Bull cane control

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Aug 23, 2012
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I've typically not had a big issue with bull canes, but when I pruned this spring I realized that they were a real problem in my Oberlin Noir. About 2/3 of my vines had run huge bull canes, often more than 20 feet long. Aside from the pain of untangling and cutting them out of the 2-3 neighboring vines they had run through, they sucked the resources of the vines and those vines had a sub-optimal amount of growth to provide for this year's production spurs...they put most of their vigor into those bull canes.

Any tips for controlling this in the future? Do you just watch for them by digging through the foliage and cut them off early?
I had no idea there was a name for this. I think I had one of these come up from just above the ground last year. It was outgrowing everything else so fast I thought I'd leave it for a second trunk (GDC trellis.) It went all the way up onto the wires in a season, which are 5'6" high. Then it died this winter.
WOW I was sure expecting to see something else besides this topic when I read the headline. Guess I've been around too many farms growing up. If you're not sure what I'm talking about goggle bull cane. :ot: sorry

Generally the bull canes on the part of the vine that is on the wires can be removed early in the growing season. They usually grow from the end of the vine because of apical dominance. The ones on the trunk can be removed also early. This prevents them from sucking out too many resources from the vine.
Great topic. I am trying to understand the pros and cons of bull canes. I know some speak of them like they are the devil and we should be very afraid.

My understanding is that bull canes grow fast and have long internode distances. Not what you want for a fruiting cordon, for example.

But, is there any problem using bull canes to form your trunk? Do laterals that grow from bull canes also have long internode distances and too vigorous growth? I ask because it seems I have a whole vineyard full of bull canes that have pushed from the ground up this year and I plan to establish trunks this year.

Any other Bull cane information you can share would be great.

Also, still trying to figure out how to identify them.

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If the canes are round they are better than the ones that are flatter. Those flat ones don't harden off well so aren't good trunk candidates. Choose shorter shoots that have better node spacing over longer bull canes with longer internode spacing. I would rather have a 4-5 foot of good shoot for the trunk than a 12 foot one with 9 inch spacing. True, you will get rid of most of the laterals later anyways, but the bull canes just don't make great trunks.
Thanks. So it really depends more on the shape of the canes?

I see on some of my vines several canes growing and some only 1 or 2. I do have very rich soil which adds to the vigor. Is there any reason to prune off the bull canes now? I think they may even be helping to control the vigor.
Greg, if you're talking about vines that got winter damage and died back, you might just have vigorous new shoots coming up from a well established root system.
He is talking about vines planted last year and pruned back to 3 buds this spring. He has very fertile soil to work with, so even more vigor.
Yes, here is a frontenac blanc after 1 months growth from the ground up. That's 6 feet already.

Thanks for the replies. I know to look for them on the Oberlin Noir now, so I'll just remove them early by checking between vines. Last year I didn't think to check...they were never really a problem on my other varieties that were more mature and the O.N. just got cropping last year. The vines put so much into those bull canes that even if the hard winter hadn't damaged them as much as it did, I'd have been hard pressed to have had enough new growth for my fruiting spurs.