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.
WITHOUT proper and judicious summer pruning it is impossible to prune judiciously in the fall. If you have allowed six or eight canes to grow in summer where you need but two or three, none of them will be fit to bear a full crop, nor be properly developed. We prune longer in the fall than the majority of our vintners, which gives a double advantage; should the frost of winter have injured or killed any of the first buds, we still have enough left; and should this not be the case, we still have our choice to rub off all imperfect shoots; to reduce the number of branches at the first pinching, and thus retain only strong canes for next year's fruiting, and have only large, well developed bunches.
But to secure these advantages, we have certain rules, which we follow strictly. We arc glad to see that the attention of the grape growers of the country is thoroughly aroused to the importance of this subject, and that the old practice of cutting and slashing the young growth of July and August is generally discountenanced. It has murdered more promising vineyards than any other practice. But the people are apt to run into extremes, and many are now advocating the "let alone " doctrine. We think both are wrong, and that the true course to steer is in the middle.
1. Perform the operation early. Do it as soon as the shoots are six inches long. At this time you can overlook your vine much easier. Every young shoot is soft and pliable. You do not rob the vine of a quantity of foliage it cannot spare (as the leaves are the lungs of the plant and elevators of the sap). You can do three times the work that you can perform a week later, when the shoots have become hardened and intertwined by their tendrils. Remember that the knife should have nothing to do with summer pruning. Your thumb and finger should perform all the work, and they can do it easily if it is done early.
2. Perform it thoroughly and systematically. Select the shoots you intend for bearing wood next year. These are left unchecked; but do not leave more than you really need. Remember that each part of the vine should be thoroughly ventilated, and if you crowd it too much, none of the canes will ripen their wood as thoroughly nor be as vigorous as when each has room, air and light. Having selected these, commence at the bottom of the vine, rubbing off all the superfluous shoots, and all which appear weak or imperfect. Then go over each arm or part of the vine, pinching every fruit bearing branch above the last bunch of grapes, or, if this should look weak or imperfect, remove it and pinch back to the first perfectly developed bunch. Should the bud have pushed out two or three shoots, it will generally be advisable to leave the strongest, and remove the balance. Do not think that you can do part of it a little later, but be unsparing in taking away what you intend to take this time. Destroy all the caterpillars, and all the insects you find feeding on the vines, the steel blue beetle, who will eat into the buds.
But protect the lady bug, mantis, and ail the friends of the vine.
We come now to the second stage of the summer pruning. After the first pinching, the dormant buds in the axils of the leaves, on fruit-bearing shoots, will each push out a lateral shoot, opposite the young bunches. Our second operation consists in pinching off these laterals back to one leaf as soon as we get hold of the shoot above the first leaf, so that we get a young and vigorous leaf additional, opposite to each bunch of grapes. These serve as elevators of sap, and also an excellent protection and shade to the fruit. Remember our aim is not to rob the plant of its foliage; but to make two leaves grow where there was but one before, and at a place where they are of more benefit to the fruit. By our method, our rows of vines have the appearance of leafy walls, each bunch of the fruit properly shaded, and yet each part of the vine is properly ventilated. We come now to another one of those accidental discoveries, which has proved of great use to us in the management of the Concord, Herbcmont, Taylor, etc. In the summer of 1862, when a piece of Concord, planted in 1861, was growing rapidly, a severe hailstorm cut up the young shoots, completely defoliating them, and breaking the tender and succulent shoots at a height of about two feet.
The vines were growing rapidly, and the dormant buds in the axils of the leaves immediately pushed out laterals, which made fair-sized canes. In the follow ing fall when we commenced to prune we found from three to five of these strong laterals on each cane, and accordingly shortened them in from three to five and six buds each. On these laterals we raised as fine a crop of grapes as we ever saw - certainly much finer than we bad ever before raised on the strong canes; and we have since learned to imitate hailstorms by pinching the leaders of young shoots when they have grown, say two feet, forcing out the laterals and growing out fruit on the latter, thus meeting with another illustration of the old proverb, "It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good."
After the sound pinching of the fruit-bearing branches, as described above, the laterals will generally start once more, and we pinch the young growth again to one leaf, thus giving each lateral two well developed leaves. The whole course should be completed about the middle of June here, and whatever grows hereafter may be left. In closing, let us glance at the objects we have in view:
1. To keep the vine within proper bounds, so that it is at all times under the control of the vintner, without weakening its constitution by robbing it of a great amount of foliage.
2. Judicious thinning of the fruit at a time when no vigor has been expended in its development.
3. Developing strong, healthy foliage, by forcing the growth of the laterals and having two young, healthy leaves opposite each bunch, which will shade the fruit and serve as conductors of the sap to the fruit.
4. Growing vigorous canes for next year's fruiting and no more, thereby making them stronger; as every part of the vine is accessible to light and air, the wood will ripen better and more uniformly.
5. Destruction of noxious insects. As the vintner has to look over each shoot of the vine, this is done more thoroughly and systematically than by any other process.