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.
ED. Western Horticulturist: - The question is very frequently asked, what shall be done with the old apple trees? This is more especially the case in New England and those Eastern States which have many trees on the decline. Very many of the orchards of New England are of natural fruit, the quality of many of which sinks in comparison with some of the later and more approved varieties; for this reason comes the query mentioned above. There is undoubtedly a limit to the profitable productiveness of apple trees; they may have a lingering existence with an occasional year of reasonable bearing, but beyond a certain point the vigor of a tree must be rapidly declining, and for that reason, the expediency of an attempt at renewal by means of grafting may well be questioned; for if the elements of disease and decay have once taken hold of the body or roots of a tree, although grafted from never so vigorous and thrifty a shoot, the nourishment must pass through diseased organs, and hence affect to a greater or less degree the inserted stock.
Not only that, but it is a more difficult matter to obtain fruit from such old trees that.is fair and possesses the desirable qualities required, than from young, vigorous trees.
At this age of fruit-growing, there is considerable diversity of opinion as to the best course to be pursued. A farmer who is a fruit grower, and markets his fruit in a distant city, remarked that if he was to set out a young orchard to apple trees, he would as soon set out natural fruit, or trees coming from the seed, as the most highly recommended fancy varieties, and gave as reasons, that the trees were always healthy and bore profusely after coming to bearing; that they almost invariably bore every year; that, if there was no sale for fruit they could be made into cider for vinegar, of which they would make more and better than fancy fruit; that in marketing, especially where furnished to families, they preferred them for cooking purposes because they were more acid, cooking softer and with better flavor. He offered as an objection to fancy fruit, the uncertainty of its bearing, many varieties being exceeding shy bearers every other year. There is certainly very much force to this objection, and this being so, renders the attempt to improve old orchards by grafting, a movement of doubtful expediency.
It is manifest that there is a gradual deterioration of the apple in New England, which can undoubtedly, in a great measure be attributed to this wholesale system of grafting and intergrafting old trees. What is it, that at the present time gives the West such a superiority over the East in her apples - yes, and other fruits - if it is not the fact, that she has been obliged to originate new varieties, which she has done, and which are adapted to her soil and climate?
If grafting must be done, let it be upon stocks that are young and vigorous, that have been produced from the seed; and if they can be allowed to come to bearing, so as to discover the disposition of the same, before grafting, all the better, as it would be also to take the cions from trees known to be bearing trees, because, unless this is so, upon the principle that like produces like, a barren tree may finally be produced.
It is a good thing to originate and dsiseminate new varieties of fruit, but while doing so, the profitableness to the raiser should not be entirely lost sight of; and there is no variety that is a very shy bearer, no matter how fine the fruit, that can compete with a variety of profuse bearing, but of less beauty. Orchard culture is of sufficient importance to receive careful consideration.