This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
For various reasons I intend to treat of these together. Although we are apt to speak of them as if they were two distincts fruits, it is nevertheless a fact that they are both the product of one parent, and as a consequence of this, they require the same management, are subject to the same diseases, and are identical in constitution, habit of growth, etc. It has long ago been proved that Peaches may be produced from the stones of Nectarines, and Nectarines from the stones of Peaches, thereby showing the intimate relationship existing between the two. I therefore feel justified in linking them together, and the following remarks are to be understood as having reference to both.
New varieties of the Peach and Nectarine are raised from seed. The first matter of importance is the parents from which the seedlings are to be procured. These should be selected with care, and impregnated by the hand, so that the cultivator may have a good idea of what should be the results of his labours. Care should be exercised to prevent impregnation from any other quarter than that desired, and for this purpose the means should be adopted to prevent this which I have before recommended. I would suggest that the fruits selected for seed get full justice during the growing season, being thoroughly exposed to light and air, so that they may be well matured and sound. If these things are attended to, the results are likely to prove more satisfactory than if stones are selected at random. When the fruit is thoroughly ripened the stones should be removed and washed clean, after which they may be buried in layers either in the soil of the garden at the depth of a few inches or in boxes of sand, and kept in a cool dry place until spring. In March the stones may be broken, taking care not to hurt the seed, which is in the form of a kernel. The kernels may be sown in rows about 1 inch deep in good yellow loamy soil, at or near the bottom of a wall having a southern exposure.
In this position they will probably make good strong growths of 2 to 3 feet during the summer. The best way to save time and prove the qualities of the seedlings is to bud from this maiden shoot, if proper buds can be obtained, on to an old and established tree. By this means the bud upon the tree will make a fruit-bearing shoot the following summer, and produce fruit the succeeding autumn to that, so that by the time the young seedling is two and a-half years of age the cultivator is in a position to know whether it is worth while retaining as a new variety or not.
When the propagation of existing varieties is only aimed at, the best and surest method is by budding. Grafting is sometimes performed with wonderful success, but, everything considered, I prefer budding. For this purpose stocks have to be raised. The Pear-Plum stock is the one most in demand, and is always used for the finest varieties of the Peach and Nectarine. The Mussel Plum is also a good stock, and pretty extensively used; and where dwarf trees are in request, the Mirabelle Plum is used. Besides these, some cultivators use such as the following as stocks for Peaches and Nectarines - viz., the Brompton, the Apricot, and the Almond. In France the Almond is believed to induce a shorter-jointed and less luxuriant habit of growth, and for this reason many growers work upon it. When the Plum is used as a stock in France, the varieties selected are generally St Julien, the Damas Noir, and Myrobolan. The Almond suits best, it is said, on sandy, shallow, or chalky soil, while the Plum is said to be the best suited for heavy clayey soils.
As already stated, I prefer budding as the best and easiest means of propagating existing varieties. Any of the many methods in general practice among horticulturists will be found to suit very well, as in all cases I prefer the easiest and simplest modes, so long as the results are satisfactory. In the propagation of the Peach and Nectarine I prefer that style of budding which is known as shield or T budding. In former papers I have fully explained how this operation is performed, so the reader can easily refer to them for details.
The time for budding the Peach varies according to circumstances. The best rule to observe is, that the stock and bud are both ready as soon as the bark parts freely from the wood. From the middle of July to the middle of August this will, generally speaking, be the case - in England during the former month, and in Scotland the end of the former or early part of the latter month. In the selection of buds, care must be exercised so as to use nothing but wood-buds, for should flower-buds be taken, certain failure will be the result. Practical experience alone will teach the cultivator the difference between the two, so that he will be able to go about his work with confidence. I may say, however, that the wood-bud is sharp, slender, and pointed, while the flower-bud is plump, full, and round. By attending to the above rule, the novice may attempt the operation of budding the Peach and Nectarine, and find his labours crowned with a considerable amount of success. The great secret of either budding or grafting is in having at least one edge of the bark of the scion or bud fitting exactly into the bark of the stock, so that the sap in passing upwards may pass directly into the bud, there to become elaborated, after which it will fully cement the union between itself and the stock.
Budding may be performed after the periods I have specified under certain conditions. It is a well-known fact, that while the bark of a tree will not rise from the wood until a certain period of the year, so it is also as well known that after a certain time it again refuses to rise. After the periods specified above such will be the case, but should it have occurred from unforeseen circumstances - from want of time or any other cause that might present itself - the operation may be performed with success in the following manner: in taking off the bud, a thin slice of wood should be allowed to adhere, which should be cut as thin as possible, and quite flat and smooth. After this the bud is inserted into its position, care being taken that the inner bark shall be in close contact with the cambium of the stock, without which no union can take place. The height at which the bud should be inserted will be determined according to the sort of tree that is required. Dwarf trees should have the bud inserted at not a greater height than 12 inches from the ground, while riders may have their buds as high as from 3 to 5 feet from the root. The following spring these buds will start into active growth, and if not pinched will make shoots 3 or 4 feet in length.
Some cultivators make a practice of pinching the young shoot when 6 or 7 inches in height, in order to induce it to form a young fan-tree the first year. This they no doubt accomplish, but it is very doubtful whether much is gained by the practice or not. My own opinion is that a better and healthier tree is to be obtained by allowing the bud to grow at freedom during the first season, and at the pruning time in winter cut it back to 6 or 7 inches to form the young tree. Where the shoot is cut back in spring to the height I indicated, the lateral growths which are formed are invariably long-jointed and watery, and seldom ripen so thoroughly as is absolutely necessary for the Peach and Nectarine. Such being the case, there can be little doubt but that the year gained at first is not a year gained in the end, but rather the reverse; and for this reason I would not recommend the practice, but would rather induce a good and well-ripened growth to be made during the first season, believing as I do that the future health and wellbeing of any sort of tree depend almost entirely upon the constitution that is induced during the first year or two of its life.
Some cultivators have adopted grafting with considerable success. For this purpose firm short-jointed wood is selected, with a small portion of two-year-old wood attached. These should be taken off when the tree is thoroughly at rest, and put in by the heels in some sheltered corner until the grafting season comes round. Any of the many modes of grafting may be adopted, but whip-grafting I prefer. In the third volume of the 'Gardener's Magazine,' p. 149, Mr Cameron of Highbeach, Essex, gives an account of how he performs this operation, and from its simplicity and novelty I reproduce it here. He says: "Sow in autumn kernels of Peaches, Nectarines, or Apricots, under the walls where they are to remain. They will make a vigorous shoot the following spring, and may either be budded in August of the same year, or grafted the March of the year following. Grafting is the mode I prefer, and the scion should have 1/4 inch of two-year-old wood at its lower extremity; at least, I have found scions so taken off succeed better than those taken indifferently from any part of the young wood.
Cut the stock with a dovetail notch for the scion to rest on, and tie it on in the usual manner." James M'Millan.
(To be continued).