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 shall close the crude and desultory remarks upon the subject at the head of this article, which were at first proposed by a few comments upon certain of the processes in the arts of pruning and training, which in a former number I have styled debilitants of the wood-producing force, applicable in the hands of the cultivator as remedies, where unproductiveness results from over-luxuriance - or, as preventives in cases where in a state of fruitfulness the habit of a tree or plant indicates a tendency to the production of too much wood-growth. These processes are:
1. Sterling supplies of food.
2. Neglected cultivation.
3. Retarding the circulation.
4. Breaking the circuit of circulation.
The first of these processes comprises the two very common expedients now practiced to superinduce a state of fruitfulness - root-pruning, and dwarf-pruning. Every tree receives at the extreme points of its rootlets, its supplies of food, which there enter into the circulation by reason of the mysterious attraction of the thicker sap within, for the thinner fluids without, (by endosmose;) and nothing is plainer than the fact that, other things being equal, the size and vigor of trees and plants, are to. each other in proportion to their number of spongioles, and the space they pervade. It is impossible, therefore, to diminish the number of these rootlets, or the area over which they range, without lessening also, the amount of food carried into their general circulation, and by consequence, the share of each bud. The effect of this operation is very generally understood and appreciated, and also its application as a means of superinducing fruitfulness. Mutilation of the roots, (and root-pruning is only mutilation, nothing more nor less,) lies at the foundation of that very salutary rule, heading back the branches when large trees are transplanted.
In this case the demand for food is reduced until the enfeebled condition of the rootlets can meet the requisition.
Most fruit trees, and many plants, are liable to a catastrophe which might be termed, not inaptly, accidental root-pruning. I refer to that strangulation or suffocation of the rootlets resulting from seething and baking rains, sometimes experienced in hot seasons. A visitation of this kind often seems to arrest the circulation, and to bring on a premature decline and fall of the leaf. The cherry, apricot, and plum, are most liable to this affection. Sometimes, however, the apple and pear are not exempt. I have, myself, witnessed instances in which the Rousselette de Rheims, after making shoots four to six feet in length, in the early part of the season, and losing its leaves in July or August, has formed sessile fruit buds throughout the whole extent of such branches, producing thereon a wreath of fruits in the following season. I do not mean to say the fruitlets would be without peduncles, but the clusters without spurs - which is their usual appendage.
Dwarfing fruit trees, by propagating them upon small growing stocks, is only another method of stinting supplies of food. In this case we avoid the necessity of resorting to artificial means to diminish the system of roots, by making choice of stocks whose roots are naturally small - and it appears to me that the whole claim of this practice to favorable regard, rests upon the following considerations only, and not upon any mysterious agency exerted by the stock upon the habits of the graft. 1st. It enables the amateur to cultivate a large number of varieties within a small compass. 2d. Fruits upon dwarf trees, like clusters of the grape upon branches from which the wood-producing force has been removed by amputation, have control of the circulation, and for this reason, larger and finer than upon trees where the wood growth is more active. 3d. Dwarfing simplifies fruit culture - the whole business of cultivation is to stimulate - the balance of power is at all times against wood-growth. One must cultivate and manure; must thin and shorten in.
An ordinary fruit tree, when inserted upon a dwarf stock, is not unlike the fox in the fable, at the feast of the storks - its food has to be reached through such diminutive tubes, (" such long, narrow necked vessels,") that there is no danger of growing to excess.
Neglected cultivation, although enumerated in the hooks as a means of inducing fruit-fulness, does not deserve favor, and should always give place in the orchard culture of standards upon their own stocks, to retarding the circulation, hy bending down the branches. I believe with Jeffries, that precosity should never be encouraged, but believe this method of hastening the bearing state to be attended with fewer evil consequences than almost any other. Suppose the top of a young tree to consist of a few straight switches - these, if bent to a horizontal position, will form fruit buds at the points in a year or two, whilst dormant, or adventitious buds, will put forth at the bases of such switches, and refill the center with upright wood growth, the tree forming a head as rapidly, and often with more symmetry, than though the branches had not been bent.
Breaking the circuit of circulation is effected by wringing the branches. This wringing, when not so thorough as to produce the death of the parts cut off by the ring, not only induces fruitfulness, but adds, very often, brilliancy to the hues of colored fruits. Pinching, or cutting off tender shoots, and heading-back branches in full leaf, are operations of a nature very similar to wringing - in many such cases the circuit of circulation is interrupted for a time, and the roots, after undergoing the labor of sending up the material which has formed the amputated branches, never can receive an equivalent - since, by the act of amputation, the organs which should have digested this equivalent of food are destroyed. It is this debilitating tendency in the practice of stripping off the leaves and growing branches, which renders the operation of shortening-in, in the month of August, conducive to fruitfulness - a result exactly opposite to that of the same operation, if applied in February or March.
In conclusion, I may remark, that although in these numbers I may have failed to suggest anything new or useful to the readers of your very popular Journal - still, I think they will have been laid under obligations, even for my errors, if they shall induce the modest, but well informed author of the " Fruit Garden" to redeem his pledge, and spread out in your columns the fruits of his extensive reading, and valuable practical experience, upon this more than interesting subject. L. Young.
Louisville, Ky., 1852
This is a most comprehensive subject, and I regret that Mr. Young has " closed" it so soon. The question of " pruning" cannot be fully treated of in a general way. It must be applied to limited culture, as in the garden, the close fruit yard - to dwarf cultivation in fact, where ringing, tortillating, and root pruning may be tolerated. Also, to open orchard culture, and on different principles altogether, in practice, from the other, to make it applicable and understandable to all who would profit by its discussion. Dwarfing is, in truth, a perversion of nature - not wrongly - but for our own convenience and profit; consequently it involves more labor, more ingenuity, and is attended with greater risk, and demands deeper knowledge, and observation, both in vegetable physiology, and in the composition of the soils which may be occupied. In open, natural cultivation, the true theory of pruning is simple. Nature will there do her own work, with a little aid in removing incumbrances and repairing accidents. These performed, as a general rule, the less " pruning," scientifically, the better. But, good cultivation should be given, always.
The best orchards, probably, in the United States, are those which have received little aid from the saw and knife, except in infancy, but whose soils have been well fed, if not originally stored with proper food, and carefully tended. Nature, to be perfect in any of her works, should not beforced. We may be impatient. Not so her. In her elaborate and harmonious labors, time must be given for all things; and all we have to do is to understand what she intends, and only lend her that grateful aid which will be amply repaid in ten-fold blessings upon our endeavors.