Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Pruning the vines

To prune or not to prune …?

Having missed the autumn/early winter vine pruning window, which generally seems to be considered the best time for the job, I’ve been scouring Google, watching locals on their land, asking every fellow grower and permaculturist I’ve come across, and come to the resounding conclusion that, like just about everything else in Portugal, there are as many different opinions as there are possibilities and it’s ultimately down to you to make up your own mind and follow your own instincts for your own land.

As far as I can gather, the risks of pruning after Christmas are that the vines are beginning to come out of dormancy and will bleed sap when cut which, especially if frost is still a risk, can cause problems, particularly with pests and disease getting into the wounds. In such circumstances it seems preferable to leave them until later in the spring when they’re more vigorous and can resist infection more easily.

Being new to this and with the unusually cold winter in Portugal this year, I’ve been a bit wary of doing anything at this stage, but the combination of our north-facing site (longer dormancy period) and the thought of all we have to do when we come back in March, prodded me into the decision to try pruning some of the vines. Some had grown so vigorously, unattended over the last 2 seasons, that they were threatening to engulf nearby fruit trees and were I to leave these until March then both vines and trees would likely suffer more than they would just now before leaf buds and new growth become vulnerable.

By now though, there’s only a couple of days left before we have to return to Scotland, so we’ve only been able to prune a small number of vines and the vast majority still remain to be done. I’ve looked at a few websites for techniques, and a few vines in the locality to get an idea of what’s done here, but without being able to see much rhyme or reason to the shape of the vines after 2 years of unchecked growth, it still seemed largely a case of making it up as I go along.

I removed all last year’s dead and unpicked fruit, cut back each spur to the 1-2 strongest canes, leaving 3 buds on each, and also leaving the odd lateral shoot if it seemed particularly strong and vigorous. I’m sure I’ve still left too much, but we can make adjustments in March, the vines can be thinned as they grow, and we’ll be learning every step of the way. What was more than wonderful was the enjoyment of at last starting some meaningful work on the land, even if it meant doing so in the pouring rain.

There’s some useful videos on YouTube demonstrating techniques, mostly from Napa Valley.

Here’s one of the pruned vines next to the pile of canes and brambles that we’ve taken off of them. Checking them again before leaving, we found no bleeding sap, so they seem still sufficiently dormant to come to no harm if the weather turns cold again. Touch wood …

Pruning vines

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  1. daryl February 14, 2010

    Hi – interesting post for us as we are about to buy a place with about 200 vines that have been left unattended for a year or two.

    Do you think we’ve missed the window for pruning them this year? We’ve got a south facing site not too far from you I think. It would be great to get any advice you can give.


  2. Quinta do Vale February 14, 2010

    Daryl, this was Spring 2009, not 2010! See here for this year’s pruning. What’s your weather been like recently? We’ve been having frosts here and the vines are still well dormant. You might get away with it, but podar no minguante (prune on the waning moon).

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