Training young vines

Proper training of young vines is essential for the establishment of a successful vineyard. The objective of vine training is to achieve a uniform planting of strong, healthy, well-shaped vines. To achieve this, all initial growth is used to develop a strong root system and trunk. Attention must be paid to all vineyard practices to ensure adequate growth and development of young vines.

Vine growth

Vine material is available as cuttings, rootlings or graftlings. Cuttings are normally grown in a nursery for the first year. Raising cuttings in a nursery enables the selection of strong vines for planting in the field as rootlings. Field losses are reduced and uniform growth assisted by selecting rootlings for planting. Vine cuttings planted directly in the field are usually left to grow unchecked in the first season and raised to the training wire in the second season. Under favourable conditions, cutting growth can be trained to the trellis in the first year.

Growth from vine rootlings or graftlings can be trained to the wire in the first year or left to sprawl in the first year and trained to the wire in the second year. In the hot irrigated areas of Victoria, most growers train to the wire as soon as possible.

Timing of training

Whether vines are trained in the first or second year dependson the level of growth, and is therefore influenced by the genetics of the vine, climate, soil type, time of planting, pest and disease pressure and the availability of water and nutrients. In northern irrigated areas, most vine rootlings or graftlings will form a sound trunk in the first year.

In less than optimal conditions, rootlings or graftlings are unlikely to produce sufficient growth in the first year, even if raised under irrigation.

Therefore, in some situations, letting the vines sprawl for the first year and training the vine to the wire in the second year may provide several advantages:

  • The majority of the vines trained in the second year will reach the wire in the one season. This helps to maintain a uniform planting.
  • Increased vigour from second-year growth ensures a stronger, straighter trunk.
  • Less disbudding is required because of the greater vigour of the second year training shoot.

Vine rootlings

In sandy soils, roots on vine rootlings need not be trimmed at planting as this will restrict initial rootling growth. However, in clay-loam soils roots should be trimmed to ensure growth heads directly out of the hole. Long roots tend to circle the hole and keep growing that way.

Two different methods are commonly used for training vine rootlings to the wire:

Figure 1: String attached above second clear bud

Figure 1: String attached above second clear bud

  • A cut is made through the third node from the base of the vine (providing there are two nodes with well formed buds below the third node). The string is attached below the cut node and above the second clear node;


Figure 2: String attached to a second spur.

Figure 2: String attached to a second spur.

  • The string is attached to a second spur, which has been disbudded and left specifically for attaching the training string.


Vine graftlings

Care must be taken when attaching the training string to the scion of grafted vines. If the union has not calloused properly the scion can break away from the stock.
To train graftlings, either of the two tying methods described above for vine rootlings can be used. Do not use these methods if there is a chance that tying the string to the scion will cause the scion to break away from the stock at the graft union.

If the union is weak use the following procedure:

Cut the scion back to two buds and tie the training string to the vine stock. If possible, attach the string below a stock node to prevent it from moving up against the graft union.

Take care when tying the string to the stock. The tie will require checking and adjustment at regular intervals to ensure that the string does not strangle the growing vine.

To avoid the risk of damaging the vine, the string can be attached to a wire loop that anchors the string into the ground rather than around the trunk. Thin stakes of metal or bamboo could also be used. The vine can then be trained on this string between the ground and the training wire. Also, string can be tied from the trickle irrigation wire, usually 200 mm above ground, up to the cordon wire. Vine guards can be used instead of training strings.


Training procedure


Figure 3: Clove hitch

Figure 3: Clove hitch

The training string is attached to the base of the vine with a clove hitch or a simple knot tie (see figures 3 and 4).

Figure 4: Simple knot tie

Figure 4: Simple knot tie

The string is then looped at the training wire to enable easy adjustment of the training string tension during the season (figure 5). Keep the string tight at all times.

Figure 5: Loop tie of string onto training wire.

Figure 5: Loop tie of string onto training wire.

Figure 5: Loop tie of string onto training wire.

The shoot that is encouraged up the training string should be held firmly by the string at all times. This ensures a straight vine trunk in the future. Do not wind the shoot around the string, but keep the same face of the shoot pointing along the vine row. Initially a second shoot can be left as a safety measure in case the main shoot is damaged or broken off (figure 6).

Figure 6: Growth from two shoots tied to the training wire.

Figure 6: Growth from two shoots tied to the training wire.


Disbudding must be done regularly (about every 2 weeks, depending on vine vigour) on young vines. This involves the removal of any bud growth emerging from leaf axils below the point where arms are to be formed from laterals. This can be done by hand or using a sharp knife (figure 7). If using a sharp knife, do not cut deeply into the stem as this leaves scars that disturb the vascular tissue running up the shoot.

Figure 7: Disbudding the young vine

Figure 7: Disbudding the young vine

It is important to remove this unwanted growth as it reduces the growth of the main shoot. However, the main leaves can left as they contribute to shoot growth. Do not disbud too high up on the shoot until the crown area is established.

Vine guards

A variety of vine guards are widely used to protect young vines from environmental (wind and hail), pest and herbicide damage. Vine guards have also been found to create an improved microclimate around the vines by allowing greater moisture and carbon dioxide retention. These conditions may result in increased root and stem growth. Therefore, vine guards may enable the vine to reach the wire sooner and without the need for training strings, providing a substantial reduction in training costs. Unfortunately, many guards prevent growers being able to access their vines during the growing season. There are vine guards available that allow access to the growing shoot and can be removed easily and re-used.

Access may be required for the removal of unwanted laterals and multiple shoots. However, correct pruning before planting reduces the need for these activities. Growers may also want to spray vines for pest and disease control. The moist, sheltered conditions inside the guard favour the development of fungal diseases, although the fungi are often killed by the higher temperatures. In hot weather the vines can become water stressed and shoot burn may occur. However, if the vines are planted in good soil conditions they should have an adequate root system and access to water, and should not suffer shoot burn in most situations.

The use of full-length guards in hot areas is not recommended. Guards of about 300 mm to 500 mm in length will give reasonable access to the vine and allow safe application of systemic herbicides. However, each vine will need a training string.

Trunk topping or heading

The training shoot should be allowed to grow above the height of the fruiting wire. In some cases, for example where the vines are planted close together, the growing shoot may be bent over onto the fruiting wire and trained along the wire. This enables quicker establishment of the cordon and reduces the time involved in training.

Figure 8a. Vine encouraged to grow beyond the fruiting wire

Figure 8a. Vine encouraged to grow beyond the fruiting wire

Figure 8b: Vine trunk headed or cut to form a strong vine crown

Figure 8b: Vine trunk “headed” or cut to form a strong vine crown

With wider spaced vines, the single training trunk is not usually wrapped down on the fruiting wire as a cane or future spur arm. It should be “headed” or cut early in the season, once the vertical shoot is thick enough. A minimum shoot width of about 8 mm is required. The cut should be made about 150 mm below the fruiting wire or just above the required vine crown height.

Cutting the trunk at the required height will encourage vigorous lateral cane growth from terminal shoots, prevent trunk splitting, and provide a strong vine crown. If the trunk is not sufficiently developed to enable “heading” at vine crown height by late January, it should be left intact until the winter pruning period. In southern districts vines cut after January do not have sufficient lateral growth to develop a cordon before leaf fall. In effect, trunk growth is reduced, and this is not offset by full lateral cane development.


Winter pruning

Pruning untrained vines

Vines left to sprawl in their first year should be cut back to a two-bud spur (see “vine rootlings”).

Trunk topping

Trunk shoots that were left to grow beyond the fruiting wires during the previous season should be headed or cut back to produce a vine crown (about 150 mm below the fruiting wire). Vines that have not reached the training wire should be cut back to where the stem diameter is greater than 8 mm.

Trunk pruning

The first winter pruning will, because of variations in vine vigour, present the grower with a range of trunk pruning needs for individual vines. Methods to suit three different cases are described below:

  • Where the trunk is weak and/or has not reached crown height or the training wire, pruning it back to two buds encourages vigorous growth in the following season.
    However, for vines in higher rainfall areas this method is considered wasteful because there is no guarantee that the trunk will reach crown height, or the wire, in the following year.
    Therefore, an alternative for these vines is to tie the training string back to a base tie and retrain the trunk to that string. The base tie secures the vine and prevents the new shoot from breaking when buffeted by winds. In areas where wind is not a concern, the trunk can be tied from the top node (cut through the middle) to the training wire.
  • For young vines that have formed a strong trunk but not produced lateral canes, the tying string is normally attached from the vine crown direct to the training wire. This is sufficient to hold the trunk upright and allow lateral cane growth to the fruiting wire.
  • Where the vine has formed a weak trunk (diameter less than 5 mm) that has reached vine crown height, it may be necessary to give extra support to the trunk during the first months of the new season.Buffeting by strong winds can cause breakage or severe trunk bending of weak vines tied direct from the crown.To obtain extra support, the training string is retied at the base of the vine trunk. The string is then wrapped to the vine, wound around the trunk above crown height, and attached to the training wire.The string should be looped below the top node. This node is then disbudded or cut through the middle (fig. 2) to avoid strangulation of the lateral growth which would other wise develop from this top bud.The looping of the string around the trunk will prevent the trunk from sagging as the weight from lateral cane growth increases.

Pruning for canes or spurs

The trellis framework and vine characteristics will determine the permanent structure of the vine. The vines will carry spurs or canes that grow from either the vine crown in head-trained vines or from a permanent cordon.


On head-trained vines the canes and spurs may grow directly from the crown or from side-arms of the main trunk. Canes or shoots grown from the crown or these side-arms are wrapped onto the fruiting wire or spurred as required. The crown spurs are left to encourage replacement canes. The number of buds per cane and the number of canes per vine should match the vigour of the vine.

Cordon trained

Permanent cordon arms are generally formed from the upper 2 nodes of the headed trunk. Only strong shoots should be selected to form arms, with all others removed except for a few back-up spurs in case the cordon is damaged. The chosen canes are twisted along the cordon wire as they grow. These canes must have adequate numbers of shoots about 150 -200 mm apart to provide side-arms. The shoots must point in the direction appropriate for the trellis system. For example, downward pointing shoots are selected for Geneva Double Curtain (GDC) training. The cordon arms can initially be short to encourage bud-burst and then be extended with new season terminal shoot growth. In the year canes are grown out along the training wire, laterals can also develop. These should be cut back to the primary bud at the base of the lateral.

Vine care

It is important to remember that regardless of how or when vines are trained, they can die from stress caused by factors such as over cropping, waterlogging, root rot and drought at an early age.

Further reading

  • Coombe, B.G. and Dry, P.R. (1992) Viticulture, Volume 2 – Practices. Winetitles.
  • Davidson D. (1992) A Guide to Growing Winegrapes in Australia. 2nd Edition, Winetitles.

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The VVBC does not guarantee that the information is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.