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.
Dear Sir: I find that in the August number of the Horticulturist I am arraigned before a tribunal of very high authority in such matters upon a charge of having made innovation upon the doctrines which governed the practice of pruning in the good old days of 1846! I perceive also that the indictment contains two counts, setting forth in substance that in an article in the May number of the Horticulturist I aver "that severe summer pruning of the fruit bearing and lateral branches of the grape is the only correct practice, ac knowledgcd to be so by all cultivators." And again charging that in the same article 1 aver " that everybody does or may know this (it) to be the correct practice." It might be a sufficient defence to both these charges simply to state that no such broad assertions are contained in the article from which they purport to be quoted; but believing that in the well turned periods of the article over the signature of "C," who is the author of this complaint, and in his accurate description of the renewal system in managing the grape, I recognise the proportions of a personal friend, of one who is no novice in the philosophy of vegetable life, and of one also who is incapable of coming out on such a subject from a mere desire to assail, I fear I may have provoked his comments by a failure to make apparent the drift of my remarks; with your leave, therefore, I propose to say something in explanation.
A leading principle in the theory of pruning attempted to he set up by me, supposes an excessive growth of wood and the simultaneous production of an excessive fruit crop, incompatible things, and it was about this principle I was reasoning when the statement was made that everybody does or may know that upon a vine capable of sending out shoots 10,15, to 20 feet long, if two branches be taken, each having one cluster of grapes, and they be so treated that one forms no wood, whilst the other makes a long shoot, the cluster on the branch without wood will be large, the other a starvling. This is no paradox - the doctrlqgmay be found in the books prior to 1846, and now is becoming rife.
In a late number of the "Western Horticultural Review may be found a good article setting forth in substance that the gooseberry may be successfully grown and mildew prevented simply by cutting out all the shoots of a light green color, thereby preventing a diversion of the sap from nursing the young fruit. Indeed, if I mistake not the personal identity of C, he too is an eminently successful grower of the gooseberry upon this Identical principle, pinching out the points of his growing shoots during the early stages of development in the fruit crop, and afterward rubbing off any buds bursting into growth while the crop is maturing. What I said further in relation to summer pruning had reference merely to the time of performing the operation, and upon this branch of the subject I only say that most cultivators fix upon a time subsequent to the setting of the fruit, intimating myself that in cases of great luxuriance this setting of the fruit is a period too late to secure the greatest advantage to the crop by cutting out the growing points of the bearing branches, whilst, as my theory maintains, if the wood-forming and fruit-bearing forces be equally balanced, no pruning may be required at all.
There is one suggestion in my article of May to which the attention of " C." and of cultivators generally is respectfully invited, and that is a founding of the rule of practice In this case upon principle instead of dogmatism - upon the condition of the vine, not the length or breadth of the trellis, making luxuriance in the branches a test for the necessity of pruning and not "in-convenient length." The suggestion of that article goes even farther than this; it contemplates grouping all plants bearing the fruit crop upon branches of the current year's growth, which branches are capable of making an active growth at the points after setting the fruit crop into one class, in which over-luxuriance in each was manageable by a common remedy - -short-ening-in. In maintenance of that suggestion, allow me to make a few quotations. Gen. James Hamilton, in an excellent agricultural address delivered to a cotton growing audience at Fort Mitchell, Alabama, in July, 1844, takes occasion to say that he was " satisfied that in a rank and wet season we shall make at least one-third more to the acre by topping the cotton plant at about four and a half feet high and afterward shortening-in the long laterals".
Of the tomato, Prof. Mapes, whom his co-temporaries consider as "do mean authority," says in a late number of his well conducted pe-riodcal, the Working Farmer, " All must have observed that 90 per cent of the fruit is within 18 inches of the ground, while 90 per cent of the vine, containing only 10 per cent of the fruit, grows above this point. Therefore, cut it off with the small tomatoes, and the large ones left will increase in size more than equal in value to the 10 per cent cut off/'
Why not study the management of these plants, with the melon, the vine, and others of like habits? It seems to be admitted in all that the power to form perfect fruit or seed is checked by the presence of a wood-growth too active, and that, under one name or another, topping, cutting off, or pinching out, the process of shortening in is applied as a corrective. Conformity to the requisitions of science would not be the only result brought about by grouping. It would afford fresh facilities for effecting progress in the art and science of cultivation by opening a new field for comparison, whilst every hint gleaned from such a field would swell in importance, because applicable to a whole class, instead of an individual species. Connected intimately with this subject is the question, what leaves are they which in this whole class of plants nourish the seed forms or fruit? - are they those between the points on the annual shoot, where the fruit is located, and the base of the shoot, or between the fruit and the points of such branch?
In grape culture this is a question of some moment, since in the removal of leaves near the bunches, in order to admit breezes refreshing to the perspiratory organs of the berries, it might happen that the apparatus designed to pump in fluids for assimilation by the digestive ones was rendered too feeble. Individually, I incline to the belief that the inner are the more important ones, and base my conclusion upon the habits of the grape and tomato, and upon my observations in fruit, and more especially in peach growing, a branch of pomology in which my friends will have it that I am "some;" yet if I know anything on this subject (and allusion to the good opinions of friends is made but to show I might know,) and were called upon to grow a first rate peach, one to charm all beholders and yet prove equally grateful to the palate as pleasing to the eye, I would unhesitatingly choose for the experiment some good looking specimen, located in a healthy portion of some well cultivated tree, pendant at the point of some slender branch, a position in which, when enlarged, it would swing like a plummet before every breeze, where it would linger long after its fellows had articulated and fallen to the ground, gradually receiving the softest and most bewitchingly impressions of beauty by touchings and retouchings of the solar ray upon a perfectly pure and unsunburnt ground; but in a position where it should do its own pumping of fluids, aided only by a small tuft of leaves leaving gracefully near the point of the branch, but above and between the fruit and its sources of food.
L. You no.