Ancient Agwam grapevine can be winter-hardy, spur-pruned

I have an ancient Agwam grapevine. It was a grown plant in the year 1927. My father got it from a local horticulturist. Can I put down a piece of vine underground to start another plant?

We were told it is a wine grape and has a nice perfumey flavor when eaten. It doesn’t produce very full stems of grapes. Perhaps I am not feeding it right. Do grape vines have an age limit?

— Lois

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard about Agwam (or Agawam) grapes. This is a very old variety, developed in the early to mid-1800s by E.S. Rogers, an early pioneer in American grape hybridizing. The vine is quite winter-hardy and is vigorous with large, coarse leaves and can be spur-pruned.

This variety bears large clusters of large-sized, handsome dark red berries. The vine is not as productive as many other older varieties, such as Concord, with loose, somewhat sparse clusters of fruit ripening late in the season.

I think what you’re seeing with the less than full stems is just the nature of the vine, not anything you’re doing wrong. The berries have a thick skin and a rich sweet flesh with a peculiar, agreeable flavor. The grape is used for fresh eating and for making a fruity rosé-type wine.

Propagating your vine by “layering” the plant is easy to do. If you have some long flexible canes yet, you still have time to get started this year. Otherwise, wait until late spring or early next summer to try this with some of the new canes that will grow next year.

Layering is a method of propagating the plant while it is still attached to the mother plant. What you do is untangle some canes and bend them down to the ground, burying a short section of the cane under the soil (sometimes it’s helpful to “staple” it down with a metal fabric pin) before gently bending it back upward. If the cane is long and supple enough, you can make several plunges under the soil so the cane looks like a sea serpent.

You don’t have to, but I’ve found that I get better rooting if I bury a bud under the ground. It’s also a good idea to nick the bark of the cane on one side where you bury it.

The tissue that forms to heal the wound will initiate roots readily. You also can dust the buried portion with a rooting hormone, but that’s usually not necessary.

It will take several months for the cane to start to root. You can check it by gently tugging on the cane or carefully digging away the soil to check it. Once it’s well-rooted, cut the stem off and transplant it to where you want.

I’ve heard of grapevines in Europe living for more than 100 years and still producing. Commercially, they only expect about 25 years from a vine. As long as the plant is well-tended, you should expect several more decades out of this grape.

I want to plant a climbing fragrant vine. Would a star jasmine work?

— Donna

I’m afraid star jasmine won’t work for us here; we’re just too cold over the winter and it will freeze and die off.

The best fragrant vine I can recommend is Hall’s honeysuckle. It has creamy white to yellow trumpet-shaped flowers during the late spring and early summer that are delightfully fragrant. It has medium green leaves that turn purplish-green and remain on the vine most winters (they’ll brown and fall off in especially cold winters).

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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