New England Farmer 13(12): 92-93 (October 1, 1834)

On the Coiling System of Cultivating the Vine in Pots

John Mearns, F.H.S.

As I have communicated an account of my coiling system of cultivating the vine in pots to several persons, and have also given a statement of my experiments to the London Horticultural Society, I feel it to be a duty also to lay my practice before you.

This coiling system is certainly a completely new feature, and, I think, a very valuable one, in the art of grape-growing. Is it not a matter of great importance that, in consequence of my discovery, a gardener, who may go to a situation, in the autumn, where no grapes have previously been growing, may be enabled to produce there easily, for the ensuing season, from 500 to 1000 bunches of fine grapes? All that are wanting to enable any gardener, so circumstanced, to do this, are the prunings of the vines from any garden, that would otherwise be thrown away, and, of course, a convenient frame, pit, or house, for growing them in. If abundance of shoots can be procured, and there is a sufficient extent of frames, &c. either temporary or permanent, two, three, or five thousand bunches may thus be produced in a garden where grapes were never seen before.

The coiling system is nothing more than taking a long shoot or cutting from the vine, cutting out all the buds except a few at the upper end, and then beginning at the lower end, and coiling the shoot round and round, say from three to six or eight times, the inside of a pot of 12 or 14 in. or more in diameter. The shoot may be of any length, from 6 ft. to 30 ft., and it may be entirely of last year's wood; or the greater part of it may be of old wood, provided 3 or 4 ft. at the upper end be of new wood; because, as every gardener knows, the buds from young wood are more certain than those from old wood of producing blossoms the first year. The vine being coiled round in the pot, and plenty of drainage being put in the bottom, take care that the end of the shoot left out of the pot, on which the fruit is to grow, be not injured at the point where it separates from the coil. This shoot may be 2 or 3 ft. long; and, to keep it steady, it may be tied to a stake, or coiled round two or three stakes. After this, fill up the pot with a rich loamy soil, pressing it against the coil, as if you were making firm the end of a cutting. Unless this is done in such manner as to bring every part of the coil in close contact with the soil, it will not root so readily as it otherwise would do. The next operation is, to wrap up all that part of the stem which is above the pot with moss, and this moss must be kept constantly moist till the grapes are formed. The pot should now be plunged in bottom heat, either in a pit or forcing-house; but, wherever it is plunged, care must be taken to regulate the temperature of the atmosphere of the house, in such a manner as to prevent the top of the vine from being excited before the roots. If this should happen, the young shoots produced will soon wither for want of nourishment. Abundance of air, therefore, should be given for several weeks, so as never to allow the temperature of the atmosphere of the house, frame, or pit, to exceed 45 deg. or 50 deg. while the temperature of the medium in which the pots are plunged may be as high as 65 deg. or 70 deg. When, by examination, you find that fibres are protruded from the coil, the temperature of the atmosphere may then be gradually raised, when the buds will break, and the shoots will grow apace.

The shoots proceeding from that part of the stem above the pot should be led up to within 8 or 10 in. of the glass, and there trained, at that distance from it, towards the back of the pit or house. It is needless to state to the practical gardener, that each shoot will require to be shortened, freed from laterals, &c. Each vine will produce from three to twenty or more bunches, according to the length of coil and variety of grape. I have now (Jan. 17,1834) upwards of 200 coiled branches in pots, and nearly fifty of them in action; some with twenty bunches of fine grapes on them.

I was asked the other day, whether vines so treated would not require frequent shiftings into larger pots; or, at least, to be shifted once a year. To this I answered, that while we had a plentiful supply of prunings from our own vines, or could procure them from those of our friends, the best mode would be to treat the plants, after they had borne one crop, as we do the roots of asparagus and other plants that we force; that is, to throw them away. If, however, you should wish to keep the coiled plants a second year, and the pots should be found to be too full of roots, turn out the ball, shake the soil from the coil, and cut away all the roots close to the shoot; then re-pot it as before. If this be done in winter, the plant will produce an excellent crop the following season; probably a better one than if the roots were allowed to remain, and the ball shifted into a larger pot or box. The pot or box is in either case soon filled with young vigorous fibres, like a hatch of young maggots, each eager for food, and consequently sending it up in abundance to supply the crop above. Can there be a doubt but that this is a far superior mode to keeping pots, or even fruit-tree borders, filled up with old inert roots?

Before my bunches are clearly developed, I have thousands of eager mouths or spongioles, extending along the coiled shoot, and each gaping for food; some of these rootlets are 3 ft. long, and, before the vines are put out of blossom, many of them are 6 ft. in length, and matted round and round the pot. You will easily understand, from this, how important it is to supply vines so treated with liquid manure, either by watering from above, or by a supply from a saucer or feeder from below.

I am, Sir, yours, &c. John Mearns.
Welbeck Gardens, Jan. 17, 1834.

Since we received the above account from Mr. Mearns, we have heard the article on the same subject to which he alludes, read before a meeting of the Horticultural Society. In this paper the names of a number of varieties are mentioned, which had been thus fruited; including the muscadines, black clusters, black Hamburgh, black Damascus, black Tripoli, muscat of Alexandria, &c. Mr. Mearns also mentions that, hearing of a new and fine variety of muscat called the Candia, which had been a few years ago introduced into the Duke of Buccleugh's gardens, at Dalkeith, he wrote last autumn to Mr. Macdonald the gardener there, for some of the prunings of this vine, and that he had, at the time the paper was written (Feb. 1834) plants of the Candia at Welbeck, from coils of the prunings received, with numerous bunches of fruit on them, which would ripen in April and May next.

We regard this discovery of Mr. Mearns as one of considerable importance, not only as showing what may be done in the particular case of the vine, but as tending to familiarize practical gardeners with some points in vegetable physiology. It is clear that the coiled shoot is a reservoir of nutriment to the young growth; in the same manner as the tuber of a potato is an accumulation of nutriment for the young shoots which proceed from its bud or eyes when planted. To a certain extent, long shoots of any tree whatever, if buried in the soil, either coiled or extended, and two or three inches, or feet of their upper extremities kept out of the ground, would produce leaves, blossoms and even fruit the first year; but those shoots, which, from their nature do not freely emit fibres, or do not emit them at all, would perhaps not set their fruit; or might even cease to produce leaves in the course of a few mouths. The reason in that case would be, that the reservoir of nourishment soon becomes exhausted, if it is not supplied from the soil, and that the only mode by which the shoot can obtain nourishment from the soil is, by means of fibres, which it has either no power of producing at all, or cannot produce in sufficient abundance. The advantages of the coiling system are, that an almost unlimited number of fibres or mouths are produced by it in a very limited portion of soil, and that this soil can be rendered of the most suitable description for the given plant, supplied abundantly with liquid manure, and renewed almost at pleasure. The use of cutting off all these fibres or mouths when they get too long, is merely to keep them within a limited space, for when a fibre elongates, unless it has at the same time, room to branch out so as to produce other fibres, it can take in no more nourishment than when it is short, say an inch long; because the nourishment is only taken in by the spongiole, or point of the fibre. The whole art of rapid cultivation, both in ligneous and herbaceous vegetables, proceeds on this principle. The Lancashire gooseberry grower has recourse to it, when he shortens the root of his plants at a certain distance from the stem every two or three years; thus causing them to emit fibres, for which he prepares a circular trench of rich soil round each tree. Mr. Mearns' mode of treating the peach and other fruit trees, described in the succeeding paper, and the mode of cultivating cabbages and other plants of that kind, by pricking out from the seed bed, and transplanting, and re-transplanting into rich soil, instead of sowing where the plants are finally to remain, all proceed on the principle of multiplying the mouths, and increasing the supply of rich food within a limited space. The result of this is, both in ligneous and herbaceous plants, that maturity is obtained with less magnitude than in a natural state, and in a much shorter time. The essential principle is the abundant supply of rich nutriment, and the same principle produces exactly the same results in the animal kingdom. Hence the small-sized early-fatting varieties of cattle, sheep, swine, &c.

Where a plant or animal is grown or reared chiefly to be consumed as food, the application of this principle seems desirable and advantageous; but where the natural character and beauty of the plant or animal are desiderata, a more natural mode of treatment, or one more resembling that which is generally followed, is requisite for attaining the end in view.

All intricate operations of culture, such as those of the coiling system, the chambering of the roots of trees, taking up and replanting, particular modes of training, ringing, &c. it should never be forgotten either by gardeners or their employers, are only calculated for places where abundance of men are kept, and where also there is considerable skill in at least one or two of these men. When these and similar operations are attempted in places where there are scarcely hands enough to keep a garden in order by the common practices, failure is certain to attend either the new practice or the old ones, and probably both.— Cond.

A treatise on the pot-culture of the grape by John Mearns (1843)