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I'm putting in a new vineyard with 9 rows, spaced 7 feet apart. The rows are 3 feet wide and tilled, while the lanes between the rows are 4 feet wide and still intact as typical cool-season lawn (never tilled).

Because I'm on a slope and concerned about erosion, I intend to keep these lanes in grass cover. But should I consider rototilling the between-row lanes now and immediately reseeding with a grass of my choice, or leave them be? My thoughts are primarily about soil compaction. While the grape vines can easily spread their roots laterally up and down the loosened-up soil of the row itself, they might have a harder time making much use of the soil under the grassy lanes. Not only is it an old lawn but I've gone over it several times with a tractor while drilling post holes and such. I plan to rototill the rows once more just before planting to undo some of the compaction I caused the rows themselves, and am wondering if I should go ahead while I have it rented and do the lanes between the rows at the same time, to give my vines maximum ability to extend their roots in all directions. I will not be entering the vineyard again with a tractor, so future compaction will be minimal.

The downside to tilling the lanes, other than the fact that I already have a great cover that I'd be destroying, is that I'll probably have to irrigate new seed to get the replacement grass to take, and I'm thinking it's not a great idea to get the newly planted grape vines wet twice a day from sprinklers.

Also, my soil is naturally very sandy (in fact almost pure sand at the subsoil layer a few feet down) so maybe my concern about compaction is overblown? Is in-row tilling enough preparation?

Thoughts?

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  • I feel you should see if you can visit vineyards in your area, and learn from them. May 17, 2023 at 8:26

1 Answer 1

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Modern soil management systems have concluded that no-till is the best way to manage your soils. Here's the USDA's take on the practice (geared for traditional farmers, but the benefits would apply to you as well). Rototilling the grass cover on a slope can easily lead to soil erosion, especially if you have a large-ish rain event before the replacement grass has rooted sufficiently.

If you're worried about compaction, then I recommend you rent either a core aerator or even a deep-tine aerator for the spaces between the rows. You'll only need to do this once.

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  • From what I can tell, aerators only work on the top 6" of soil and are designed to help grasses with roots in this zone. Grapes send their roots down several feet. I'm particularly interested in the compaction zone to 15". Is there readily rentable non-tillage equipment that can deal with this range? Or should I simply not concern myself with the compaction in the lanes, under the assumption that the grape roots will go beneath it all at lower depths?
    – Paul W
    May 15, 2023 at 12:22
  • If the land hasn't been farmed much before it became a lawn then I doubt that you have much to worry about. My own house is on land that was an oak forest and was farmed for maybe 30 years before my house was built. This was before mechanized farming. There is no compaction at all anywhere on the property, even next to the house, which would have been quite filled with heavy equipment while the house was being built. To confirm that you have hardpan from farming, you need to dig 15-20" deep holes by hand. You'll know if you hit hardpan this way.
    – Jurp
    May 15, 2023 at 13:16
  • If you do have hardpan, which I think unlikely given your sandy soil, then deep tine tillage could help; some go down 16" (toro.com/en/product/09935), although I suspect that they'll be too wide for your rows (4 feet seems narrow to me for a vineyard, but then I'm not a vintner...).
    – Jurp
    May 15, 2023 at 13:21
  • It was farmed, but I know from digging that there is no serious compaction existing prior to my working it. Mainly I'm just worried about the few times I went over it with my own tractor in recent months. Perhaps that proves I shouldn't worry about it. I suppose I should just do nothing and if I have issues down the road revisit the topic. Just trying to do my due diligence and get it done right. And yes, the rows are narrower than commercial but that's because I don't have need to use tractor implements in the rows. Will mow with a lawn tractor and care for the grapes by hand.
    – Paul W
    May 15, 2023 at 14:11
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    If you only went over the land with a tractor a few times then you should have no compaction at all, especially if the ground was not saturated when you ran over it. You've already confirmed that there is no hardpan, so you should be good to go without tilling the grass.
    – Jurp
    May 15, 2023 at 14:41

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