Companion Plants for Grapes

Example of trellis-free, “head-trained” grapevines at Amador Winery in California. Going to try something like this for a few of our Muscadines.
Example of trellis-free, “head-trained” grapevines at Amador Winery in California. Going to try something like this for a few of our Muscadines.

Plenty to Do Today, But I Got Sucked Down a Grape Rabbit Hole!

I was poking around the forums at Permies again this morning since it’s the only place I’ve ever come across the idea of pollarding grapes. During Monday’s plant-a-thon I decided I had to get down the last of the muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) —it’s patiently waited to be planted for 5 weeks!!—and surprise, surprise, the one plant left was actually two! Happily, they’re Darlene’s (tastiest of the bronze muscadines according to Ison’s) and happier still, I remembered the pollarding option because space is at a premium.

Pollarding is when you keep cutting a tree to a certain height. From wikipedia:

Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practised today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height.

Historically, it was done to produce straight poles for fence posts and rails or for livestock fodder. It can be ugly—you probably see it all around town—but it actually extends the life of the tree by quite a bit, just like coppicing.

I’m mostly interested in doing this with these grapes because they are going to have less space than typical, and room to ramble is not something I have right now.

Close up of Tansy flower head from Wikipedia. The color and texture reminds me of Goldenrod, also a member of the Aster family.
Close up of Tansy flower head from Wikipedia. The color and texture reminds me of Goldenrod, also a member of the Aster family.

THE GRAPE’S BUNCH

Anyhow, I found that forum again (here they called it coppicing, a related term), and also this one with a short, nice list of companion plants for a grape guild. What’s more, the list is attributed to Angelo from Deep Green Permaculture, the main influence for the intensive orchard design going on here! The list:

Basil – Herbaceous layer – pest repellent 
Tansy – Herbaceous layer – pest repellent 
Geraniums – Herbaceous layer – pest repellent 
Hyssop – Herbaceous layer – helps plant growth 
Chives – Root zone – inhibits fungal diseases 
Mulberries – Canopy layer – beneficial companion plant 

Some familiar faces like Basil, Hyssop, and Chives, all of which are delicious, fragrant herbs that aren’t picky about soil; they may even respond well to the mish-mash of soil and gravel that makes up the driveway border where most of our grapes are planted. The two Darlene muscadines that will be pollarded are in the orchard proper and those same herbs are welcome there, too.

There’s no place for Mulberries near any of the grapes right now, but maybe some geraniums can be worked in. I’d never heard of Tansy before but some research proved interesting.

Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictis), Virginia's worst mosquito!
Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictis), Virginia’s worst mosquito!

TANSY, OR NOT TANSY?

According to Wikipedia, Tansy is a Eurasian perennial long-associated with preserving things like meats and people. It’s strong fragrance was used for embalming and often buried with the dead in wreaths. As with many plants, there are medicinal/toxic scenarios associated with other uses, but that strong fragrance can be used as an insect repellant. Mosquitos have been a tremendous problem in the yard and garden of late, making it absolutely miserable to venture out into the yard for even a minute or two.

The bad news here though is that some species of mosquitos (Culex pipiens) are actually attracted to the nectar of Tansy flowers! A little more research though makes me think “maybe not so much” for the worst mosquito pest in Virginia, The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictis). Effectiveness as a mosquito repellent is one of the reasons we planted wax myrtles (Myrica cerifera) around our entire backyard border this winter.

If you’re interested, you can get herbs galore along with Tansy at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company’s site, Rareseeds.com. And I found some Goldenrod at American Meadows. For Muscadines, there’s really only one source: Ison’s Nursery in Georgia, oldest grower of Muscadines in North America!

Gardening is Good!
~Ben

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