Late-summer days bring vines filled with muscadines, their perfume sweetening the air. The South’s favorite grape is tasty, easy to grow, long-lived, and beautiful, with big, round fruit in shades of purple, black, pink, red, green, or bronze. Delicious in juice, jelly, wine, or cobblers, this thick-skinned, seeded treat is also rich in antioxidants, making it a healthful snack straight from your garden.
Operators of Ison’s Nursery & Vineyards, Nurseryman Greg Ison and his sisters have grown muscadines in Brooks, Georgia, since 1934. Greg recalls that his grandfather Grady Ison always used to say, «To be considered a true Southern gentleman, you have to have a magnolia tree, a pecan tree, a fig tree, and a muscadine vine.» Lucky for Greg, he has all four. However, these backyard vines might be delicious for people, but they are harmful to pets. Also, in certain conditions, this plant can be an invasive species.
- Common Name: Muscadine Grape, Scuppernong Grape, Southern Fox Grape
- Botanical Name: Vitis rotundifolia
- Family: Vitaceae
- Plant Type: Perennial, Fruit, Vine
- Mature Size: 40-60 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide
- Sun Exposure: Full
- Soil Type: Sandy, Loamy, Well-drained
- Soil pH: Slightly Acidic (5.5 to 6.5)
- Bloom Time: Spring
- Flower Color: Green
- Hardiness Zones: Zones 7-10 (USDA)
- Native Area: North America
- Toxicity: toxic to pets
Muscadines thrive in the hot, humid weather of the South, needing a sunny location with good air circulation. They also prefer deep, fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH. Plant container-grown vines in early fall or winter—mulch plants with pine straw or shredded pine bark to conserve moisture and discourage weeds. This plant is considered invasive in some areas as it will climb over most obstructions to reach more sunlight.
Muscadines need at least six hours of full sunlight daily. If planted in a shady area, these vines will climb towards the sun, which can be invasive in certain regions.
Plant muscadines in well-draining soil as it will not tolerate soggy growing conditions. Leave enough space around the root ball when planting it in a deep and wide hole, so it has room to spread. Position near a trellis and keep the soil moist while establishing roots.
Muscadines need more water when establishing their roots and less as it matures and during the cold weather seasons. It’s worst to water-log muscadine roots, so aim for about one-inch of water every week. After developing, these vines are relatively drought-tolerant.
Temperature and Humidity
Muscadines grow in full sun and warm climates. Native to the south of the United States, the ground temperature for growing muscadines should not dip below 5°F.
Do not fertilize when planting. A balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) is enough for mature vines in late winter or early spring. Avoid placing it near the vine’s trunk. Do not exceed a pound of fertilizer yearly.
Types of Muscadines
Some selections of muscadines are «self-fruitful,» meaning you need only one vine to have fruit—a great option for small spaces. This variety includes:
- «Nesbitt» develops fruit in the mid to late harvesting period. The fruit’s skin is tough, but ripe berries are flavorful and come from a healthy vine.
Other muscadines need to cross-pollinate to bear fruit, so plant these varieties near self-fruitful selections. This variety includes:
- «Darlene» produces large fruit (typically a diameter around 1 1/4 inch) in a bronze color that turns pink.
- «Black Beauty» vines have a high sugar content and develop fruit in large clusters. This vine is disease resistant and highly productive.
Muscadines have beautiful, coarse leaves that emerge in late spring. They begin ripening at the end of summer. You can pick individual grapes or clusters. After they finish fruiting in late fall, their foliage turns a beautiful shade of gold. Remove any fruit left on the vines. Trim the vines in late winter using pruning shears.
To prune muscadines, remove unnecessary shoots or spurs. Keep two or three buds for every spur, which can extend, leaving four or five buds as the vines mature. For best results, prune in the winter between November and February.
There are two ways to propagate muscadines, cuttings, and layering, a technique that leaves the new growth partially attached to the «mother plant.» Here’s how to propagate muscadines by layering:
- The simplest way to propagate from layering is to use a low-growing stem. When the vine is dormant, take a lower stem or cane and bend it towards the soil.
- Next, cover the cane with soil—only four to five inches of soil is needed.
- After covering part of the bent branch, ensure enough room (and cane flexibility) to return the stem out of the soil, so it extends at least six inches above the top of the ground.
- The bent cane should take root in time for the next growing season. After roots form, carefully dig the new growth (without disturbing the roots) and plant the root ball in a new, deep hole. It can often take more than one season before roots are ready to move.
Propagating muscadines from cuttings is also a simple way to grow more vines. Here is how:
- During muscadine growing season, select a few branches for cuttings. You will know if a stem is suitable for cuttings if it snaps. Cut the branch near the vine’s joint.
- Remove the leaves on the bottom of the cutting and trim to around six inches (approximately four nodes are best).
- Fill a container with seed-starting soil (peat-based works well). Make sure peat and soil are moist but well-drained.
- Dip cutting in a rooting hormone and plant cuttings in the soil (around one inch deep) and cover them with moist soil. Use a garden stake or wire to help secure the cuttings.
- Cover the container with plastic so the cuttings remain warm and keep it in a sunny location with partial sun. As roots form, gradually expose the container to more hours of sunlight.
- When roots form, move the muscadine to its final location and keep it watered as it establishes roots. New shoots should emerge in about two months.
How to Grow Muscadines From Seed
If you live in the south or an area with warm weather, it is possible to grow muscadines from seed. Here’s how:
- After harvesting fruit in late summer or early fall, crush and soak it overnight in cool water.
- Collect the seeds that surface and dispose of the seeds that sink. Clean the viable seeds by removing any fruit or fleshy remnants and dry thoroughly on a paper towel.
- Use a sharp knife to make a small, shallow incision to oxygenate the seed—Do not cut through the seed.
- Place seeds in a bag filled with moist peat moss, then move it into the refrigerator for three to four months—continue to keep the peat moss moist throughout this time.
- Afterward, plant the seeds in a container or seed-starter tray about half to one inch deep. Leave enough space (about two inches) in between seeds. Remember to keep the soil moist and in a sunny location. (You can cover the tray or container to help maintain warm temperatures).
- Continue moistening the soil and adding compost for four to eight weeks. You will know the seeds are ready to move once they grow mature leaves (around two sets) and reach about one inch in height.
- Move the muscadine seeds to a larger container or final planting location. Plant just under the topsoil and keep them in direct sunlight.
Muscadines are relatively tough but will go dormant to protect themselves during the winter. One way to help these vines is to leave pruning for the latest time possible—around February. The extra foliage will help protect the vine. Also, after the fruit emerges, additional fertilization can help supply the vine with the necessary nutrients to survive the cold weather.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Aphids, grape berry moths, and Japanese beetles can affect muscadine growth by feeding on the fruit and flowers. Grape root borers attack the vine below the ground, making them particularly dangerous to muscadines.
As with many root-bound plants, muscadines are susceptible to rot, particularly black rot, bitter rot, ripe rot, and Macrophoma rot. Vines can develop powdery mildew and angular leafspot.
Common Problems With Muscadines
Leaves Turning Yellow
If muscadine leaves appear pale yellow, this can signify a fungus called angular leaf spot. To treat angular leaf spots, keep the vines healthy by removing wild vines, trimming the canopy cover, and applying a fungicide. This fungus typically appears in the mid to late season.
Plant Not Producing Fruit
Root rot can cause berries to drop or shrivel if muscadine vines are water-logged. Ripe rot will turn the leaves reddish-brown before impacting the fruit, so try to manage the water balance before the fungus infects the stems or shoots.