I pruned the vines today. Late January is dreadfully late to be doing it, since if you cut them once the sap is rising they bleed horribly. I could never quite visualise what this meant, and thought it might just denote a sort of nasty oozing, until one year I cut through a branch when the sap was rising and liquid ran out of it in a continuous stream like a running tap. For this reason it is recommended to finish pruning vines by the New Year, if not Christmas, except that I didn't. No special reason, just a failure of organisation and lack of time to do everything.
Accordingly I made the first cut today with a degree of trepidation, hoping I hadn't missed my window of opportunity. The vines are supposed grow along one side of the vegetable patch, though from that vantage point they infiltrate a hedge, two fruit trees, the Systems Administrator's old greenhouse, and the nearest two beds in the vegetable patch. As it's the time of the year when hope springs eternal and I imagine that I am going to grow vegetables, I needed to corral the vines back into their allotted space.
There was no stream of sap. I cut a few more thin stems, gingerly, and went back to investigate the first cut in case it had started leaking with a delayed action, but the severed end remained dry. I pressed on, not even clearing away the debris as I worked but cutting every lanky branch that looked as though it needed shortening before the plants could wake up and start bleeding to death from my surgery.
Pruning vines is in theory an elaborate business. There are Systems. A few are covered in some of my gardening books, while the vine training page of Wikipedia looks like an elaborate spoof. There's the Guyot system, the Pendelbogen system, the Mosel arch, the Sylvos and variants thereof, the Scott Henry, the Geneva Double Curtain, and many, many more. I don't follow any of them. The chief purpose of my vines is to screen the rabbit fence around the vegetable patch and look pretty. Their secondary purpose is to provide vine leaves for cooking, though it's ages since I've made dolmades. Several years ago I spent a lot of time laboriously thinning the bunches of grapes, and the grapes within the bunches, and still ended up with tiny, pippy fruit tasting only moderately of anything, so nowadays I leave them for the birds and view the vines entirely as foliage plants. Due to early plant losses, replacements, and poor record keeping, I don't even know what variety of grapes they are.
They aren't my favourite subjects to prune, and on the whole I enjoy pruning, though I tend to do it with a light touch and some of my shrubs occupy more space than they might under a more ruthless hand. The trouble with the vines, apart from my lack of a system, is working out which stems to cut out, especially if I do it at the right time and not a month late. Stems regularly die, which is not a problem per se because the plants make so much new growth every year, but it can be quite difficult to see which ones are alive and which dead, and it is frustrating to cut out a new growth because it seemed to be in the way, and then discover it was needed to replace an old branch that has surreptitiously died.
Fortunately they are so tough that my inept ministrations are unlikely to kill them. They root like crazy too, wherever their questing new stems are allowed to touch down for any length of time. I don't see the point when I read articles in magazines aimed at amateurs telling us how to take vine cuttings, when they will propagate themselves by layering. Just lay a fat stem down on a little patch of bare earth and chuck a brick on it, and you'll have a rooted new vine in next to no time.