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.
When a scientific mind announces a new discovery and affirms it a truth, it is generally because of results eliminated in accordance with laws that prove it to be so through the direct application of a test. Astronomical theory taught, and is teaching, that this earth, now partially solid, was once in so fine an ethereal state that man's senses (if he then existed) could not have revealed it to him; but through the process of cooling and condensation rock and earth ultimately were formed. The chemist says that if this theory be a truth, I can and will prove or disprove it; so he puts the rock into the retort, and behold he finds nothing but gases! How important it is that all theories should be reduced to practice; but how much easier it is to say impossible than it is to reoonr-struct our own dear cherished theories in conformity with practical science! " We have taught," says the Gardener's Monthly, "that the roots of a vine never extend beyond the distance its branches are allowed to go;" "that when we cut away the vine, the roots die away in proportion;" or, as we suppose the writer intended to have said, according to the cutting away of the branches or wood, so in proportion do the roots of the vine die.
Reader, is this a truth or a fallacy? Have you any practical experience on this direct question? Did you ever think about this? Did you ever cut a plant back, and if so, for what purpose? You certainly have planted vines? "Yes." "And cut them back either before or after that operation. Well, and what did you cut them back for ? Why, to strengthen the young plant; and if all the wood was cut away excepting perhaps a base bud or two, you have found the young plant was still more benefited?" " Most certainly." "Now, what is the science or philosophy of this operation ? Why, this: that the young roots are not strong nor numerous enough to extract from mother earth fluid matter sufficient to carry on and upward into the woody tissue of the young vine to sustain and 'develop the foliage as fast as the leaves can convert it into sap; or, in other words, the process of elaboration or chemical transmutation in foliage action is too absorbing for the supply from the roots, and consequently a partial vacuum is formed between leaves and roots, and the consequence is stagnation in the growth.
Then, as you 'cut away the vine,' did you find the 'roots die in proportion V " " Certainly not; but, on the contrary, they increased a hundred-fold." "Very well; then we shall call this practical science of the right kind. Now, from this small portion of practical knowledge, you with your young vines must certainly have gained some practical experience ?" " Yes." "Now, in what way has this much of experience benefited you with your young vines in the next season?" "Ah', sir, much. My vines the past season made a fine growth; they grew clean away up to the tops of the rafters, which are eighteen feet long; and in the month of November (not September) I cut them down to less than one third of their whole length." "But do you not think that you did very wrong, knowing that it has been taught that in proportion as the wood is cut away, so in proportion the poor roots die away?"
"If fine wood, nearly double the strength it was the past season, with some splendid bunches of grapes, is proof that the roots really did die, why, then, all I want is just the same kind of proof as long as ever I shall grow a vine." "Then am I to infer that you annually prune away the wood ?" "Most distinctly." "But you can not 'prune away' when your vines have reached the top of the rafter, or you would not fruit all the way up ?" " Ah I that is just where the secret lies, and that is just where and when your roots begin to die. Cease to have wood to 'prune away,' and just in the proportion as you don't prune away' plenty of wood, so in that proportion your vine roots most assuredly will. die." "But how do you manage to have plenty of wood to ' prune away V " " Well, sir, this is hardly fair - in fact, it is quite a secret; indeed, I am just thinking about taking out a patent for the process; but then, the more we talk about an invention we are about to get patented, the greater is the proof established by having a number of witnesses who can vouch in behalf of the originator, should the case be contested. So I will tell you how always to have plenty of wood to cut away.
Never fruit your vines more than two thirds their length, and cut away the wood from that given point every season." "And the poor little roots won't really die one third, as this is the proportion cut away of the wood?" "Not a bit of it." "Nor the new young roots go precisely in the track where the other old roots have traveled and absorbed all the nourishing elements out of the soil ?" " You rather surprise me with this query, as I can not see by what law new roots are constrained to pass through an identical portion of soil of which the older roots have previously absorbed all its,constituent elements of plant-food. Roots of plants generally travel to where they are attracted, and the elements of soil thus magnetized possess the necessary food constituents." "But why do you speak of soils being ' magnetizing' or 'attractive?'" "Well, then, perhaps the term affinity may suit you better; but, to me, affinity seems to belong to a low order of intelligence; for this affinity certainly manifests traits in its character of like and dis - liking things.
Kerosene oil will instantly kill meally bug, but the oil alone is too strong for most mealy-bug-plants, and we can not weaken it with water because the kerosene don't like the water; but if we add some soap, we then throw dust into the eyes of kerosene,, and then, being blinded, it can not tell one from the other. We cheat him into a matrimonial alliance for our own benefit. A great many things are done this way, using soap and coal dust.
"There stands a lophospermum, you see, growing in that pot. Two feet from it, you will observe, stands a small wooden water-tank, kept full for ordinary use. Now, observe the roots of that plant, and you see they have come through the hole in the bottom of the pot, and have traveled in a direct line two feet, and reached the tank of water, pierced through it where the planks are nailed together, and have gained full possession of the water ! This is an evidence of attraction or the magnetic power of the soil, - the one positive, the other negative, its polarity mutably conditioned to meet the condition of and reverse the aqueous superfluity of either soil or roots. Now, 'exhausted'soils seem to imply a soil in statu quo ; but this is not the case, for there is not one moment in the life of soils but what they are continually undergoing chemical transmutations, and streaming forth vegetable life-constituents in a wonderful manner and to a most wonderful extent, and these transmutations are more multitudinous when in conjunction with root action; for it is then that the vegetable and mineral substances in solution through heat, carbonic acid, etc., yield to the roots the greatest amount of food, as in like manner does the root yield to the soil and the latter to the atmosphere, under a low temperature, the very constituents of its vegetable organism in icy crystals and in perfect representation of that identity from whence evolved.