This is not only the season to plant very hardy trees, it is also the time to feed those which are already established and are living on too scanty an income. And how many trees are there upon lawns and in gardens - shade trees and fruit trees - that are literally so poor that they are starving to death! Perhaps they have once been luxuriant and thrifty and have borne the finest fruit and blossoms so that their owners have smiled and said pleasant words in their praise as they passed beneath their boughs. Then they had a good subsistence, the native strength of the soil passed into their limbs and made them stretch out and expand with all the vigor of a young Hercules. Now, alas, they are mossy and decrepit, the leaves small, the blossoms or fruit indifferent. And yet they are not old. Nay, they are quite in the prime of life. If they could speak to their master or mistress, they would say "First of all, give us something to eat. Here are we, tied hand and foot to one spot where we have been feeding this dozen or twenty years until we are actually reduced to our last morsel. What the gardener has occasionally given us in his scanty top-dressing of manure has been as a mere crust thrown out to a famished man.
If you wish us to salute you next year with a glorious drapery of green leaves - the deepest, richest green, and start into new forms of luxuriant growth - feed us. Dig a trench around us, at the extremity of our roots, throw away all the old worn-out soil you find there, and replace it with some fresh soil from the lower corner of some rich meadow where it has lain fallow for years growing richer every day. Mingle this with some manure, some chopped sods, anything that can allay our thirst and satisfy our hunger for three or four years to come, and see what a new leaf - yes, what volumes of new leaves we will turn over for you next year. We are fruit trees, perhaps, and you wish us to bear fair and excellent fruit. Then you must also feed us. The soil is thin, and contains little that we can digest; or it is old, and 'sour' for the want of being aired. Remove all the earth for several yards about us, baring some of our roots, and perhaps shortening a few. Trench the ground where our new roots will ramble next year twenty inches deep. Mingle the top and bottom soil, rejecting the worst parts of it, and making the void good - very good - by manure, ashes, and decaying leaves.
Then you shall have bushels of fair and fine pears and apples where you now have pecks of spotted and deformed fruit".
Such is the sermon which the "tongues in trees" preach to those who listen to them at this season of the year. We do not mean to poets or lovers of nature (for to them they have other and more romantic stories to tell), but to the earnest, practical, working owners of the soil, especially to those who grudge a little food and a little labor, in order that the trees may live contented, healthy, beautiful, and fruitful lives. We have written it down here in order that our readers when they walk round their gardens and grounds and think "the work of the season is all done" may not be wholly blind and deaf to the fact that the trees are as capable, in their way, of hunger and thirst as the cattle in the farmyards; and since, at the oftenest, they only need feeding once a year, now is the cheapest and the best time for doing it. The very frosts of winter creep into the soil, loosened by stirring at this season, and fertilize, while they crumble and decompose it. Walk about, then, and listen to the sermon which your hungry trees preach.*
* The use of commercial fertilizers has developed greatly in more recent years. The best modern practice with elderly fruit trees consists in cultivating the soil, giving a fair allowance of fertilizer or barnyard manure, pruning out dead or diseased wood and giving three or four timely sprayings each year. - F. A. W.