This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
It is now becoming a well-established rule that the sooner a Pine-plant can be fruited, the finer will the fruit be in proportion to the size and age of the plant. This has frequently been illustrated, and very ably this season by Mr Miles, gardener to Lord Carrington, who has exhibited noble fruits of several varieties from plants not more than sixteen months old; and it has several times been proved that suckers taken from the parent plants in the ordinary way in August can be made to ripen excellent fruit in the same and following months of the succeeding year. It must, however, be remembered that there are suckers and suckers. Such as are now being referred to are not suckers taken from plants in August, from which plants the fruit was cut in the previous May and June; but suckers taken from plants in the ordinary way as soon as the fruit are cut. In the former case, suckers should be regarded, as compared with the latter, three and four months old when potted. And instances of such success as has been referred to should not be based on suckers that have been, what may be termed, wet-nursed for three or four months beyond the ordinary time.
But there can be no denying the fact that to fruit Pines satisfactorily in either twelve or sixteen months, the suckers to begin with must be first-rate. What can be more unlike than suckers taken from a poor attenuated set of old parent plants, that have been two or more years old before starting into fruit, and others taken from short broad-leaved vigorous young plants? The latter have in them a foundation for the most successful culture; the former may be improved so as to yield in their turn an improved crop of young stocky plants, but it takes a few years to bring them to a thoroughly satisfactory condition.
There is nothing remarkable in the fact that a young Pine-plant swells the finest fruit in proportion to its size and age. For, generally speaking, all fruit-bearing plants do the same, being more vigorous than plants that have become, what may be termed, bordering on the stunted stage of existence: especially is this referable to plants in pots. A Pine-plant that is allowed to feed for too long a time from the soil afforded by an ordinary-sized Pine-pot, must of necessity lose some of its youthful vigour and stamina. It exhausts all the native elements of food which the fine fresh fibry maiden turf originally contained. The fibre decays, and the mechanical texture of the soil becomes compressed and too solid for Pine-roots, and no additional stimulus can wholly restore this exhaustion and change. The roots of the Pine change with age, from the great greedy white orchid-like roots, and become a comparatively tangled mass of smaller and less effective workers. The stem of the Pine-Apple, too, gets harder and more solid as age and exhausted stores begin to tell on it. The leaves alter their character to an extent that the eye of the Pine-grower does not approve.
And when fruit does appear, it shares the same deteriorated qualities.
It is also a fact well known to Pine-growers, that when a set of Pine-plants run over eighteen months without starting into fruit, the chances are much increased against their being pliable in the hands of the cultivator, and in favour of their continuing to grow instead of starting when he wishes them to start. The ordinary way of proceed ure in such cases, when they do occur, is to starve them into fruiting; always a most unsatisfactory way of producing the result aimed at. It certainly is desirable to prevent their onward growth, but not in a way to debilitate the whole system of the plants; and we would again recommend the "cutting-down" system as much more sure to cause them to start and to invigorate the plants, and cause them to produce finely-swelled fruit.
Suppose a set of plants intended and expected to start in July and August for autumn and winter supply, and that a portion of them do not start, but show a disposition to grow, - we would recommend that, instead of trying to make these plants start by first a stunting and starving process for a month or six weeks, and then to stimulate them with increased heat and moisture (which perhaps may start them about October, but the chances are against it), they be wintered very much as succession or full-grown plants till the end of December. Then cut them over at the surface of the pot, strip off a few of the bottom leaves, pot them in fresh fibry loam, plunge them in a brisk bottom-heat, and keep a moist atmosphere in preference to watering them at the root till they make roots an inch or two in length. In this way I have never noticed that the plants suffered in the least, but that instead they get healthier in appearance, and very soon start into fruit, and invariably swell fruit with splendid pips and yield good suckers, much more so than they will if left on their old roots in the comparatively exhausted soil.
The reason for this is very apparent - namely, the very vigorous young feeders which they send out in all directions into fresh maiden loam, which in itself contains so much of the elements of vigorous growth. The question may be asked, Why have plants that require such treatment and trouble % It is much better to be without them, certainly. But the most successful of growers are sometimes balked in starting young plants to a month or two; and then the best remedy, or alternative, is always worthy of being resorted to. And we think the most satisfactory remedy is to make young plants of them again, and get youthful results.