This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
1. General Remarks.
Gardening operations are so multifarious, and the circumstances under which they are performed are so varied, that many large books have been written treating of them in detail, for the instruction of gardeners and amateurs. Perhaps the greatest fault of all or nearly all works of this description is their size, and the length at which the simplest matters are treated - usually with such minuteness of detail as to bewilder and discourage a beginner and cause him to throw aside a work that might in many instances be of great service to him. It is idle to attempt to teach practical gardening or any other branch of industry from the beginning by written instructions.
Nor is it necessary, for every one engaged in it, either for a livelihood or otherwise, must have the assistance of a competent practical teacher, and gain his experience by active participation in the different branches, coupled with observation. Not to be misunderstood on this point, we may add that we allude to every-day operations, and that we in nowise include information that otherwise would not be attainable by a great majority of gardeners. Our remarks are directed against those voluminous treatises that contain a small quantity of valuable matter mixed up with tedious and verbose descriptions and directions of no real utility to the young gardener in search of knowledge. A few general rules and hints relative to the most important points to be observed in carrying out certain kinds of labour are likely to be more serviceable than a large book to a great number of men : in the first place, because they are more likely to be read; and in the second place, because whatever may be new to the inquirer is more likely to be retained when divested of superfluous words. We do not adopt this view in consequence of the limited space we have thought sufficient to devote to this portion of our work, but from the inconvenience we have experienced ourselves in consulting big books. The exercise of forethought and care in all operations is what we would most strongly impress upon young gardeners, and remind them that they have to deal with living organisms. Anything with life if thoughtfully studied is calculated to afford much enjoyment beyond that offered to the eye, and for this reason we cannot refrain from endeavouring to enlist the sympathies of those whom this fact has failed to interest, though it may appear uncalled for to the comparatively few in whom this feeling has not remained dormant. Life is a subtle and unde-finable principle alike in plants and animals; and, as the gardener's whole attention is directed towards maintaining healthy existence in his subjects, he is more likely to effect his object by always bearing the fact in mind that plants do possess life. This will lead him to study the conditions most favourable for the development of different species, and this knowledge he may gain by observing plants and trees in a wild state. Not that wild plants are always or even generally found in the most suitable situations where all the conditions are favourable to their development. But a wild tree, naturally sprung up from a seed, has often an advantage over a planted one, when other things are equal, because it is exactly the proper depth in the ground in respect of root and stem. For by far the greater number of species this condition is essential to produce healthy flourishing trees. Certain trees, it is true, such as many Poplars and Willows, will succeed if subjected to the roughest usage in planting, but these are species which readily produce roots from any portion of their stems. It is a well-known fact that large Willow poles will strike root if thrust into the ground where there is sufficient moisture. But deep planting is one of the principal causes of stunted growth, early decay, and even death itself; sometimes it happens through inadvertence, but very often to save the trouble of securing a tree in its proper position by means of stakes and other appliances. It may seem almost incredible that a man should plant a tree a foot deeper than it ought to be in order to make it stand firmly, but it is so; and frequently the roots are treated with as little respect as the stem. In the first place, they are carelessly mutilated in lifting a tree, then exposed to drying wind for several hours perhaps, and finally bruised and crushed by the barbarous practice of stamping the earth down upon them with heavy nailed boots. Probably the tree may grow in spite of all this ill-treatment; but it cannot be doubted that it would flourish much better if the work of transplanting were carefully and skilfully performed.
The losses and disappointments occasioned by inattention in planting exceed all others put together. A tree is not so much injured by not being planted quite so deep as it would naturally be, as it is by being planted too deep. The points from whence the roots are given off, or where the root begins, should be barely covered, and when large holes are dug and refilled with mould, this should be allowed to settle down before the tree is planted, or the tree should be planted considerably above the surrounding soil, to allow for a certain amount of subsidence. Every root should be secured, not exposed to the air or sun longer than is possible, and carefully spread out in replanting. The soil should be gradually filled in, and where pressure is necessary it should be gentle and with plenty of soil between the foot and the roots. When once planted, a tree should be immediately fixed in its proper place by means of stakes and soft bandages; or if large, wires with india-rubber rings from some point above the middle of the stem, stretched outwards and fixed to dwarf stumps. Ligatures should never be too tight when first put on, and to prevent a tree from being permanently injured by overgrowing them, they should be renewed once a year at least so long as they are necessary. Where possible, deciduous trees and shrubs should be transplanted in early autumn, before the soil becomes very wet, especially if of a tenacious nature, and then, unless the following summer be unusually dry, or the trees large, they will need very little attention in the matter of watering, on account of their having formed new rootlets. Most evergreen trees and shrubs may be transplanted with safety almost at any time of the year if removed with a ball of earth; but early autumn or late spring are on the whole the best seasons to select. Coarse-rooted trees and evergreens without balls of earth attached to their roots require much more attention to ensure success in removal. But in the case of valuable shrubs and trees, it is usual to prepare them for a year or two beforehand, by taking-out a trench around them at about two or three feet or more from the stem, according to the size of the tree; in this way the roots are cut through, which causes them to branch out and fill the soil immediately around the stem. If the tree or shrub has never previously been transplanted, it is advisable to dig underneath it on one side to cut the tap-root asunder which most species produce when raised from seed. Firm staking and a little mulching with rough stable-dung are worth more than frequent doses of water, and shading during very hot or drying weather with moistened mats is very beneficial for evergreens when they have been transplanted with little soil. Another important consideration in planting is the selection of species suitable to the soil and situation. Under the heading Classification of Plants some information on this point will be found. Neglect of this rule is the explanation of our finding what would be handsome examples of choice subjects in crowded or concealed spots. The size a tree or shrub will attain is in most instances easily ascertained, and this done, the necessity of cutting down because they are too large for the situations they occupy may be avoided. Overcrowding trees and shrubs in planting is to be deprecated. T.hick planting may be resorted to to produce immediate effect, or for the sake of mutual shelter; but the plantations should be gradually thinned out as the plants grow, or the result will be a dense thicket, and in course of time the most undesirable species may kill many of the others.