The Apple being so closely connected with our wants and enjoyments, is entitled to the first notice in the catalogue of our fruits. The Apple Orchard is, in truth, the vineyard of our country; and the delicious beverage that can be obtained from some of the varieties of this excellent fruit being calculated to cheer the invalid, as well as to strengthen the healthy, entitles it to high consideration. It is one of our oldest and best fruits, and has become completely naturalized to our soil; none can be brought to so high a degree of perfection with so little trouble; and of no other are there so many excellent varieties in general cultivation, calculated for almost every soil, situation, and climate, which our country affords.
The Apple tree is supposed by some to attain a great age: Haller mentions some trees in Herefordshire, England, that were a thousand years old, and were still highly prolific; but Knight considers two hundred years as the ordinary duration of a healthy tree, grafted on a crab stock, and planted in a strong, tenacious soil. Speechly mentions a tree in an orchard at Burtonjoice, near Nottingham, about sixty years old, with branches extending from seven to nine yards round the, bole, which in some seasons produced upward of a hundred bushels of apples.
The Romans had only twenty-two varieties in Pliny's time. There are upward of fifteen hundred now cultivated in the garden of the Horticultural Society of London, under name; the catalogue of the Linnaean Botanic Garden at Flushing contains about four hundred; and one of our enterprising horticulturists, Mr. William Coxe, of Burlington, New Jersey, enumerated one hundred and thirty-three kinds cultivated in the United States, some years ago. They are usually divided into dessert, baking, and cider fruits: the first, highly flavoured; the second, such as fall, or become mellow in baking or boiling; and the third, austere, and generally fruit of small size. Besides this division, Apples are classed as pippins or seedlings, pearmains or somewhat pear-shaped fruits, rennets or queen-specked fruits, calviles or white-skinned fruits, russets or brown fruits, and some are denominated burknots.
The Apple may be propagated by layers, and many sorts by cuttings and budding, but the usual mode is by grafting on seedling stocks of two or three years growth, and for dwarfing, on stocks of the Quince or Paradise Apple. All the principal varieties are cultivated as standards in the orchard, and should be planted from thirty to forty feet from each other, or from any other spreading trees, in order that the sun and air may have their due influence in maturing the fruit.
Many of the dwarf kinds may be introduced into the Kitchen Garden, and trained as espaliers, or dwarf standards. An Apple Orchard may be planted at any time after the trees are two years old from the graft; and as trees from young stocks will not come into full bearing until ten or twelve years old, they will bear removing with care at any time within that period.
Old Apple trees may be grafted with superior varieties by being headed down to standard height: most commonly, in very old subjects, the branches only are cut within a foot or two of the trunk, and then grafted in the crown or cleft manner. In all the varieties of the common Apple, the mode of bearing is upon small terminal and lateral spurs, or short robust shoots, from half an inch to two inches long, which spring from the younger branches of two or more years' growth, appearing at first at the extremity, and extending gradually to the side: the same bearing branches and fruit spurs continue many years fruitful.
As, from the mode of bearing, Apple trees do not admit of shortening the general bearers, it should only be practised in extraordinary cases. If trees have not the most desirable form when three or four years old, they should be judiciously pruned to promote regular spreading branches. In annual pruning, the main branches should not be cut, unless in cases of decay; but all superfluous cross branches and dead wood should be taken out, and the suckers eradicated. Espaliers require a summer and winter pruning.