This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The pruning knife often injures as much as it benefits, and hence arises two schools in gardening, namely, those who prune on all occasions, and those who prune not at all. As an instance of very bad pruning, we may go to many dwarf-pear grounds, and find them continually shortened in till the end is like that of the injudiciously pruned maple trees, along city streets, they die altogether, or present so poor an aspect that the owner concludes, not that he is a failure, but that dwarf pears are not worth growing. Much of the failure with the dwarf pear comes from bad pruning, though with the best of care there are few places where they succeed to such an extent as to warrant the extravagant encomiums showered on dwarf pear culture a quarter of a century ago. The dwarf pear delights more, perhaps, in the pruning knife than any other fruit tree, except the grape; but instead of shortening in the vigorous shoots, which are the life of the tree, and leaving the weak and half dead wood, it is this small trash that should be cut away. Then, again, we have to look at the questions of growth or fruitfulness. If a tree is already growing with great vigor pruning will only induce a more vigorous foliaceous growth, which is antagonistic to fruitfulness.
And again, if not growing as vigorously as we desire, one good pruning may remedy this. Pruning is a great art, and yet one which is soon understood, if we reflect on a few fundamental truths.
Grape-vines in the open air, on arbors and trellises, should have their pruning finished before warm Spring days set in, or they will bleed. It does not injure them much, but it looks bad. The pruning must be regulated by the condition of the vine. If the vines are young and the shoots weak, cut them all back, to make a new and vigorous growth. If already a fair quantity of strong shoots of last season's growth exists, cut out the weaker ones, so as to leave enough of stronger ones. The cane system, slightly modified, is best for arbors and trellises in the hands of amateurs generally. This implies a new set of canes every year or two. If, as frequently happens from bad management, all the young and strong-bearing wood exists only at the end of the vines, - and these latter have become nothing but long, ropy-looking apologies for what a vine should be - the whole cane may be buried down in the soil to where the strong shoots spring from, and the young wood of last season trained up from this.
The plant will then recover its good appearance quite as well as by cutting down, with the advantage of not sacrificing a year's crop of fruit.
Pruning of most kinds of fruits has been accomplished through the winter. It is customary, however, to leave the peach till towards spring, in order to cut out any wood that may be injured through the winter. In other respects, the peach should have little pruning at this season, as it tends only to make it grow more luxuriously; and a too free vigor of growth is a fault of the peach in this climate. The only pruning admissible is that which has for its object the production of shoots in naked or desirable places.
After a crop has been borne, however, pruning may be more severely practiced. We once heard a good fruit grower say that peaches seldom had the yellows till after they had borne one good crop, and that a good pruning the winter following the first bearing was a sure protection against the dire disease. How much there may be in this notion is not clear, but it is worth a thought.
In the vegetable garden we might give a hint in asparagus culture, that if very large stalks are desired, the soil must be very rich, and the plants set as wide apart as rows of corn. It is to be observed that those who believe there are some varieties of asparagus that may be reproduced from seed urge the necessity of planting very wide apart. We do not know that very large stalks are especially desirable, and for ordinary use would set the plants about twenty inches apart; about four inches beneath the surface is deep enough to set. Good deep soil is generally good; but if in a stiff soil, deepening it for asparagus, only makes a well into which the surrounding waters drain. It is much better in such situations to plant in raised beds. The alleys between them serve as surface ditches. Many failures in planting asparagus arise from this depth of bed, under such circumstances. The plants rot from water about them.
In vegetable garden culture, it must be remembered that we have to operate the reverse of fruit culture. A woody growth is what we require for fruit trees; but we need for vegetables a soft, spongy, succulent character, the very reverse of this. For this end the ground cannot be too deep, too rich, or too much cultivated. The hoe and the rake should be kept continually going, loosening the surface and admitting "air and light," as the old books used to say. There is not only an advantage in this for the direct benefit of the plant, but an early use of these tools keeps down the weeds, and thus we save labor. It is a great thing to be "forehanded " in the weed war.