Grow Tubes: Planting a Vineyard on the Prairie

Grow tubes are a "must" for midwestern vineyard planting: they protect vines from animals, shelter them from drying winds, and shield them from herbicides for easy weed control.

A customer out in the Great Plains sent this photograph last night.  He had just received his grow tubes yesterday morning, and by evening his new vineyard looked like this!

When you think of the Great Plains your think prairies, bison and antelope – not vineyards.  But the northern prairies used to produce good wine (pre-prohibition), and judging by the amount of planting and the dedication of a new generation of vineyard owners they soon will be producing wine again.

For large commercial west coast vineyard managers grow tubes are a huge labor saver, and of course add enormously to the bottom line by getting vineyards into production 1 year sooner.

But for Midwestern vineyard planters, grow tubes are an absolute necessity.  Looking at this photo you can immediately see why.

1. Weed control.  The deep, rich fertile soil that produces bumper crops of corn and soybeans also produces bumper crops of weeds that can quickly overtake a new vineyard.  Midwestern vineyard planters also tend to be hobbyists and “weekend warriors” with limited time to devote to their vineyard.  With grow tubes clearly marking the rows and shielding the vines from herbicides, weed control is fast, easy and effective.

2. Reduced moisture stress.  Prairie = wind and wind = stress and slow growth or even poor survival.  Most Midwestern vineyards aren’t irrigated.  Once the vines are well established they can withstand prolonged dry spells.  When newly planted they can’t.  Grow tubes reduce moisture stress by sheltering newly planted vines from wind.

3. Protection from animals.  Browsing by deer and rabbits is a bigger problem for Midwestern vineyards.  Most are planted before a fence can be installed, as growers are anxious to optimize a short growing spring by planting first and then coming back to install trellis and fencing structures later.  Grow tubes guard new vines from deer and rabbits.

Of course the other benefits of grow tubes also come in handy out here on prairie.  For weekend warriors with limited time to spend in the vineyard, the fact that grow tubes train vines up to the trellis wire – saving dozens of passes through the field to tie vines to stakes as they grow – is a great advantage.

And, of course, who would ever argue with being able to pick grapes – and make wine – one year sooner?


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