IT is with hesitation that I have ventured to approach so large a subject in a limited space. A landscape gardener to whom I confided the fact that this little book would contain a short chapter upon trees that might be useful to the amateur, turned a withering glance upon me with the remark that "when Mr. Blank's large two-volume work upon trees is comparatively elementary, what can you possibly say in one chapter that will be useful?" Of course I was deeply humiliated and could make no fitting reply. But the idea remained with me. I knew my own aversion to searching through comprehensive works of many volumes when I needed only a little practical information, and have, therefore, taken courage again to write briefly about some trees of vigorous growth, hoping that the amateur may find it helpful.
The native trees of the locality where you live are sure to flourish. The climate and soil suit them. They will bear transplanting well, and, if carefully attended to, are quite sure to live. Drive around the country, notice the trees growing by the roadside or about the older places and farm-houses; see what trees are in the woodlands, and after deciding what you want, order them from some good nursery, or, what is more interesting, get them from the fields and woods.
Deciduous trees must be transplanted either in the very early Spring as soon as the ground can be dug, or in late October, after the leaves have fallen. If you own no fields or woodlands where young trees are growing, then go about the country until you find what you want; if you think they can be obtained, make friends with the farmer (it will probably be a farmer) who owns the trees; he will undoubtedly be glad to sell them to you at a reasonable price, and also, as farm work is not pressing in late October or at the end of March, to dig up and deliver the trees to you for the price of a day's work. But don't trust him to do it without oversight, unless you know that the man has had experience and been successful in getting out trees, and, above all, have it understood and insist that the roots must be whole, if there is a tap root, that it shall all be there, that the tops shall be uninjured, and, in fact, that the whole tree be in good condition.
White Birch, eight years after being planted as a small tree about four feet high..
If a few trees only are to be transplanted, you will be interested to go yourself and watch them dug out, to be sure that every precaution is taken. Have some old stable blankets or large pieces of burlap ready to cover the roots of each tree as soon as lifted, so that they do not become dry, and do not allow more trees to be taken up than can be moved to their new home and planted the same day.
More care must be taken in transplanting trees from the woods and fields than with nursery stock. In nurseries the trees are frequently moved, their form carefully pre-sei'ved, the roots pruned, and packing for transportation reduced to a science. But a tree that you have seen growing in a fence corner or in a woodland, whose transplanting you have personally superintended, will be more an object of fond pride and dearer to you, than the nursery-grown tree that comes in a box by express.
If possible, always have your nursery stock sent by express. This is important. Freight is slow, and plants and trees often become so dried out by the long transit that they cannot survive. Last Fall I lost a number of plants sent from a Western State because the orders to send by express were misunderstood and the box reached me as freight after being three weeks on the way. The actual loss was made good, but there was the annoyance and delay.
There are many native shrubs to be found growing in the fields and by streams, that are worthy of a place in any garden. They are easy to transplant and quite sure to live. They must be well pruned, however, and quite half of the tops should be cut off.
Among the shrubs to be found in the fields are the sweet-briars, alders, black chokeberry, elders, witch hazel, and the splendid sumac. In many localities the Rhododendron maximum, laurel, and the pink azalea, none of which should ever be trimmed, can be dug from the woods with but little trouble.
Many vines are also to be found growing against old fences or twining about trees. These may be carefully dug up, the tops somewhat cut down and brought home in triumph, to plant by the veranda posts, to cover a rustic summer house, or to twine about a trellis. Four of the best of these wild vines are Virginia creeper, bitter sweet, wild clematis, and the wild grape.
I care infinitely more for the trees, deciduous and evergreen, the rhododendrons and other things that I have had transplanted from the woods and fields, 'and succeeded in making happy in their new home, than for anything that we have bought from nurserymen.
When you have once acquired the taste for transplanting from the country side, there is no overcoming the desire. You become more observant, and when walking or driving, you look upon the trees, shrubs, vines and flowering plants along the road or in the fields with an eye to bringing them home some day. I know now of a straight, healthy tulip tree, about twelve feet high, growing on a tangled roadside some miles away, which I have often thought about during this Summer and Fall. Some day I shall make friends with the farmer, who probably does not care about or even know of its existence, and hope to persuade him to let me have the tree.
Young Irish Yew August tenth.
I have always preferred to plant deciduous trees in the Spring, and have had extraordinary success. The hole to receive the trees must be deeper and larger than the roots, and in the bottom should be placed a quantity of well-rotted manure, which must be covered with about four inches of good earth free from lumps and stones. Then set the tree, which one man should hold upright, while another, after spreading out the roots carefully, shovels in the earth, which should be top soil, well pulverized. When the hole is about half filled in, turn on the water and thoroughly wet the ground below and all about the roots. The rest of the earth can then be filled in and pounded down, and the ground around the tree covered with a mulch of coarse manure. If the weather is dry, the tree must be well watered twice a week and the earth soaked to the roots; the tree will then be quite sure to live.
When visiting recently in a beautiful country town not far from New York, where every place both large and small was neatly kept and generally well planted, I came one day, when walking, upon a man engaged in setting out a row of trees along the road in front of a house. They were pin oaks, unusually fine young trees, and the row of them was probably a hundred and fifty feet long. The ignorant creature had dug holes barely deep enough to cover the roots in the clay soil, which was like hard pan. This he did not pulverize or loosen, but merely hollowed out a sort of basin, the bottom and sides of which were perfectly smooth and hard. Into these hollows the roots of the trees were placed, and the earth, full of pieces of sand-stone, was then shovelled back upon them. For three successive days I returned to see these trees and their planting, which the man finished in this time, and observed that no good earth, no fertilizer, no mulch was used, and that during that time none of the trees were watered. How can even a brave and hardy oak tree survive such treatment, and how can the tender rootlets find their way into so hard and uncongenial a soil? I shall make an expedition to this same town next Spring for the special purpose of seeing the condition of those trees.
Cut leaved Maple, eight years after planting as a tiny tree.
A tree ten years after planting should have attained a good size, give a fair amount of shade and be a beautiful object. But cultivate modest expectations as to the growth of the trees you plant, and think only of those who are to come after you and enjoy the shade, and new surprises will be yours each year. I have never planted a tree without thoughts of possible grandchildren who would enjoy its beauty.
There is a legend that a great-grandmother in our family, riding as a bride with her young husband to their new home, almost in the wilderness, planted her riding switch used the last day of the journey, at the foot of the avenue leading to the house. The switch had been cut from an elm and retained so much life, that it took root and grew and has become a mighty tree, which is still pointed out to visitors as an object of interest to all who hear the story connected with it. The ground must have been damp and the conditions unusually favorable that the little switch, so long after being cut from the parent tree, should have been able to survive.
If large branches of good form are cut from willow trees in early Spring and thrust deeply (say two feet) into the ground in any damp spot or on the borders of a pond or stream, they will readily take root and in a few years become good trees. These branches should be well staked until firmly rooted.
Avoid planting trees, no matter how desirable they are, which in your locality are likely to be attacked by borers, as, for example, the chestnut in many States, and the elm by beetles in parts of New England.