Advice on pruning neglected grape vines?

Right now I'm just trying to remove dead stuff. I hope that before the vines start growing in the spring I can prune at least some of them properly. I'm faced with a mess of trunks and canes of all sizes and ages, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to start.
I've got a couple of specific questions.
First, how can I identify first-year growth, so that I can follow my book's instructions to leave a controlled number of first-year canes on each vine?
Second, how should I deal a couple of locations where the vines died? I must decide whether replant in the same places or not, and if so, what to plant and how. Saying that the vines died of neglect is probably true, but not useful. All of the vines were neglected, but some died while others thrived. Maybe the dead vines' locations were bad. (For example, one was next the corner of a shed where it probably got much less direct sun than most of the others, especially in early spring and late fall.) Maybe the vines that were planted (now unidentifiable) were inappropriate for the location. Maybe the soil was bad. Or maybe it was a combination of those things and others.
Beyond that, I'm looking for any sort of advice on how to proceed.
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On Mon, 10 Jan 2011 22:26:11 -0800, Jonathan Sachs

Grapes are very resiliant... prune them all down leaving one trunk of about two feet... then as they grow do not neglect them. Grapes need two prunings per year. If you are unsure how find someone nearby who does. There are different pruning systems depending on how trellised.
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First, ignore advice from Brooklin1/Shelly as he suffers from chronic cranial-rectal inversion, and his advice will get you in deep Doo.
If the vines have been neglected for a number of years, it may take a couple of years to re-shape them for cane pruning, where you have 4 canes coming off the branches, 2 going left and 2 going right (I'm guessing that you are cane pruning from what you said above.). Last years canes will show buds, and won't have bark on them. Canes that come off the top of a stump, branch, or cordon are preferable to ones that are attached to the underside.
If the grapes are meant for winemaking, then leave about 22 buds for this years fruit. Leave fewer for more vegetative growth, leave half again as many , if they are to be used for fresh fruit.
Where are you? What is the soil like? What kind of grapes are these? Any idea if the vines are on rootstock? What did the leaves on the dead plants look like last year, or the last year that they had leaves?
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wrote:

I'm in the Sacramento area. Winters are cool and rainy, with occasional frost; Summers are hot and dry.

Generally deep, fairly heavy loam left by an ancient sea bed; but our yard is heavily landscaped, and I don't know the history of the soil that was used for fill. It looks like the native soil but I can't be sure.

When we moved in two years ago I collected samples from each vine and took them to one of our local Master Gardeners (part of California's ag extension program). I got some identifications, some tentative ones, and some of "Gee, that's interesting, but..." Almost every vine seems to be different. I can't find my notes at the moment, but the ones I'm working on now appear to be wine grapes.

No idea. I see no evidence of grafting scars, but I'm not sure what to look for, and perhaps the vines are too old for them to be visible. Many of them are over an inch thick at the base.

I think they were long dead when we bought the property two summers ago. The vines are so tangled together that it's hard to tell which ones are dead and which ones aren't. The one I mentioned, at a corner of the shed: I suspected it was dead, but I wasn't sure until I started cleaning up dead wood a few days ago.
Songbird wrote:

There are a lot of vines, almost every one a different variety, as I mentioned above. Most of them are planted along the side of an arbor covering a path about 50 feet long, which goes gently downhill in a generally southerly direction. Most of those are in full sun (at least at the top) through much of the day, but are shaded in the late afternoon. Last year I put them on a drip irrigation system with a couple of emitters near the base of each vine. They're on their own branch of the drip system, so that I can water them infrequently and deeply. The year before that, and probably many years, they received no water at all except for the winter rains.
One vine (the only one producing heavily to date) is a seeded table grape, Concord I think, which grows up a wall facing generally northeast, over the top, and down the other side. (It also grows into the surrounding trees, over 20 feet above the ground, which poses an interesting dilemma: the higher vegetation does not appear to be bearing much fruit, but I wonder if it is providing energy to the rest of the vine, and should be retained.)

One thing I've discovered, to my distress, is that much of the dead wood is still flexible! That has made it very hard for me to be sure what's dead and what's not.
By the way, I've wondered whether the thicker stuff I cut would make good kindling.

That's odd, now that I think about it: so far I've encountered very few tendrils. That may be a peculiarity of the variety(ies) I've worked on.

That's a good idea, and I'll do it within the next few days. Can you give me a general idea what kind of pictures would be most useful?

Yes, that's along the lines I was thinking... if for no other reason, because cleaning up a dozen vines would be overwhelming, even if I knew what I was doing! Treating each half of each plant differently is difficult, though, when I have trouble being sure where one plant ends and another begins!
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Perfect for grapes... should be many winerys about.

Even if the builder scraped off some top soil it wouldn't have been much and wouldn't much matter... grape roots go deep, very, very deep.

Really doen't matter what kind at this point.

The ag extention would be your best source in the area for how to grow/prune grapes, wtf didn't you ask???
An inch diameter indicates a very VERY young grape vine, couldn't have been been more than the diameter of a pencil when planted 2-3 years ago, probably planted shortly prior to your arrival. Grape vines grow extremely fast, that's one of the reasons they need to be pruned twice a year and the second pruning very severe.

Obviously they would look like grape leaves. duh

If you arrived in the summer there would have been leaves... seems to me you never even looked at those grapes till very recently.

Odds are very little of the vines were actually dead and it's very difficult to kill a grape plant from mere neglect... as I indicated previously you should lop off all but about two feet of the trunk (now is a good time). And as soon as they bud out in spring erect a trellis/arbor of some type, very important that grapes are trained. There's tons of information on the net about <how to grow grapes>.
I've grown grapes most of my life but since I retired I gave it up, growing grapes is extremely labor intensive, never mind what to do with them... one measely vine will produce minimally 100 pounds of grapes, ripening all at once. And where you live it will be impossible to sell them let alone give them away. I can't imagine why any homeowner in that part of CA would want to grow grapes in their yard.
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Brooklyn1 <Gravesend1> wrote:

Wrong!
Make that 40 lbs and they taste fine from 19% sugar and up 30+%, which could easily take a month or more.
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Brooklyn1 <Gravesend1> wrote:

Grape vines are pruned once a year, while the vines are dormant. Vines MAY be trimmed, usually in July, to let more sun penetrate the canopy to ward-off mold, but it isn't done in hot years.
Shelly, where do you come up with this crap. You are as bad as Fox News. Posters would be better off, if you just STFU.
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I'd take Billy's advice over Brooklyn's. Years ago I returned from a California trip in January where I had visited a vineyard and observed how far back they pruned their grapes. I did it to mine and really messed them up and gradually lost them to the bad pruning and my shaded yard.
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On Wed, 12 Jan 2011 13:15:24 -0500, Frank

That just proves that you and Billy have identical IQs, when added together equal less than 30... friggin' pinheaded know-nothings... your powers of observation are obviously quite lacking, imbecile!
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On 1/12/2011 1:35 PM, Brooklyn1 wrote:

Billy will tell you himself that I'm not a big fan of his but you're an even bigger jerk. Guess this is the way you get your jollies ;)
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OK, I know the region.

Any Junior College near you should have viticulture classed, or maybe you could get lucky with U.C. Davis, but you need a viticulturist to tell you if the vines are grafted, and a very good one to identify the grapes.
I've known people to stick grape canes in the ground, with hopes of making their home more saleable. This is OK with native American grapes, but with European grapes it is an invitation to phylloxera, an American root aphid, which will eventually kill the vines.
To identify the vines you need to have leaves and fruit.

Arbors are used in northern Italy (perhaps elsewhere) and they make a nice area for picnics or covered patios.
I'd suggest pruning each vine back to 22 buds. You'll have the choice of a field blend wine, which was very popular to early Italians here in Sonoma County, or table grapes. Concord wine is an acquired taste for most people. When the buds have broken and are pushing vines, cut out the dead wood.
Given plenty of nitrogen and water, vines will vegetate instead of setting fruit, and they won't store starch in their roots until the grapes have been ripened. This can profoundly stress the vine in the spring when it needs that starch to push buds and grow canes.
My advice is to not fertilize except perhaps in the spring, and water only if you see the leaves wilting quickly in the morning. Considering that you're near Sacramento, I'd look to see how quickly the leaves wilt, because Sacramento temps often go above 100F. You could also just give them a hosing down by squirting the water up,and letting it fall back on the vine like rain. This may cause some mold problems which you may need to address, but it will keep the vines healthy. If you get sunburn on the fruit, you have even a better chance of getting mold, since the sunburn is a point of entry for the mold.

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wrote:

I found my franscript of the voice mail message in which the master gardener tried to identify my grapes. Here's a summary of what he said. In a few cases I wasn't sure what he said, and I've put my best guess in [brackets?].
1. Autumn Black or Autumn Royal (he wasn't sure which; he was trying to identify the fruit by taste).
2. An American variety, Concord Niagra , [Campbell's?] Early, or a similar juice/jelly grape.
3, Thompson Seedless.
4. A large green grape, unidentified.
5. Black Monukka.
6. Perhaps Flame Seedless, but he wasn't sure because they looked too small.
7. Probably an American/European hybrid, unidentified, with pulpy white flesh.
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These are table grapes, however a decent table wine could be made from #3, #5, and #6. For people who drink wines from European grapes, #2 (and other American grapes[#1?, #4?, & #7?]) would seem strange.
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Jonathan Sachs wrote:
howdy,

can you describe things further? (how many, what kind, how they are arranged, spacing, what kind of support, setting, sunlight, water, etc?)
it can be a big project reconditioning...
i'm doing that for an established vine this winter/spring. i only have the one vine so i'm envious of anyone who has more. :)

it can vary by variety, but generally first year growth will be the smallest and smoothest canes from the tips (where the leaves have died) back to where they join with another cane. they might even still be green and flexible.
the older cane they have come from will often be rougher/darker/woodier, might have some bark peeling or be bigger around (half inch or more in diameter). as a cane transforms from first year to second year it might have strips of bark coming off it. really old canes will look like wood and have quite discernable bark/texture.
the other thing to look at is the tendrils that hold the vines to each other or the support structure. the newer canes will have smaller and less woody tendrils. many will probably be dead or break off quite easily. the second or third year tendrils are thicker and woody (if they are still alive).
this is only a general description, it might be somewhat different for each vine as you look at it.
with a little experience you'll get it down. :) if you have a local agricultural extension office you might have some help from them or a local greenhouse person. if you were local to me i'd pop over and point. or even posting pictures (someplace we can peek at) and we can make comments upon them here.

yeah, could be many reasons including pests in the soil. you may not want to replant without knowing more. it doesn't hurt to leave some space empty for a season or two until you do some reading and research. if the vines were too tightly planted to begin with you might just be able to fill in the space from the neighboring vines. and if the varieties were wrong then you won't be making a mistake by waiting to figure out what you have and then filling in the spaces with vines that are more suitable and complement the other vines you have.

righto.
don't worry too much about making mistakes, that is how you will learn. most grapes will recover from being pruned heavily.
now is a better time for a lot of basic reshaping work because as spring gets closer the buds will swell and they become more easily damaged or knocked off. in the spring you can trim off whatever is left over from winterkill and any fine tuning.
i'm a big fan of "trying things" to see how it goes. so i'd pick one vine that i wanted to learn from, (the one in the worst shape) study it from the ground up and then take half of it almost completely back to the main trunk leaving only a few major canes along whatever structure i was using for support. the other half i would only trim out the obviously dead stuff and perhaps a few of the more complicated tangles (to simplify things for the next season).
it's much easier to manage a vine if it's not all wrapped around itself or tangled in the surrounding vines. leaving half the plant means at least there will be some kind of chance at getting a crop. as it grows next year then you can see what the results of the pruning on the other side have accomplished plus you'll be one season further along in experience and know one year canes from the older growth.
if i had ten grapes i'd take the most complicated and beat up one back to the ground and start over training that one back into shape. it takes two to three growing seasons to get a good crop.
four of the other vines i would look at to see which were the worst and i'd do them over half at a time (always seeking to remove tangles and complexity and returning the main structure of the vine towards reflecting the support system and the allowed space).
the remaining five i would only take out the dead stuff and reduce some of the tangles, but i'd leave most of them alone (and do them by half next season or wait two years to be sure i'm doing the others ok).

above is what comes to mind. :)
there are a ton of good books you can get at the local library maybe even some videos. if your library is part of a larger network it can often request items it doesn't have from surrounding libraries or your state universities (depending). your local greenhouse or master gardeners club can be a great help too.
:) good luck, watch out for your fingers, those pruning sheers can take a cane off they can do a number on a digit.
songbird
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