GiESCO 2019 banner
IVES 9 IVES Conference Series 9 GiESCO 9 GiESCO 2019 9 Root development and the performance of grapevines in response to natural as well as man‐made soil impediments

Root development and the performance of grapevines in response to natural as well as man‐made soil impediments


Context and purpose of the study ‐ The majority of soils used for wine and table grape production in South Africa are notoriously shallow, i.e. they are restricting root penetration. The result of such shallow soils is uneven and poor vineyard performance that eventually lead to unprofitable vineyards. The purpose of this study was to investigate soil impediments to root growth, methods to detect such impediments, and practices to alleviate obstructions before planting, as well as in existing vineyards.

Material and methods ‐ Many investigations in South Africa have addressed the reasons for poor grapevine root development and methods to rectify this detrimental factor. This large body of knowledge is not only spread over different generations of researchers and experts, but also fragmented among many articles and journals. Starting with recommendations for “dynamite‐ ploughing” in 1912, all research on soil profile modification was reviewed and a synopsis made regarding soil conditions, root studies, grapevine response and corrective measures.

Results ‐Natural soil compaction is the main cause of root restriction in the majority of vineyard soils in the Western Cape, but man‐made compaction through vehicle traffic and implement use occurs. Acid soils, i.e. pHKCl< 5.5 are commonly found in the coastal areas of the Western Cape. Further impediments to grapevine root penetration include dense clay in the subsoil, various types of hardpan, water tables, rock and sharp transitions between soil layers of different textures. Plant holes incorrectly made can be a serious impediment to root distribution and poor growth of young vines. Penetrometer measurement of soil resistance is the most practical, easiest and quickest method to detect the degree, position and extent of soil compaction. Grapevine root penetration is drastically impeded above 2000 kPa penetrometer readings. The EM38 apparatus that measures the bulk electrical conductivity of the soil, is also increasingly used to determine root restricting layers in the soil. Grapevine root distribution is the most reliable, direct and accurate indicator of soil conditions. Root distribution of grapevines is generally shaped by soil conditions and cultivation practices and not by genetic traits of the rootstock. Scientific root studies in South Africa date back to the 1930’s and include the profile wall method, core sampling, glass wall methods, excavation methods. A recent novel technique employed, is the scanning of roots against the walls of chambers made of perspex. In addition to deep tillage, shallow soils can be improved by ridging while loosening of the inter‐row area is an option in existing vineyards that perform poorly. This should only be done when poor performance is due to soil compaction. Grapevine response to root pruning depends particularly on timing, severity of pruning and the presence or absence of roots in the inter‐row area. 


Publication date: June 19, 2020

Issue: GiESCO 2019

Type: Article


Johan VAN ZYL and Eduard HOFFMAN

Soil Science Department, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, 7602, Republic of South Africa

Contact the author


soil compaction; penetrometer; root studies; re‐compaction; root pruning; plant holes


GiESCO 2019 | IVES Conference Series


Related articles…

Swiss program for the creation of fungal disease resistant grape varieties in Switzerland

Grapevine breeding is part of the research program of Agroscope in Switzerland since 1965. From 1965 to 1995, the aim of the Vitis vinifera crosses was to obtain a high resistance to grey rot (Botrytis cinerea), one of the most virulent fungal pathogens in the Swiss vineyard. In 2021, the grape varieties released from this first breeding program covered 936 ha of the 15’000 ha of the Swiss vineyard.
In 1996, a second breeding program aimed at obtaining, by classical interspecific hybridization, grape varieties resistant to downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola) and powdery mildew (Erisyphe necator) and less sensitive to grey rot (Botrytis cinerea). In order to accelerate and make the selection process more reliable, an early biochemical test was developed based on the natural defense mechanisms of the vine against downy mildew (stilbene phytoalexins). The synthesis of stilbenes (i.e., resveratrol and its oxidized dimers - and -viniférine) and pterostilbenes (methylated derivative) is among the most efficient induced defense mechanisms of grapevine against fungal pathogens on both the leaves and the clusters.

Heatwaves impacts on grapevine physiology, berry chemistry & wine quality

Climate change impacts on both yields and quality have increased over the past decades, with the effects of extreme climate events having the most dramatic and obvious impacts. Increasing length and intensity of heatwaves associated with increased water stress necessitates a reevaluation of climate change responses of grapevine and, ultimately, a reconsideration of vineyard management practices under future conditions. Here we summarize results from a three-year field trial manipulating irrigation prior to and during heatwave events to assess impacts of water application rates on vine health and physiology, berry chemistry, and wine quality. We also highlight potential mitigation strategies for extreme heat, both in terms of water application, as well as other cultural practices that could be widely applicable.

Could intermittent shading, as produced in agrivoltaics, mitigate global warming effects on grapevine?

Global warning increases evaporative demand and accelerates grapevine phenology. As a consequence, the ripening phase shifts to warmer and drier periods. This results in lower acidity and higher sugar levels in berries, yielding too alcoholic wines with altered organoleptic properties. Agrivoltaics, which combines crop and renewable energy production on the same land using photovoltaic panels, emerged as a promising innovation to counteract these impacts by partially shading the plants.

Selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry: a promising technology for the high throughput phenotyping of grape berry volatilome

Wine grapes breeding has been concentrating a lot of efforts within the grape research community over the last decade. The quick phenotyping of genotype quality traits including aroma composition remains challenging. Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS), a technology first available in 2008 and developing rapidly, could be particularly valuable for this usage. The aims of this study were i) to use SIFT-MS, to analyze the whole volatilome from different grape varieties, ii) to assess the ability of this technology to discriminate varieties according to their grape aroma composition, and iii) to study the stability of SIFT-MS signal over maturation to define a sampling strategy.

VITIGEOSS Business Service: Task scheduling optimization in vineyards

Agriculture plantations are complex systems whose performance critically depends on the execution of several types of tasks with precise timing and efficiency to respond to different external factors. This is particularly true for orchards like vineyards, which need to be strictly monitored and regulated, as they are sensitive to diverse types of pests, and climate conditions. In these environments, managing and optimally scheduling the available work force and resources is not trivial and is usually done by teams of senior managers based on their experience. In this regard, having a baseline schedule could help them in the decision process and improve their results, in terms of time and resources spent.