Sow There!: When is the time to prune grapevines? Now 1-26-18

Sow There!: When is the time to prune grapevines? Now

This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards.
This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards. Photo by Heather Hacking

Winter pruning can be a multi-step process. Sometimes the second step is fixing your mistakes.

This year I almost made the big misstep with my grapevines.

Months ago, I chatted with Mark Carlson, the man behind the pruning shears in a series of how-to-prune videos. I took notes that afternoon and specifically wrote to lop off 5 feet on each end of the vine.

I trimmed off 5 feet, but the vine still stretched halfway across my cyclone fence.

Recently I traveled through the wine country with a friend who was visiting from South Korea.

Uh oh.


Of course, Mark had meant to trim the plant and to leave only 5 feet of growth on either side of the main cane.

Grapes with untamed tendrils are only meant to create ambiance in the courtyards of Italian restaurants.

It’s hard to cut back a plant so harshly. It feels cruel. However, we’re really giving the plants the equivalent of a new, teenage body. The new growth hasn’t had a chance to get haggard through sun and rain and the passing of stray dogs.

In Mark’s how-to-prune roses video, he suggests pruning the plants to about knee high.

His technique is especially brutal. He wears gloves and uses long loppers, cutting off more than half the plant without a glance. Later, he pushes aside the thorns and goes in for a more precise trim.

That’s the equivalent of putting your long hair in a ponytail and making one big chop before a pixie haircut.


Marks also noted that grapes need more than a pile of fresh compost to make them grow anew. He suggested a good tree and vine fertilizer application this month. You could do the same for any other fruit tree.


Saturday is the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. I’m glad he was born.

It’s been more than a year since he died in an automobile accident, but I say hello to him several times a day. The oversized photograph from his memorial service is on the bookshelf. I see his face as I turn the corner into the kitchen.

He never liked to have his photograph taken, mostly because he thought he would look goofy.

“It’s just me,” I would say from the other side of the camera lens. “Just look at me like you love me.”

Those are the moments I have captured in photographs.

Usually I walk through the kitchen and say hello. Other times, usually when my mind is quiet, I’m surprised by how much it still hurts.

This December I had a “movie moment.” We all have them — color-filled times that we know are important to our personal storyline.

In my case I was writing Christmas cards. I sat on the living room floor with red envelopes displayed in an arc.

I was humming.

Things had changed. Life was good again. I was writing dozens of Christmas cards to people I loved.

A year earlier, the death of Dave had surrounded me like a cave. Back then I had also sat on the living room floor writing letters. They were thank-you notes, written to people who had sent me sympathy cards. Letter after letter after letter … Even at the time I realized writing those letters could keep me sane.

This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards.

Saturday will be the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. I’ll share more moments with him on that day. I also know I’ll be OK.

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