How To Prune A Grape

new grapes
Grapes come on new seasons wood

Grapes fruit on new season wood. Prune your grapes every year and avoid a heavy, tangle of shoots. Grapevines have a tonne of vigour and left to their own devices take over the garden, next stop the world.

The good news is grapes can handle a hard prune! So if yours has left its trellis for dust and is a jumble of shoots – get stuck into it. You really don’t need to worry about pruning too much off a grape!

A strong frame

The grape is pruned - 1 leader and 2 cordons
Here’s our outside grape. The main leader winds up the post and two cordons go out – one each side – along tensioned wires.

Grapes are wonderfully malleable, easily trained over a variety of structures. No matter which way you frame it, be sure of these 3 things:

  • Strength. There’s alot of weight in all those bunches of grapes not to mention the vine itself. Put some effort into something solid and lasting, cos a grape has legs.
  • Bird protection. Can you easily throw a birdnet over?
  • Airflow and light. Air keeps your grape healthy, and light keeps it productive. Be sure of both with generous gaps (40 – 50cm) between each row of your structure, and between the ground and the first wire. If you are training your grape above a covered deck be sure of a generous gap between the roof and the grape.

The leader

The leader is the main stem that goes from the ground to the top of your structure. From the leader springs the cordons – the side arms that carry the fruit.

You only want one leader. Choose the strongest and best placed shoot for this job and remove any competing shoots. Don’t be afraid to prune an out of control vine back hard to create this clear structure – grapes can take it.

2 year old greenhouse grape before pruning - 2 leaders
Before pruning. Our 2 year old greenhouse grape is sprouting a second leader.
2 year old greenhouse grape after pruning - 1 leader
After pruning. The strongest leader remains. There can be only one.

The cordons

The grape before pruning
Before pruning. Cordon with last years growth.
  • In the same way you only want one leader, you only want one cordon (side arms) per wire.
  • Go along each cordon and remove all the dead wood. 
  • Remove thin, spindly shoots and long, fat thumb size shoots, keeping those that are pencil size diameter – these are the most productive.
  • Where there is a cluster of shoots, create about a 10cm gap between each shoot by removing the weak ones and keeping the best ones.
  • Cut back your chosen shoots to 2 – 5 good buds, this turns the shoot into a spur. Where the shoot gets spindly and weak that’s your deciding moment – cut it there. You’re in the business of keeping healthy, pencil size wood only.
  • Grape wood dries back after cutting so leave about a centimetre of wood above the bud to allow for this. 
  • Trim the ends of the cordon, to fit your frame.
The grape after pruning
After pruning. One cordon and all pencil size shoots pruned back to 2 – 5 buds.


When a cordon looses it’s mojo, cut it off and replace it with a new shoot. Cultivate a new shoot over the growing seasons. One that comes off the leader, about 10cm below the wire. Below the wire is best, so that when you train it onto the wire it comes at a good angle. 

Restoring old vines

If  you’ve inherited a grape that’s super tangled and gotten seriously out of control  – choose the  strongest shoot coming from the base to be your replacement leader and cut the rest down. Grapes can take it.

Sometimes it’s simpler to begin again.


  1. Margie Broughton says

    What do you do with the top of the leader? Cut it off at the level of the structure? Then each winter cut off shoots that grow there?

    • Good question Margie – yes just cut it to fit the structure. It will shoot away again of course! Because the top of mine is close to birdnet cover I trim it generously below the net so the new shoots dont get too tangled in the net.

  2. Tricia Joe says

    I’ve always trimmed the prunings small and thrown straight into my compost. I don’t think there’s been any problems but should I stop this as not good practise and burn in future?

    • If it aint broke Tricia… dont fix it! Trust your intuition. Keep noticing whats happening. Healthy wood recycled into healthy systems is all good.

  3. Andrea Carlos says

    Thank you so much for this information! I just moved into a home with two inherited grapevines. They haven’t been well maintained over the years. I had no idea how to care for them, and definitely no idea how or when to prune them. I have read several articles, but yours was by far the most helpful!

  4. Planted 3 new Concord grape plants
    Using 2 wire system
    When trunks got to top wire i cut trunk in middle of a bud. That was 20 days ago. They have not done anything or growed at all from this bud. I thought after I cut them in middle of bud that 2 shoots would grow out of bud . One each direction. What did I do wrong..
    Thanks. Jack

    • Give it some time buddy! You are way too fast for nature right about now 🙂 Grapes will start showing signs of life sometime this month – buds will start to open and unfurl, thats the first step. New shoots will come along through summer – alot of work goes into growing a shoot my friend.

  5. Hi, I planted a vine last year and I’m trying to train it up a pergola. It’s about half way there now and is just starting to grow side shoots. Should I cut these off to encourage upwards growth? Thanks, Dom.

  6. Kathryn Whitehead says

    Kia ora Kath,
    I just pulled it my copy of your SUPER pruning book to look up what to do for my passionfruit and newly planted hazelnut. But they’re not in your book… I hoped you might have some wisdom about hour to approach these. I can google, but I only really trust you now!

    • For sure I can help though bit tricky not seeing how old they are or your setup. Hazels are easy. Follow along as per a vase shaped tree – hopefully yours has a trunk and is not shooting from the ground. Create an open bush and remove all suckers that come off the base. Passionfruits need to be pruned to fit the frame. Wait until spring though – dont do it now. If its young you should be focusing on shaping it to your frame – similar to what you do for a grape. If its established shorten all the laterals (the shoots that spring off the main framework) to about 3 or 4 buds. Clear out any dense spots by thinning laterals. Remove poorly, spindly growth entirely. Overall taking off about a third. So many similarities in pruning aye.
      I’m flattered to have your trust but I just wanna say there are heaps of knowledgable folks out there 🙂 I hear ya – there are too may cut n paste bloggers lacking in experience but rolling in online smarts!, so as a general rule be choosy about which site you visit. A university one is a great start.
      Hope this helps

      • Kathryn Whitehead says

        Thank you TONNES, Kath, that’s so helpful. I took pictures to post for you, but can’t see a way to do this here (very reasonably!), so I’ll email them. I’ve now added your sage advice to my copy of your book. Superb! And thanks for the hints about learning to trust other sources 😉