pruning Labor

When it comes to pruning, traditionaly labor is the biggest part of the equation.  The cost of high-quality vineyard labor has been increasing in recent years and has been more challenging to find.

Planning for Vineyard Pruning Labor

  • Labor is the biggest part of the pruning cycle
  • The cost of high-quality vineyard labor has been increasing
  • In recent years and high-quality vineyard labor been more challenging to find

Study - Agriculture Economics Department in College Station, Texas

A study conducted by the Agriculture Economics Department in College Station, Texas, found that grape growers spend about $1000, per acre on labor for vineyard chores, while Oregon growers pay nearly $4000 per acre due to using more manual expensive labor.

Oregon vineyard growers pay nearly $4000 per acre due to using more manual expensive labor

  • When it comes to pruning, the elephant in the room is always labor
  • The cost of high-quality vineyard labor has been increasing in recent years and has been more challenging to find
  • Texas grape growers spend about $1000, per acre on labor for vineyard chores
  • Oregon grape growers pay nearly $4000 per acre due to using more expensive manual labor

Study - University of California

Meanwhile, a University of California study showed that piece rate pruners in vineyards work about 37 percent faster than per-hour vineyard pruners.  The study also found that the best vineyard workers tend be four to eight times faster than the slowest workers.  Determining how much to pay for vineyard pruning is a careful calculation that varies based on how experienced and skill the people you hire have.

Best vineyard workers tend be four to eight times faster than the slowest workers

  • Piece rate pruners in vineyards work about 37 percent faster than per-hour vineyard pruners
  • The best vineyard workers tend be four to eight times faster than the slowest workers.  
  • Pay for vineyard pruning should vary based on how experienced and skill the people you hire are

Have a Vineyard Pruning Party or Hire Contract Crew

Another option is to invite friends and family to help with pruning.  However, this may feel too burdensome or not provide enough labor to get the job done. Vineyards do have the option to hire an outside company on a contract basis or bring in farm labor contractors for pruning season.  College interns may be able to help in vineyards have the right connections in the community.  Whichever labor route you choose, it’s typically a wise idea to retain the same labor force each year for consistency and quality.

Have a Vineyard Pruning Party or Hire Contract Crew

  • Invite friends and family to help with pruning
  • May feel too burdensome or not provide enough labor to get the job done
  • Vineyards do have the option to hire an outside company on a contract basis or bring in farm labor contractors for pruning season
  • College interns may be able to help in vineyards have the right connections in the community
  • Whichever labor route you choose, it’s typically a wise idea to retain the same labor force each year for consistency and quality.

Vineyard Pruning Final Words of Advice

A final consideration, but one that is extremely important, is pruning safety. Pruning safety training should be provided, eye protection and gloves should be worn at all times, and equipment should be kept sharp and clean. Ongoing training and reminders should be offered on keeping fingers away from cutting sources, how to safely sterilize materials, ensuring to take breaks for rest and water, and first aid procedures.

Vineyard Pruning Final Words of Advice

  • Pruning safety is extremely important
  • Pruning safety training should be provided
  • eye protection and gloves should be worn at all times
  • equipment should be kept sharp and clean

Ongoing Training Reminders

  • Keeping fingers away from cutting sources
  • How to safely sterilize materials
  • Ensuring to take breaks for rest and water
  • First aid procedures.

Comfortable Ergonomic Vineyard Pruning Conditions

Vineyards also owe it to their employees, contractor and volunteers to provide comfortable and ergonomic working conditions to reduce pruning-related pain.  Consider displaying diagrams of stretches, such as wrist rotations and prayer position stretches that pruning workers can do to minimize the impact of repetitive movements.

omfortable Ergonomic Vineyard Pruning Conditions

 

Not only can easy exercises keep your best pruners from becoming injured and taking time off work, but they can also help reduce a vineyard’s risk of liability and workers’ compensation claims.

  • Vineyards owe it to their employees, contractor and volunteers
  • Provide comfortable and ergonomic working conditions to reduce pruning-related pain
  • Consider displaying diagrams of stretches, such as wrist rotations
  • Pruning worker prayer position stretches can minimize the impact of repetitive movements
  • Easy exercises keep your best pruners from becoming injured and taking time off work
  • Exercises can also help reduce a vineyard’s risk of liability and workers’ compensation claims
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