This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
We have frequently urged the importance of planting places very thickly at first, in order both to produce an immediate effect, and also because the shelter which one another affords makes the trees grow with greater health and vigor, than when exposed singly to the force of wind and sun. At this season no better employment can be found than in thinning out these thick planted places. It will of course require much judgment; but one fond of trees, and the effects which they produce, will not be much at a loss. Sometimes it is hard to bring one's self to cut down a tree which one has watched grow for so many years; but it must often be done if we would preserve the symmetry and beauty of our places. When there is any question as to the proper tree to be taken away, the size of the place may help one to decide. A tree which will in time occupy much space can be more easily spared from a small place than one which will never transgress a limited space. Indeed, except for the purpose of rapid growth to nurse more valued trees, large growing things should not be tolerated in small places.
The green grass which is the charm of all gardens soon departs when large trees are about.
Of course, this talk about thinning out, brings us to another great winter employment, that of pruning. There is no very great amount of science required for this, and yet some judgment is necessary. This is often done with little more reason than a boy has for whittling a chip - merely to have something to do. For, notwithstanding the many papers that have been written "on the plilosophy of pruning," the naked question, " When is the best time to prune trees?" is one with which the gardener is continually bored. The keen-edged gardeners give the cutting reply, " any time when your knife is sharp;" but the more good natured say, "It depends on what you want to cut for." The street cutter " wants to keep the tree head low," and cuts down to make them branch lower; cutting in winter does not have this effect, so that unless one has some other object to combine with it, such as to clean the tree of bark scales or the larva of other insects, or the giving of employment to some half starved tree carpenter, the work might as well be left undone. If you want a branch to push strongly at the point where you cut a part away, prune in winter.
If your tree has branches crossing each other, or has half dead branches, or anything tending to spoil the form or symmetry of your tree, prune in winter; but as a rule the less pruning is done the healthier will be your trees, for it may be accepted as a rule in gardening, that all pruning, whether in winter or summer, is a blow struck at the vitality of the plant.
Sometimes we have to sacrifice a good object to gain some other point. So in hedges: The plants are usually trees. To devigorate them and keep them bushy is our great object The principal pruning is therefore in summer. The winter pruning is simply to keep them in shape. There is, however, one kind of pruning which just suits both the principle and the season, namely, thinning out where thick planting has been adopted, as it is now by all who want a new place to look well without waiting too long for the charm.
There are many beautiful plants which we can enjoy if we only take care to keep them from the sun in winter. The Evergreen Ivy is one of this class. In Pennsylvania it will rarely live on the south side of a building without some injury; while on the northern side, it is usually able to get through. This shows that it is not a question of the thermometer, for it is much colder on the north side of a house than on the south; but it is rather through the more rapid escape of moisture on that side. But the lesson is of value in teaching us to shade any valuable broad-leaved plant which we may have. The Japan Euonymus, the Oregon grape or Mahonia aquifo-lia, the Rhododendron, and other similar things all do very well in this section of the country, if anything be scattered lightly over to prevent injury from the sun.
Nothing " pays" like surface dressings of manure or good soil to evergreens and ornamental trees. Life is too short for mere natural growth. It is a pardonable vice to wish for large trees. Put on two inches of good stuff, and see how they will go ahead.
Very few understand that an occasional change of soil is very beneficial to flowers in beds, though all know how important it is to flowers in pots. There is nothing better than surface soil from an old pasture, taken off about two inches deep, and thrown into a heap with about one-sixth part old hot-bed dung to partially decay. In addition to this "staple" item, smaller quantity of different matters should be gathered together for peculiar cases, or particular plants. Peat, for instance, will be found very useful for many kinds of plants. This is not, as is often supposed, mere black sand; but a spongy, fibrous substance from the surface of bogs and boggy wastes. Sand should be collected sharp and clean; the washings from turnpike ditches are as good as anything. Leaf mould is best got already well decayed from the woods. That one makes for himself from rotten leaves is seldom good for anything; it is always sour and seems " indigestible" to vegetation. A load or so of well-decayed cow-manure is a good thing for the gardener to have by him, as all those plants that dislike our hot summers, and want a cool soil to grow in, prefer it to any other manure.
A small pile of hot-bed manure is almost indispensable to the garden.
Much will, in many places, be required for dressing of the lawn, which too often is really starved for want of nutriment The modern practice of using mowers, and leaving the short grass to serve as a mulch is a little good; but not near enough to keep the grass in good heart. A top dressing every other year, or every three years, will be of great benefit to the best made lawn. This top dressing may not be of rich or expensive materials. The scouring of ditches will do. Indeed this kind of material is the better, as more of it can be used; and thus shallow places, which often exist in lawns of some pretentions, may be filled up. We have seen good lawns made. in this way from rough places, aa bad as if the grass had been sown on a piece of ploughed ground, without any rolling or harrowing down. The grass sown comes through the filled up places, and a smooth lawn in this way can often be had without the trouble and annoyance of ploughing up and seeding down again, a practice which is often employed where the work was not in the first instance well done.