NATIVE GARDENING: Muscadine Grapes Thrive In Florida & Georgia

America’s Southern grape is easy to grow in Florida and Georgia. Some make wine, others make jelly. Or the grapes are left on vine to feed birds and other wildlife.

Wild Grape Vines Grow Profusely Around Amelia Island, FL

Native to the Sunshine State and elsewhere in America’s southeast, a grape vine growing all over this barrier island at the Florida-Georgia border is the Muscadine grape. According to the University of Florida, “The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) was the first native grape species known to be cultivated in North America.”

There are various reasons folks plant these grapes — to make wine, juice, jelly — or to help feed wildlife. Some may like to add Muscadines as a gardening project for the “to do” list, if you have the space, whether you’re a newcomer to the South or long-term resident who’d like to add native flora.

Grape Vines Reach For The Sun

These wild-growing grapes blanket large areas and reach for the sun. They can be seen locally on some private properties, but also when biking along the paved Amelia Island Trail, or natural areas of Fernandina Beach — Egans Greenway and the state’s Fort Clinch State Park. Muscadines also grow right by the beach, as pictured above at the entrance to Nassau County’s Scott Road beach access.

History Of Muscadine Grapes In America

Mention of these wild grapes has been found in the centuries-old logs of European settlers dating back to the 1500s. Long before Europeans arrived in the “New World,” Native Americans first knew their merits. Since the mid-1700s, Muscadines have been cultivated commercially. Georgia is home to the oldest Muscadine Breeding Program in the nation, originating at the University of Georgia, dating back more than a century to 1909.

Tough Native Grape Easily Cultivated In Home Gardens

Many now living in America’s South transplanted from other regions of the nation and soon discover new experiences and different cultural traditions. Some arrivals may be surprised to learn grapes thrive here. However, these hardy, thick-skinned grapes tolerate heat and humidity, so it’s no wonder they thrive in the South, even in Florida.

The Muscadine Grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is:

“Sometimes called scuppernongs. . .homeowners in particular appreciate their high degree of tolerance to pests and diseases. Wild muscadine vines can be either male or female. If you don’t have the room for multiple vines, opt for a self-fertile variety, i.e. those that are said to have “perfect” flowers.

University of Florida/IFAS

The Muscadine is a sweet option for home gardeners who would like to plant natives and create an edible landscape. Or maybe you seek a hardy, fast growing vine to cover an arbor mainly for aesthetics, one that will withstand the brutally hot and muggy summer weather of the South.

Gardening For Wildlife — Leave Fruit On The Vine

This native, woody vine is an landscaping option for wildlife enthusiasts. Those trying to transition yards to be more wildlife-friendly plant natives to help provide sustenance for wildlife. Muscadines will be gobbled up by a large variety of birds. These include the eastern bluebird, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, red-bellied woodpecker, and titmice. Various other critters including squirrels, raccoons, and deer eat them, too.

When Do Grapes Ripen For Picking?

Muscadine grape ripening season in Florida ranges from late summer (August), into the fall, depending on the variety and weather. The leaves pop out in spring and last through summer, seasonally adding lots of greenery to the landscape. Stretching upwards and outwards they grow wild over trees and other vegetation. The wild female vines (fruit bearers), get even more glances during late summer into early fall when the dangling grapes become an eye-catcher as they approach peak ripening. The leaves on the vines eventually drop off and the vines go dormant during cooler weather months in winter. Do-it-yourself crafters may also like to utilize Muscadine vines to make wreaths.

In the wild, male vines are prevalent and don’t bear fruit. The male vines are needed for cross pollination so females can produce grapes in the wild.  However, breeding programs have developed self-fertilizing cultivars that are utilized by home and commercial growers.

Planning Ahead And Choosing Cultivars

Taylor Clem, PhD, the director of the UF/IFAS Extention Nassau County, mentioned Muscadines in his blog dated October 6, 2022, making a recommendation of cultivars:

“Our native Muscadine grape is delicious but requires lots of space to grow. We recommend a self-fertilize variety like the ‘Carlos’ or ‘Florida Fry’. “

SOURCE: Taylor Clem, PhD, director of UF/IFAS Extension Nassau County.

Growing Grapes In Georgia

Besides here in Florida, these grapes also thrive in our neighboring state of Georgia. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association featured the Muscadine grape in their social media marketing “ABCs of Georgia agriculture” (as seen below). Georgia is reportedly the top commercial producer of Muscadine grapes in the U.S.A.

Muscadine grapes, Georgia Agriculture ABC's. Image by Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.
Muscadine Grapes, An Option For Overhead Arbor

Looking for a native vine to cover an arbor?

“Muscadine grapes are fast growers, and after only three years, a grape can easily cover a 6-foot by 15-foot horizontal area. Several cultivars could be planted together to enhance the duration of the ripening period and also to provide a variety of grape sizes, colors, and flavors. A multitude of customized designs can be employed for an overhead arbor, typically with a 7- to 10-foot height requirement. The arbor can include sides. Archways can also be included.”

The Muscadine Grape, UF/IFAS (University of Florida)
Muscadine grapes hang from trellis, Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo,
Muscadine grapes (these hang from arbor, Amelia Island, FL)
Keep Muscadine Vines From Reaching Nearby Shrubs & Trees

These grape vines need to be pruned from reaching other nearby shrubs and trees, since Muscadines will reach over and blanket them. The vines can eventually kill what they climb over.

Muscadine grapes growing by the beach, Amelia Island, Florida (Fernandina Beach).
Wild Muscadines Growing By The Beach, Amelia Island, Florida

Plenty of Muscadine recipes can be found by searching online. For families with a longer history of living in America’s southeast and growing these grapes, Muscadine recipes are often passed down through generations, some becoming family traditions.

Those who’ve not tasted a Muscadine can check grocery stores that may sell these sweet grapes seasonally. Locally, they were in stock at Amelia Island’s Publix in September. (Pictured below at Publix, two varieties of Muscadine — Bronze and Black — grown in Georgia, were available.)

Muscadine Bronze and Black grapes grown in Georgia, sold at Publix grocery on Amelia Island, Florida.
Muscadine Bronze & Black Grapes — Georgia Grown, Sold At Publix On Amelia Island
San Sebastian Winery

Never tasted Muscadine wine? There’s one northeast Florida winery that sells several types. Located in St. Augustine, the San Sebastian Winery indicates they own two vineyards in Florida (one in Clermont, the other in Prosperity in the panhandle). They also contract with some other Muscadine growers in the Southeast. They grow “Noble (red), Carlos and Welder (white)” Muscadine varieties for their wines, according to their website.

Potential Health Benefits Of Muscadine Grapes?

An interesting article about the Muscadine’s potential health benefits and research is published at North Carolina State University’s “Small Fruits” Research & Extension Group’s website, stating:

“The high antioxidant capacity of muscadine grapes may potentially be beneficial to human health if included in a regular diet. Due to this potential health benefit, the production and sale of muscadine based nutraceuticals products has grown over the past decade to a multi-million dollar industry.  However, questions remain as to whether muscadine-based products can also be used as a medical treatment for cancer or cardiovascular diseases. “ (June, 2020)

SOURCE: North Carolina State University Small Fruits Research & Extension Group
Learn More About Growing Muscadines in Florida or Georgia

Before starting a gardening project to grow grapes, residents of Florida or Georgia (and other southeastern states where they thrive), are advised to spend time learning about cultivars, planning the gardening project and finding out more about annual maintenance such as pruning.

Residents of Florida and Georgia can seek further information online from the experts at either the University of Florida or the University of Georgia. Or get advice and questions answered by calling your local county’s Extension office for further guidance.

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