Fruit for the Month: January (Grapes)

Two rows of grapes in spring after weeding, fertilizing and mulching. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We are in the dormant period for most fruits, meaning few-to-none to harvest, none to plant, but plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for the new season.

Grapes are the focus fruit for January

Frosty grape vines.
Bridget Aleshire

Grapes also featured as the focus fruit in August. Then I said:

“We grow Labrusca grapes, mainly Concord, with a few Allred, with a selection of other varieties that we are trialing, including the Planets (Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, Venus) and Edelweiss, Fredonia, Marquis, Niagara, Reliance, Sheridan, Steuben, Vanessa. All these are suitable for juice, jam and jelly. Fredonia, Marquis, Mars, Niagara, Reliance, Steuben, Vanessa and Venus are dessert quality, but mostly they have thick skins, big seeds, and a sour taste. Some of these varieties are susceptible to Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and/or Black Rot, and I wouldn’t buy those again. Likewise, I would not buy grafted vines, such as the Cynthiana and Niagara, as we are not good at remembering to cover and uncover the graft unions when the seasons change.”

In that post I talk about planting and trellising (Geneva Double Curtain)

Trellis arm construction for Geneva Double Curtain grape support system

In January, we check and repair the drip irrigation, update maps and logs. We kept good records for a number of years after we planted the new trial varieties (2008, I think).

Our grape drip irrigation tubing, showing an emitter and a clip holding the tubing to the (rusty) wire.
Pam Dawling

It is possible to take dormant wood cuttings, 6-9” (15-23cm) long, cut at the top 1” (2.5cm) above a bud at a slope. Heel them in, and label clearly.

Weed the rows, particularly around new vines, as soon as weeds start to grow. Finish cardboard and sawdust mulch if not done in December.

Grape planting and pruning doesn’t happen here till early March. Avoid pruning grapes in a spell of cold weather, as it can cause vines to die back from the pruning cuts. Vines pruned after the buds start to swell will leaf out a little later, and may avoid late frosts. If the first set of flower buds get frosted, the grapes will produce a second set. Harvest will then be about three weeks later than it might have been.

A grape vine budding out in spring.
Kathryn Simmons

If your grape rows have developed gaps, layering branches of neighboring vines is a very effective gap-filling method. Lay a vine lateral with several buds down into a 5” (12cm) deep trench. Cover the vine with 3” (7.5cm) of soil, leaving the tip above the surface. When new growth starts to appear, fill the trench and pack firmly. Separate the plants the following fall. Layering can also be done in the fall.

Special Topic for January:     Grape Varieties for Organic Production in the Southeast


The Cornell  2022 Organic Production and IPM Guide for Grapes 2022-org-grapes-NYSIPM.pdf  is a great resource. It covers site selection, variety selection, nutrient requirements, soil health, pre-planting and under-vine cover crops, integrated pest management, and more in its 90 pages. Be aware that it is written with the Northeast in mind. For a more general approach, see Grapes: Organic Production. ATTRA, Rex Dufour.

Other small fruits still available in January

You may have dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves, or even stored apples and pears. Pawpaws can be eaten frozen like ice cream. Don’t eat the skins, and don’t eat cooked pawpaws.

I wrote about fruit storage in December.

Wintergreen berries persist on the plants in the wild all winter, and become sweeter after some cold weather. They don’t taste good at the end of the winter, though, so harvest while they are good eating. If you are allergic to aspirin, avoid wintergreen because all parts of the plant contain methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound.

Medlars are a peculiar ancient old-world fruit, with not much modern-day interest. The fruits are not edible until “bletted” by a hard frost or by waiting beyond normal ripeness, when they get very close to rotting. The small trees have beautiful spring blossoms, and if you don’t harvest the fruit, they remain on the twigs during the winter, giving added interest then. They can also be eaten frozen during winter walks through the orchard.

Other fruit care in January in the mid-Atlantic

Summer-fruiting raspberries: Weed and mulch. Give compost now or in February.

Drip irrigation works well for raspberries, such as these fall-fruiting Carolines. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Fall raspberries: cut canes to ground and dig up canes from aisles. Weed.

Strawberry beds in their second year. Rowcover at the ready for frosty nights during flowering. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Strawberries: In colder areas, you may have covered them with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.

Propagate blueberries by layering a low branch, as you see here with Chandler variety. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Blueberries: Weed and spread compost around the bushes, out to the dripline.  Give soil amendments in line with soil test results – blueberries thrive on acid soil, so you may need to add sulfur pellets.  After adding all amendments, renew cardboard and sawdust/other mulch if not done in fall. In late January, we prune and propagate by layering, which is the easiest way to successfully propagate blueberries.

Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb: Weed, compost around the plants, or where you think the plants are! Mulch if not already done in the fall

Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter. In milder areas, start planting at the end of January