Pierce Disease Resistant Grape Vines for Southern California

Pearl River Grape

Pearl River Grape–slightly critter chewed, but still tasty.

At the risk of counting our chickens before they’ve hatched, I think we finally have grape vines that are immune to Pierce’s disease. Pierce’s disease is a fatal condition spread by sucking (and sucky) insects known as sharpshooters. Once a vine get it there is no cure. Pierce’s is why your glass of California wine may one day be genetically modified.

Over the years we’ve lost too many vines to Pierce’s to count, so I’m relieved to say that the ones we have seem to be immune or at least very resistant to Pierce’s and are now producing fruit.

LA County’s plant pathologist spent a half hour on the phone with me a few years ago telling me about how Pierce’s disease works. He told me not to even think about planting a vine in Southern California that is not immune to Pierce’s. After so many failures I decided to follow his advice. Here’s the vines we ended up with:

Vitus Californica
This monster has completely covered an ugly chain link fence. One of my garden duties at this time of year is beating it back, otherwise it would swallow our house and the neighbor’s. For some reason it has never produced any fruit (I think it may be male). From the Las Pilitas Nursery website:

California grape is a deciduous vine to 30′. If this grape has no support it will make a nice groundcover and can cover a large greenhouse in 4-5 years. It has clusters of small edible grapes. Bees love flowers. It grows along streams and in seeps throughout much of central and northern Ca. We’ve seen it in the Sacramento River bed, along the Sierra foothills and on I-5 at the Grapevine. It has done fine here and in coastal gardens. It likes regular moisture but not to be wet and full sun or a way for it to get to full sun.
Vitis californica tolerates sand, clay and seasonal flooding.

Vitus Californica ‘Roger’s Red’
We picked up this vine from the Theodore Payne Nursery to cover the arbor in our backyard. Roger’s Red puts on a showy display of red leaves every fall. And it has produced abundant fruit this year. One source I found noted that this vine is “highly resistant” to Pierce’s. From the Theodore Payne website:

Jerry Dangl at U.C. Davis has recently conducted DNA analysis of Vitis ‘Roger’s Red’ and has determined that it is a first generation hybrid (F1) between the native V. californica and a wine grape (Vitis vinifera) cultivar known as ‘Alicante Bouschet’. This grape, ‘Alicante Bouchet’, is unusual in that it has both red skin and red flesh – most red grapes and red wine gets its color from the skin only.

Pearl River
This mysterious vine came from the equally mysterious Papaya Tree Nursery. The talkative and knowledgeable owner of Papaya Tree said that this vine is immune to Pierce Disease, and it appears that he is correct. We’ve had it for several years now and there are no signs of disease. We got our first delicious grapes from this vine this year. From the Papaya Tree Nursery website:

‘Pearl River’ is a very vigorous producer of first quality grapes that reach up to 24% Brix(Sugar). They are seeded but the flavor and aroma is so strong that most prefer it to seedless varieties. A unique advantage the ‘Pearl River’ grape has over most other varieties is it’s immunity against Pierce disease . . . Although technically classified as a table grape, top quality award winning specialty wines have been made with this variety.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you live in sharpshooter country (warm parts of the US and Northern Mexico) consult your local extension service and find a list of Pierce Disease immune varieties that will work for your area.

Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

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The artist Sandow Birk once did a show depicting a fictitious war between Northern and Southern California. If that war were to be fought by plant nurseries, the forces of Northern California would have us, down here in the Southland, badly beat. There’s a few good native plant nurseries here, but that’s about it. There’s nothing quite as spectacular as Annie’s Annuals and Perennials, located in Richmond on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay.

Entrance display. Photo: Annie's Annuals and Perennials.

Entrance display at Annie’s. Photo: Annie’s Annuals and Perennials.

Annie’s was one of the stops on the Garden Blogger’s Fling, where we got to hear Annie Hayes herself talk about her business. She noted that most retail nurseries get their stock from distant, centralized wholesale nurseries. An outbreak of late blight disease in tomatoes back in 2009 demonstrates that centralized nurseries are a great way to spread plant diseases over wide areas.

Annie’s specializes in riotous color. Many of the spectacular gardens we visited on the Fling sourced their plants from Annie’s. And in addition to unusual and rare ornamental plants, Annie’s has a great selection of edibles. It’s first time I’ve ever seen Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) outside of a book.

I had to keep a tight grip on my credit card to prevent myself from buying plants I had no way of getting home on my bike. The good news is that Annie’s does mail order. And she’s got a bunch of tutorial videos covering topics such as container planting and plant combinations. As we begin version 4.0 of our back yard garden, I have a feeling we’ll be ordering plants from Annie’s.

Disclosure: we’re always happy to write about businesses we like and support. We did not get any compensation or free items from Annie’s.

Defining a Garden’s Purpose

Organic Mechanic's Garden in San Francisco

Organic Mechanic’s Garden in San Francisco

I’m an idiot when it comes to garden design. To up my skills in this department I attended the annual Garden Blogger’s Fling last week, which took place this year in San Francisco. Thankfully the Fling did not involve sitting in a sterile hotel conference room. Instead, we boarded two buses and took a look at fifteen spectacular gardens in the bay area over three days.

I’ll share the gardening lessons I learned over a couple of posts. But if I could take away only one lesson it would be this: every garden has a purpose, but great gardens have clear and beneficial purposes.

Continue reading…

Farm Hack

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Farm Hack is an innovative blog that synthesizes high tech and low tech in the service of growing food and community. The blog is run by the National Young Farmers Coalition. While geared towards agriculture, many of the posts will be of interest to backyard gardeners. Recent subjects include a project to develop an infrared camera to monitor plant health, smartphone tools for farmers and open source appropriate technology resources. It’s exactly this kind of innovation that gives me great hope for the future.

Thanks to Tommy Berbas for the tip.

Are You Gardening on the 4th?

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In the garden today? I just got back from a three day tour of San Francisco Bay Area gardens and will be reporting on that trip soon. In the meantime, I’ve put up over 600 photos from the “Garden Blogger’s Flinghere.

Above is a bee visiting a striking plant at Sunset Magazine’s headquarters. Unfortunately, I did not get the name of the plant. Bragging rights go to the person who names it in the comments . . .