It’s Time for Muscadines!
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Want to grow grapes in the south? If so, you have two choices – plant muscadinesor plant another type of grape and watch the vines die. While table, wine, and concord type grapes rarely live for more than a few years in our area, muscadines thrive. This tough native grape can be found growing along woodland edges throughout the south and is easily cultivated in home gardens. Bronze, red and black muscadine varieties are available. All are delicious to eat fresh, with an intense fruity taste, and make wonderful jams, jellies, pies, juices, and wines.
Known scientifically as Vitis rotundifolia, muscadine grapes are native to states south of the Mason-Dixon Line and as far west as Texas. The first muscadine ever selected and named was a bronze variety called ‘Scuppernong’, which has given rise to the common name of scuppernong for all bronze muscadine varieties. This selection was made in 1760, in Tyrell County, NC, though Native Americans had been cultivating native grapes long before then, including a 400 year old vine still surviving near Manteo. Simply known as the ‘Mother Vine’, it is the oldest known cultivated grapevine in our nation. Learn more about this amazing vine from the NC History Project website: http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/122/entry/
Muscadines are vigorous growers. Their vines are easiest to grow on a sturdy clothes line style trellis, which should be constructed before the vines are planted. While muscadine grapes ripen from late summer through fall, the vines are best planted in spring. New vines should be spaced at least 10’ apart and take three to four years to start bearing grapes. Established vines are pruned heavily each winter, in November or December, providing plenty of material for making grape vine wreaths.
Muscadines can be grown in a wide variety of soils except poorly drained, and are even productive on sandy soils. They produce the highest yields in full sun, but will also do well in partly shaded sites. In addition, muscadines have few pest problems and are easily grown organically. Several varieties of muscadine grapes are available. Be sure to check pollination requirements before planting since some muscadine grapes are female vines and require a pollinator. ‘Nesbitt’, ‘Triumph’, ‘Summit’, and ‘Supreme’, are all recommended varieties for fresh eating, whereas ‘Carlos’ and ‘Noble’ are the varieties most commonly grown for wine or juice production.
How to Eat a Muscadine
If you are a muscadine novice, you may be perplexed the first time you approach one. Muscadines have thick skins and contain seeds. To eat a muscadine, place the grape with the stem scar facing upward in your mouth and squeeze or bite the grape. The pulp and juice will burst through the thick skin into your mouth. The skin and seeds can then be discarded, or simply swallowed for optimum health benefits. Muscadines and muscadine products are a good source of valuable antioxidants and dietary fiber.
Muscadines produce large, thick skinned grapes that grow in loose clusters. Unlike bunch grapes, which are harvested by clipping whole bunches from the vine, muscadines are usually harvested as individual berries. When picking muscadines, choose grapes that are uniform in shape and color. Ripe muscadines have a sweet fragrance and fall easily from the stem. Like most fruits, muscadines do not ripen further after harvesting and will achieve optimum flavor and sugar content when allowed to fully ripen on the vine.
After purchasing or picking, muscadines can be stored in a shallow container in the refrigerator. Fresh muscadines can be kept for up to a week depending on their original condition but ideally should be eaten within a few days. Inspect stored grapes regularly and remove any that are becoming soft or showing signs of decay.
You can find muscadine grapes for sale at farmer’s markets, farm stands, and pick your own vineyards throughout our area from August through October. To find local muscadine growers visit the NC Farm Fresh website, http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/.
Learn more about growing muscadine grapes online:
- Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden (from NC Extension): https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8203.html
- Have a muscadine vine you would like to propagate? This NC Extension guide will show you how: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/muscadines/muscadine/propagating_muscadines.pdf
If you have questions about growing muscadines, or other fruits, contact your local Extension office.
- If you live in Pender County, call 259-1235.
- In New Hanover County, call 798-7660.
- In Brunswick County call 253-2610
- Or visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/ to find your county office