Vineyard Establishment 2: Planting and Early Care of Vineyards (E2645)
November 11, 2015
I. Preplanting Activities
Preparing the Soil for Planting
Most vineyards are planted after the soil has been tilled completely to provide a loose, workable planting bed for the vines. Plowing, disking, dragging, floating, etc., to prepare a field for planting requires more skill than one might imagine. Laying out the plow patterns to avoid dead furrows in the middle of the field, adjusting the plow so it rolls over the soil properly, cross-disking and dragging to ensure level soils, etc., require planning and skill. Seek counsel from local field crop experts on tillage operations when necessary. Heavy sods, excessively wet soils, excessive growth of cover crops before plowing, etc., can complicate the process. The soil should be not only level but also loose and workable to a depth of 8 to 9 inches so a planter can be readily pulled through the soil to open a furrow for setting the vines. This furrow is typically 12 to 15 inches deep, but some planters can open a trench as much as 24 inches deep. Most soils require only typical surface tillage operations to prepare them for vine planting. Some soils, however, have compacted layers of subsoil, which form either naturally, in the case of a pan soil such as a hardpan or fragipan soil, or through physical compaction by equipment. Because these layers can restrict vine root development, breaking up these layers, either by subsoiling or (less often) through deep plowing, can significantly improve vine size development.
Moldboard plowing works well on fields that have been managed uniformly without woody vegetation, such as those with a field crops history. Many growers prefer chisel plowing on old orchard or vineyard sites. Heavy sods may be killed with a herbicide treatment the previous fall and then rough-plowed so freeze/thaw cycles help break up large clods.
If the field to be planted has considerable slope and the soils are light enough to be erodible, then complete tillage of the vineyard site may be hazardous. In recent years, a number of vineyards with these characteristics have been planted by first rotovating strips of soil into which vines are then planted. Rotovation should be performed as deeply as possible. Placing small marker stakes at the ends of vine rows and at intermediate places in the field will provide a guide for the tractor.
Marking the Field
Marking a field for planting a vineyard is perhaps like brushing teeth — no two people do it exactly the same. Though numerous variations on this step in vineyard establishment are possible, the following guidelines will help focus one's creativity for this task.
The most common situation is a field that has been completely tilled and sufficiently leveled so that 3- to 4-inch deep grooves in the soil will be readily visible. A grid pattern of grooves is made in the soil (Fig. 1) and then vines are planted at the intersections on this grid. The marking tools used to make this grid are often fabricated on the farm (Fig. 2) and vary considerably from farm to farm. A common method will be described first and then comment will be made on variations.
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