Retrofitting the Muscadine Trellis

Muscadines grow wild here at Longleaf Breeze, so we have high hopes for cultivating them on Veg Hill. I did a poor job of designing their trellis, however; not enough strength.

We planted two Dixie and two Cowart muscadines in early April, after letting them sit around in pots for 2-3 weeks. It was high time to get them into the ground, so we did what we had to do. It was more than a month later that we finished the trellis for them. The trellis standards – set 20 feet apart – are nice and stout, each consisting of two 2 x 4 x 4s glued and bolted together as a lateral, bolted to a treated pine 6 x 6 x 8 sunk in concrete or hard clay. I opted for a double curtain trellis to spread the branches out and allow each muscadine more access to the sunshine. It has two parallel trellis strands positioned 4 feet apart.

At the time I decided we didn’t have room for a dead man at either end of the trellis because we had to put the posts so close to the deer fence, so I used metal hooks screwed into the 2 x 4 laterals. The line was 1/8″ aircraft cable originating at the north end with a turnbuckle, running through holes drilled in the laterals, pivoting on pulleys at the south end, and terminating back at the north end with another turnbuckle. I figured that was strong enough to hold the weight of the muscadines.

Then a couple of weeks ago Amanda and I stopped in at Petals from the Past, and for the first time I studied their mature muscadines. It was a revelation, and not a pleasant one: I had underestimated the weight of a healthy muscadine with ripe fruit. Multiply that times seven (the number of bushes we plan to have), and my little hooks seemed woefully inadequate.

First the dead men. Thursday afternoon I dug two holes about 15″ deep at either end of the trellis and planted a 4″ solid concrete block in each hole with a 5/16″ chain wrapped around it. I could have gotten by with lighter chain, but that’s what I had on hand, so I used it.

Yesterday Amanda and I braved the mosquitoes that have suddenly appeared on Veg Hill to restring the trellis lines. I began by disconnecting the four muscadines from the existing trellis, which required that I clip four of their little tendrils that had already wound around the aircraft cable. (Now you know the reason we’re doing this now; we knew that the longer we waited the more traumatic it would be for the muscadines.) Then I first loosened and then unscrewed the cable from the hooks I had been using. I drilled a hole through the northmost and southmost standards where the hook had been attached, and then ran the cable through that hole to a turnbuckle attached to a quick link attached to the dead man chain. There was room on the south end for the dead man to fit inside the deer fence, but the dead man on the north end is outside the deer fence and runs through a tiny hole to connect with the cable from the trellis. The aircraft cable had a longer run in the new configuration, so I added an extra 40 feet of cable I had recently purchased at Tallassee True Value.

The trellis has much more strength now; I think it’s up to the task of supporting heavy muscadines. So now our task is nurturing our little plants and helping them become the ponderous berry-laden behemoths that demand the kind of support the trellis is now able to provide. After finishing the trellis, we carefully reintroduced the muscadines to the trellis and did a little light pruning. Our first frost in central Alabama is mid-November, so they should have nearly three months of growing season to stretch out and get accustomed to the new digs.

The video runs about 3:40 and shows the retrofitting and the pruning.

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