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A Vine Called Lazarus?

AlanGardenMaster
Published on May 1st 2022

by AlanGardenMaster. All rights reserved

A hand holding a bunch of grapes
A very productive grape vine was planted in the wrong place so I took the risk of moving it. Read on and see how it turned out but also why it succeeded!
Transplanting any well established plant has risks and none more so than with an old established grape vine. I inherited an old vine, later identified as the wonderful Black Hamburg variety, in my new garden. It was well established and dominating a corner of a small polytunnel.
At the end of our first summer here and after careful pruning and training we ended up with more dessert grapes than we could eat! Obviously this was a good 'doer' and a plant that we would want to save.
However the polytunnel was in a sorry shape and needed a new polythene skin cover. A few inquiries and price checks had us pondering whether it really was worth spending any money on. Coupled with the fact that it was situated in a low lying and damp spot we decided to cut our losses and buy a replacement and much higher spec Keder Greenhouse.
But what of the established grape vine? It was too good to scrap and it would take time to grow a replacement. But it couldn't stay where it was and the clock was ticking.
A grape vine in a polytunnel
The old Black Hamburg grape vine

The Insurance Policy

Moving an old established vine might work but more likely too many roots would be left behind. The result would inevitably be a dead vine. To minimise the risk of losing everything I decided to take hardwood cuttings when the vine was dormant.
A close up of a flower

How to Take Hardwood Cuttings

Vines root easily from hardwood cuttings and so filling a pot with a 50:50 mix of potting compost and coarse sand I embarked on rooting cuttings soon after leaf fall. I selected only healthy shoots that had grown that summer and cut just above a healthy looking bud and then again 5 cms below the same bud. As a result each cutting had just one dormant bud.
A pot and rooted cuttings
A well rooted pot full of vine cuttings
I had some hormone rooting powder in the refrigerator (best place to keep it) and dipped the ends of each cutting into it so that the cut ends were coated in powder. Tapping off excess I then inserted the cuttings into a clay pot filled with the cutting compost. Pushing each cutting in so that only the bud and very top of each cutting was showing ensured each cutting didn't dry out. After watering the pot full of cuttings was placed in my unheated greenhouse for the winter.
Rooted cuttings of grape vine
Well rooted vine cuttings
And so this was my insurance policy in place for, if the vine resented being uprooted and moved, I had cuttings to fall back on!

Transplanting

Having taken the cuttings I pruned the rest of the vine to leave only the major framework of wood. I knew that I was going to be leaving lots of roots in the ground and so wanted to restore some sort of root to shoot balance to increase my chance of success. This is always a good policy when transplanting any plant.
Digging in the middle of winter - when the vine was completely dormant - I again was increasing the likelihood of success.
Of course I had already prepared the new planting position by ensuring that the drainage was good since vines hate wet soils. I didn't add any organic matter to the soil as vines don't really respond to this but I did add a few handfuls of fish, blood and bone meal.
A grape vine being planted in a garden
The old vine planted on a south facing wall
With no delay, and exposed roots protected from drying winds and sun by being covered in damp sacking, I quickly replanted the vine in its new spot. I took great care to position the vine at the same depth that it was growing at before.
I chose to replant the old vine on a sunny south facing wall outside.

Waiting with baited breath

After an exceptionally wet late winter followed by an equally dry spring it wasn't looking good for the old vine.
However in the greenhouse the cuttings were bursting forth new shoots. Resisting the temptation to knock them out of the pot and risking breaking newly formed roots, I waited until I could see new roots emerging from the bottom of the pot. I then knew that all was well and if the old vine failed I could replace it with a rooted cutting or two.
April came and went followed by May and perfect growing conditions for a grape vine. But still no sign of a leaf or even a bud bursting! I thought that my old vine was dead. Resisting the temptation to rip it out and plant one of my rooted cuttings in its place I looked at it almost daily to see if there were any signs of life.
Then just as mid-summer was on the horizon there were signs of life, buds were swelling and lo there were signs of green leaves appearing! Then all in a rush the buds burst and Lazarus had risen again! My old vine had survived the move.
As I write now there are even a few flower buds appearing but we will be lucky to ripen fruit this year, we're just happy to have our old Black Hamburg with us again!
A grape vine on a wall
New growth finally appearing on the old vine

Key Points for Successful Transplanting

Timing is important; deciduous plants are best moved when dormant and evergreens in early autumn and early spring.
Have a back-up plan and root cuttings or gather seeds in advance.
Don't be afraid to cut the plant top back quite hard; it will improve the chance of success in all but a few plants that resent any sort of pruning.
If you can do it in advance; root pruning before actually moving a plant encourages it to produce new fibrous roots close to the trunk or stem base. It's those fibrous roots that are so important to establishment.
If your plant is evergreen help it get established by shading and sheltering it from drying winds and bright sunshine until new roots have formed.
And finally do make certain that your newly transplanted plant is never short of water until fully established.
Bunches of black grapes on a vine
It may be a while before our vine crops again like this

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