This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In the course of some observations on Root-Grafting, in the May number of this journal, we asked Mr. Hovey to explain the superiority of budded, or stock-grafted over root-grafted trees; in reply to which he says:
" Our theory therefore is, that a great many varieties of apples, as well as other fruits, are so different in habit from the original species, that they do not grow freely on their own roots, and that root-grafting, from not imparting a rapid'growth to the young scion, induces a weakness in the young tree, from which it will not quickly recover; just as a tree, grown on poor and stinted soil, makes its first sap-vessels so small and contracted, that no after treatment will enable it to acquire a vigorous condition".
Now it will be recollected that we stated expressly, that root-grafting was not applicable to slender growing sorts, and we quoted examples; but Mr. H. quotes the Rhode Island Greening and Roxbury Burnt as slow growing trees, that do not succeed root-grafted. This is not true in Western New York, whatever it may be in Boston. Both of these are strong growing trees, though inclined to be crooked, and they bear root-grafting as well as any others, not excepting the Baldwin.
In another place, Mr. Hovey says that the orchards of Western New York, which he spoke of as being so fine, were "set out years before root-grafting was ever practiced." This is an error. We defy any man to find an extensive orchard of Apple trees, old or young, in Western New York, that are not root-grafted. This can be proven, not only by the oldest living authorities, but by the trees themselves.
It is quite a waste of time to make assertions in the face of downright and well known facta. But Mr. Hovey and we are not agreed as to what root-grafting is; we supposed there could be no difference of opinion on this simple point If grafting on roots is not root-grafting, we do not know what is. Mr. Hovey says:
"Root-grafting, by taking the whole of the root, is nothing more than grrafting at the surface of the ground, and Mr. B. don't certainly intend to call it by any other name. What is meant and what is practiced by everybody, is to take a root of a seedling and cut it into pieces, four or six inches long, which are then whip-grafted; or pieces of roots of old trees are just as good. It is done to save time and expense. To take up a whole root, and then graft it, and set it out again, would be the most expensive way of getting a tree, for nothing would be gained and much lost, as there would be the cost of resetting, and the loss of time in reestablishing the plant"
It utterly surprises us that a man of Mr. Hovey's experience should write in such a manner. Root-grafting, by taking the whole root, is stock-grafting, indeed; and then to say that "Mr. B. don't intend to call it by any other name I" A pretty good joke for Mr. Hovey. But this is not more laughable than his notions of economy.
Suppose, for instance, that a nurseryman has in the seed-bed 1000 Apple seedlings fit for working. If he root-grafts them, he takes them up in the fall, puts them in the cellar, said in winter, when he has little to do, he grafts them; it is just a day's work to do that. In spring he plants them out, and then all the labor is over, except keeping the ground clean, and removing suckers occasionally for the first season. But suppose he buds, or "stock-grafts" them; the stocks have to be taken up, then pruned, planted out, and kept clear all summer. If the season be very favorable, and the stocks at least two years old, they may work the same season they are set out; but the chances are very frequently against them. Then they must be budded, and budding a thousand is quite equal to grafting; we would rather do the latter, for our own part; besides, the stocks must be looked over and dressed before budding. Then, again, budding is much less certain than grafting; very few are fortunate enough not to be under the necessity of budding a large number the second time, and, withal, to have failures.
Then, again, the lies must be taken off; the stocks headed down; and, during the first season's growth of the young bud, three or four crops of shoots have to be removed from the stocks below the bud. When the bud has completed its first season's growth, the grafts have grown two years, and the labor required from that lime until they are ready for market, will be just the same.
Now, is it not perfectly plain to every man that the buds, up to the end of the first year's growth, have required, at least, four times the amount of manual labor, and consequently expense. We are not guessing at these things, but arguing upon the strength of actual practice during many years, and upon a pretty extensive scale, where all the cost has been carefully counted and compared. But this question of cost is merely incidental, and should have no weight in determining the merits or demerits of either mode of propagation, for a vicious system should not be countenanced on the ground of its economy. A poor tree should never be purchased at any price; our efforts always have been, and shall continue to be, exerted in favor of elevating, rather than lowering, the standard of excellence in trees. The superior taste and intelligence of the present day demands and warrants better systems of culture on the part of tree growers, than have heretofore been generally put in practice.
Mr. Hovey very generously gives the following "particular case" to prop up his tottering arguments:
"We will mention one particular case. We had some Melon Apple trees of Messrs. Ellwanger & Barry, in the spring of 1849 or '60. When we received them, we cut off a few scions. The trees were set out carefully, in a good situation, and the scions were grafted into stocks, set in the nursery rows one year. The latter are now more than twice a* large as the former, with the promise of being ten times as large in two years more".
Now the 'candid reader will at once say that a single case of this kind amounts to nothing. Would it afford any argument against budding, if we should say that in our grounds there are several stunted, withering specimens, from Messrs. Hovey & Co., that in seven years have not grown as much as some trees of our own working have done in two ? We would be ashamed to use such an accident as an argument.
The growth of root-grafted trees in this part of the country, is such as to challenge the growth of budded trees in any part of the world. If that be any argument in favor of root-grafting, we claim the benefit of it. But this is not the real point of the discussion. Mr. Hovey says, coolly, that his stock-grafted trees of three years growth, we suppose, are twice as large as the root-grafted trees from Ellwanger & Barey of five years, and "in two years more they will be ten times as large" - that is, supposing the five years old root-grafts to be six feet high, and two inches in diameter of trunk, his stock-grafts of three allowing the root-grafts to grow none, the stock-grafts will be some sixty feet high, with diameter in proportion. Prodigious! These trees should be in Barnum's Museum, or the Crystal Palace.
It is idle to follow Mr. Hovey further, while he deals in such loose, extravagant statements. We will close this subject, for the present, by quoting from the "Prairie Farmer" the experience of Edson Harkness, Esq., one of the most extensive Apple tree growers in the west:
"I have about eight hundred to one thousand grafted and budded trees which have come to bearing. Not much difference as to the number of those budded and those which are grafted. Now, instead of finding a great difference in their hardihood, early bearing, Ac, I would not give five dollars to have them all changed to budded trees; or, rather, I do not think they would have been any better lot of trees, had they all, at the proper time, been budded on seedling stocks, instead of having been root-grafted. I do not dispute the facts stated by the advocates of exclusive budding, but believe that the inferences they draw from those facts are altogether wrong. There are certain varieties of the Apple, which, planted on a rich soil, are very slow in coming to a bearing state. Take the Yellow Bellflower for instance; it will take ten to fourteen yean to come into a bearing condition, and in that time it would spread out into an enormous tree, whether it be root-grafted or placed upon a seedling stock, of the same or greater yigor than itself. But place this same Bellflower upon a rigid, slow growing seedling stock, and it will produce an exceedingly large crop three to six years sooner.
And so it is with all the vigorous fast growing varieties; they are slow in coming to a bearing condition, unless dwarfed on a crabbed seedling, which checks their vigor, and causes them to throw out fruit buds. These dwarfed trees, however, are not so valuable as those which grow without any check, and become large before bearing. I have sixteen Michael Henry Pippins which are on rather rigid stocks, which have, up to this time, produced an average of fourteen bushels of apples in three bearing seasons. I have also two others on very strong stocks which have not produced more than from six to seven bushels each. But it is probable that the two large trees will, in the course of twenty years, produce twice as much as any two of the others".