Pruning ‘Einset’ Grapes–Use Color Coding!

We had another little string of 3 delightful sunny days, including the weekend, and so I thought that would be the perfect time to go out and prune the grape that is growing on the pergola.

My grape variety is ‘Einset,’ a red seedless table grape that works well growing up and over the roof of our pergola.  I wrote an extensive post last year, with pictures, about this grape, if you are curious about it.  I highly suggest you look at this first , or at least the pictures of the grape vine, before you continue with this post.  I can tell  you from personal experience that it is delicious, and we enjoyed fresh grapes from the garden for about 2 1/2 weeks last September from this vine.  It also has gorgeous fall color as well.

This grape variety fruits best on longer canes rather than shorter canes.  There are two basic types of pruning for grapevines, spur pruning and cane pruning.  Spur pruning creates several short canes, and cane pruning creates fewer but longer canes.  I use cane pruning on my ‘Einset’ grape, because it fruits better using this method.  Some grapes fruit better on shorter canes, and some produce more fruit on longer canes, it just depends upon the grape variety.  You can look online, if you know the variety of your grape, to find out which pruning method it prefers for growing the maximum grape harvest.

This is the method I use for pruning my mature grape vine, to rejuvenate it each season so it produces a good amount of fruit.


A few basics may be in order.  My tools for this project:


My tools: hand pruners at bottom, twine at the left, bright green surveyor's plastic tape in the center, eye goggles at top, and the lopers at right.


Please be safe whenever you are pruning anything–wear eye protection.  


In order to get up high enough, I stood on a patio chair to reach the vine.


Here is what the grape vine looked like before pruning:


The 'Einset' grape vine prior to pruning--yikes, what a mess!


It was a jungle of canes!  After I studied it for a while, I thought that what might be helpful is to color-code the various types of wood, so that I could prune it accurately and not make a mistake and cut something I actually wanted to save.

Before we go any farther, we need to talk the same language, so you will need to know the basic parts of a grape vine.



The trunk is the big main part of the vine that grows from the ground.  Attached to the trunk are four cordons–these are old wood on a mature vine.  From the cordon wood grows canes, which is new wood.  Canes can be cut into canes with 15 buds per cane, which will be the productive canes that bear fruit for you this season, and canes can also be cut into spurs, which are short canes that are pruned off with only two buds.  These will grow out long over the season, and become the long canes for next year’s fruit production.  Buds are the little green lumps that grow from the canes, and this is where the leaves, flowers and fruit are produced.  Cordon wood does not have any buds growing out of it.  Canes have buds growing from it.

It would also be good to know a little bit about grape vine wood at this point:

Old grape wood--these are the trunks of the vine.


The old wood has peeling bark that is in long strips.  This picture is actually of the two trunks of this particular vine, and it is the oldest wood on the entire vine.  Here’s another example:


Grape wood--old wood on the left, new wood on the right.


This picture shows old wood on the left.  See all the long, stringy bark?  Up at the top of this piece of old wood is a couple of little pieces of new wood.  And the new wood on the right is thinner, the bark is smoother, and it has little green buds starting to grow out of it.  Both of these types of wood are green in the center, and living.  Notice that there are no buds on the old wood, and buds are on the new wood.

Canes are made up of new wood.  


Cordons are made up of old wood.  


The trunk of the grapevine is always old wood.



Here is some old grape wood with some new grape wood = canes growing out of it.


This picture shows the trunks, and some cordon wood growing out of the top of the trunk and canes growing out of the cordons.


So, as I said earlier, I decided to color code this gigantic vine, because I am very visually oriented, as well as color oriented, and that’s how I roll.  (I am one of those people who always color-coded parts of speech in sentences, especially if it was a foreign language–just easier to see how it all goes together.)

I used green plastic surveyor’s tape and tied all the cordon wood with that, because that is what I happened to have handy.  I tied green tape from the start of the cordon, where it grows out from the trunk, all the way to the end of each cordon wood piece, so I could follow it and see where it went.


Cordons with green ribbons.


I soon discovered that I had kept some extra cordon wood over from last year, so I had a couple of extra cordons that I really didn’t need.  Confession:  I am a pruning wuss!  I always think I’m going to kill the plant if I cut off too much, so last year, my first year pruning this behemouth, I decided to play it safe and leave some extra wood–just in case.

Be sure to look at the link to the article with pictures of this grape vine last July–it was gargantuan, and filled the entire pergola roof with a dense canopy.  In retrospect, maybe a little too much canopy.

What I am saying is this–don’t be afraid to cut a grape back!  You can’t hardly kill them–in fact, to rejuvenate an older, unpruned grapevine, you can simply take a chain saw and cut it all the way back to the ground.  It will come back from the roots, and you can then start fresh to train it and prune it properly.  I also know when I didn’t prune it, it didn’t produce any fruit at all, and when I pruned it, it produced quite a bit.  Having said that, you can screw up the fruit production if you go nuts and cut off all of last year’s canes, leaving only cordon wood.  Grapes grow from the buds formed on the previous summer’s canes.  We are selectively pruning out some of the canes, and keeping the few that are best for this year’s production.

I bit the bullet, and pruned out the extra cordon wood (yay, me!)  Now each trunk has two cordons, as it should be.  (See note about the trunks and the cordons at the end of this post.)


Then I had to figure out what, out of all that mess of canes, I was going to keep and what I was going to prune.


Each cordon needs to have 2 canes and 2 spurs.  


Both canes and spurs are always created from new wood.


The spurs will have 2 buds on them, and they are just longer canes that get cut off to this short length.


This year’s spurs will be the canes that fruited from last year.  How do you know what fruited last year?  It looks like this:


The remains of the day--spots on the cane where grapes grew last year.

Those sticks with the little bits sticking out of them on the left and in the center?  Those are grape stems, and the little tiny stems where individual grapes grew out.  What these are are grapes that the birds got to first, otherwise the cluster would have been picked (and eaten) by me.  Sometimes the birds do help, and they did in this instance.

(Notice dark and ominous sky–the weather was changing every 5 minutes, from sunny to dark, trying to thunderstorm.)

I realized I needed more ribbon for this project, because one color was just not enough (for me).


Colored ribbon for grape pruning!



  • cordon wood is green ribbon,
  • and I made spurs yellow,
  • and canes pink.


At this point, I was looking for canes that had fruited last year that I could make into this year’s spurs.

  • Another thing with spurs is that you want them as close to the top of the trunk as possible, where the cordons start to grow out from the trunk.  Just do the best you can.  Sometimes one will be perfectly situated, other times you’ll have to go farther up the cordon to find an appropriate cane to cut into a spur.
  • As long as each cordon has 2 spurs and 2 canes, you’ll be fine.  
  • The 2 canes bear fruit this season, and the 2 spurs create replacement canes for next season.


Next, I had to select my canes for this year.  This is new wood, and they are selected from last year’s spurs that grew out long over the previous season.  In other words, this year’s new canes that you are creating should not have produced fruit last season.  

Each cane should have 15 buds on it, and from these buds you can expect about 2 clusters of grapes, plus leaves.  You don’t want to go much fewer than 15 buds, or you won’t get much fruit production.


At this point, you have green ribbon on the cordons, and yellow ribbon on the spurs.  Now look at everything left that has not been color coded.

  • You know if you see a piece of cane that fruited last year, that is no good for this year’s cane, so you can prune it out, all the way back to where the cane attaches to the cordon.
  • Of course, prune out any canes that are all brown through to the center, because they are dead.  Any cane with fewer than 15 buds is also not a good candidate for this year’s cane, so prune it out.
  • Hopefully, you will find several canes that could work for this year’s canes.
  • You will want to leave at least one foot between canes along the cordon–more than a foot is fine, but don’t put them closer than 12 inches apart.
  •  I always try to pick the largest canes, because they are vigorous, and
  • ones that are growing in a direction that will makes it easy to tie it in to the roof rafters so they are spread out as evenly as possible over the entire pergola roof.

Remember, you just need 2 canes per cordon.  Pick your best candidates, and tie a pink ribbon onto them.  Cut them back, if needed, to 15 buds.


Cordons are green ribbon, and canes are pink ribbon.



Anything remaining that does not have a green, yellow or pink ribbon needs to go, so cut it back.  I cut the cane off to the point where it started growing out from the cordon.  If you are like me, you will think that you are going to kill your grape.  Trust me, you are not.

My pile of grape vine prunings--quite a lot!


So, to recap, each grape vine should have one trunk, and from each trunk should be 4 cordons, and each cordon should have 2 canes and 2 spurs.  The whole grapevine will end up with 8 canes and 8 spurs, total.  Now, you will see that I am a little cheater again when it comes to this grape.  Last year was the first big pruning.  I left 2 trunks.  I just couldn’t bear to cut it back to one.  I grew it from a stick, come on!  Purists will slam me for this, but guess what?


Who died and made them the garden police, huh?


Not me, that’s for sure.  (Seriously, are they going to revoke my Master Gardener status, or what?  I say not.)

I compensated by having only 2 cordons per trunk, however, so as not to overtax the vine as a whole.  It all works out the same,  if you ask me, only 8 canes and 8 spurs total for the plant, and it produced great last year.

Here’s another tip:  for where we are in the Pacific Northwest, it would have been good to prune this grape back at the end of February or beginning of March.  Life, however, got in the way, so I did my pruning now, in April.  It won’t hurt grape production in the slightest, pruning it in April.  As long as you get to it before the buds turn into flowers and leaves, you are okay.  It is, however, a much messier task at this time of year.  The grape vine produces a clear sap, and when you make cuts to it now, it will cause the sap to run and drip everywhere.  That won’t happen if you prune it earlier.


Finished product–a pruned ‘Einset’ grapevine!


Pruned 'Einset' grape vine--what a difference!


Go back and look at the before picture–wow!

After I finished pruning, I made sure the cordons were spread out evenly across the roof of the pergola, and I tied in the canes so, as much as possible, they also were spread out evenly across the roof.  I used garden twine to tie the cane to the roof.  I left the green ribbon on the cordon wood, and hopefully it will survive until next year, when it’s time to prune again, so the cordon wood will be all identified already, and I can get right to pruning the canes and spurs.


The basic gist is that each year the vine is mature and producing fruit, you are rejuvenating it by cutting back the canes that fruited the year before, and allowing the previous year’s canes that didn’t fruit to be your fruiting canes this year.  The short spurs produce the next year’s canes, and the long canes produce this year’s fruit.

Now a word from our sponsor:


Munch the cat says, "Go out and get gardening!"


So that’s all this time.  Did you have fun out in your garden last week?  Are you getting things pruned and planted?  I want to hear all about it, so leave me a note in the comments!



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About AthenaMG

Athena McElrath is a Master Gardener with a love for gardening, decorating and cooking inexpensively. She enjoys working out in her urban garden in Southwest Washington State, watching the hummingbirds and other birds and insects, eating the wonderful vegetables, fruits and herbs that she produces from her garden, and just having a great time hanging out under the pergola with her family and friends (that is, whenever it stops raining long enough).
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8 Responses to Pruning ‘Einset’ Grapes–Use Color Coding!

  1. Melynda Wilbur says:

    Hello back to you, it is wonderful to know you live in Camas. My children and I lived there for many years, with my daughter graduating from Camas High School. I will have to search your information about rhubarb, because Lord knows I love it and yet have not mastered how to let it grow. Thanks for visiting.

    • AthenaMG says:

      I haven’t grown rhubarb here, but I can tell you it gets huge. My mom grows it in eastern Washington, along one side of a barn, and it just fills up the space!

  2. Beth says:

    I think I have the same expression on my face as Munch does – awe! Wow that was some project you under took – and the finished vine looks tamed and happy.

    • AthenaMG says:

      Thanks, and Munch says thanks as well! I’ll post some pictures later in the season so we can see how the vine changes through time.

  3. Lexa says:

    Athena – Wow! Let me say it again – WOW! You are one brave gal. I am such a pruning wuss. Your before and after pictures are amazing. It looks like you have killed the grape but I know come August that patio is just going to be covered in shade. Great job and great tutorial.

    • AthenaMG says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Lexa! I am glad to know that I am not the only one who gets a little timid when it comes to pruning. It’s just that I’ve seen so many shrubs pruned so badly, most often by well-intentioned people. I like shrubs that look natural and not shorn into geometric shapes, for example. But that’s just me. And you are right–it will be shady under the pergola this summer!

  4. zentMRS says:

    Pruning – though I know a necessity – is always so hard for me. I can prune our hedges and oleander with no problem, but anything else? Can’t bring myself to do it. Sigh.

    Your grapes look fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

    • AthenaMG says:

      Thank you for the nice comment, and stopping by the blog! I do gain comfort in knowing I’m not the only one who has issues with pruning. Maybe I need to study up on pruning different kinds of plants and do some posts on it! Might help me overcome my fear. And it’s not fear so much as making the plant inalterably ugly after a bad pruning job.