There is a branch of fruit growing that used to be known as orchard-house culture in days of old. The system is practised still - nay, more than ever, since glass is so much cheaper than it used to be, but somehow the old phrase is dying out. So full of fascinations is this branch of fruit culture that everybody would practise it if they had the means. As it is, the number of really high-class cultures is not very great. There are two well-known amateurs who indulge themselves in really magnificent collections; they are Mr. Leopold de Rothschild and Mr. Martin Smith, whose talented gardeners are both experts in this splendid art.
There is but one serious drawback to orchard-house culture - it calls for a roomy structure. In Mr. Martin Smith's case the houses were specially built, I believe. They are wide, lofty, and very airy. Moreover, summer quarters of the best have been provided in the form of a large wire enclosure, which secures plenty of air for the plants and at the same time keeps the birds at bay. We cannot all enjoy these luxuries - would that we could! We can, however, manage a few trees - some of us.
Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, Pears, and Plums may all be grown; it is just a question of convenience and taste. Speaking generally, Apples are not quite so suitable as the real spur-bearers; but there are some sorts that will do exceedingly well, and amongst these, happily, is Cox's Orange Pippin. However, many people prefer to grow their Apples out of doors, and reserve their space under glass for choicer things.
The grower must prepare himself at the outset for a little expense for pots. It is not much use employing small ones, as the root action would be too strong for them. 10, 11, and 12 inch are suitable sizes. It is worth while, too, to take a little trouble to get a suitable mixture of soil. That which is used for the final potting of Chrysanthemums would do admirably; but if a special compost is prepared, it might consist with advantage of 3 parts of stiff turfy loam with plenty of fibre, 1 part each of leaf-mould and decayed manure, and a quart of soot and bone meal in equal parts added to each bushel. Remember that a rich, soft, loose compost is to be avoided; the rougher, lumpier, and firmer it is, the better.
The pots should be carefully drained, and there is no better plan than to proceed on the good old lines of placing a large crock over the drainage hole, covering this with smaller pieces, overlapping each other evenly, and putting over these in turn either some coarse lumps of soil or moss, to prevent the finer particles of soil working among the crocks and clogging the drainage.
With respect to the best time to begin, I may say that there is no real necessity to feel bound down to one particular month in autumn, winter, or early spring. Perhaps the work is likely to get done the best in November or December, because at that season there is often a little spare time, and the work is done with due care and deliberation.
It is wise to begin with young trees, because if older ones are not very carefully selected it will be found that their root system is too strong. It would be quite possible to get nice bushes or pyramids of, say, three years old from some nurseries which had a fibrous and compact root system, as a result of having been lifted once or twice; but ordinary nursery stock would be hardly likely to do. If a yearling tree is bought, it should be cut down very much on the lines advocated in an early chapter on shaping and training various forms of trees. So much was said there on this interesting subject that it would be waste of space to go over the whole ground again.
With respect to pruning, somewhat the same might be said. A Pear does not so completely change its nature when it is grown in a pot that entirely new ideas of pruning have to be learned. Generally speaking, the spur system is the best, and spur pruning has been very carefully and fully gone into already. Remember that the essence of it is summer pinching - the stopping of the side shoots to half a dozen leaves, more or less according to their position.
Trees that have become established in pots must be looked after carefully, or they will soon grow out of shape. They must also be well supported. Every year they should be taken in hand at a convenient period of the resting season, 2 inches of the top soil removed, and a rich mixture substituted. While in fruit, liquid manure should be given twice a week.
A, one year old Pear tree from the bud with a single upright stem, good buds down to the junction of scion and stock, and well ripened wood to the extremity, in an 11 inch pot: a, drainage; b, layer of the lumpy parts of the compost; c, soil: d, drainage; e, roots - the long shortened so as to admit of soil underneath 'and at the sides of the pot; f, point of heading for a bush, the height from the soil being 12 inches; g, point of shortening for forming a well-furnished pyramid, about 18 inches above the soil. The dotted lines indicate the direction of the growth in the following summer.
B, one year old Apricot tree with laterals, properly potted (see references under A): h, point of heading down to form a bush; i, point of shortening the leader to form a pyramid; j, laterals cut off close to the basal buds.
C, one year old Peach tree, with a straight stem and well furnished with lateral shoots, duly potted into an 11 inch pot and primed to form a compact pyramid: k, point of shorteninq leader or stem; l, laterals cut as shown, the upper ones to one or tivo buds, the lower ones to two or three buds.
(Scale 2/3 inch = 1 foot)
A, Pear tree shortened in the previous winter to about 18 inches from the soil and intended to form a pyramid: a, growth from topmost bud, continuation of stem arid called the leader; b, point of pinching the leader when from 10 to 12 inches long; c, leading shoot in continuation of the stem, resulting from the stopping, and not to be pinched; d, side laterals, which have pushed in consequence of stopping the leading growth, these to be pinched at the third leaf; e, side shoots (to form branches) from the stem, which are to be stopped at the end of August to within eight buds of the stem; f, short growths, sometimes pushing late in the season and called laterals, which are not to be pinched unless making more than three buds, then shortened to three leaves.
B, Apricot tree shortened in the previous winter to about 18 inches from the soil for forming a pyramidal tree: g, growth from uppermost bud trained upright as the leader or continuation of the stem; h, point of stopping (about 10 to 12 inches); i, leading lateral, to be allowed to grow to the extent of 6 to 9 inches, then pinched if necessary, though in the case of moderately growing specimens it is not advisable; j, laterals pinched at about every 2 inches of growth if necessary, but sturdy specimens may make shoots not more than 3 inches long, and these should not be stopped, as they will form blossom buds; k, side shoots (to form branches), all other growths being rubbed off by disbudding, or stopped to 2 inches to form the spurs; l, points of stopping to about 10 inches; m, laterals which have pushed from the uppermost buds, not to be pinched unless exceeding 3 incites in length, but all other laterals and sublaterals to be stopped at 2 inches, or thereabouts through the season.
C, Peach tree shortened in the previous winter to form a close pyramid: n, growth from the uppermost bud not more than (5 inches in length and furnished with blossom buds; o, side growths in the form of shoots not exceeding 6 inches in length, with shorter ones and a few spurs. [N.B. - No summer pruning is practised with (his short growth. In other instances, with freer growth, every shoot must be stopped at the sixth leaf during the whole of the summer, but shoots not. making more than five leaves should not be pinched. Thus the tree will be furnished with short fruit spurs.]
D, three years old pyramidal Cherry tree, lifted each year from the maiden or one year old tree, on Mahaleb stock, closely pinched each summer, and in the third autumn potted, for bearing under glass the following season, the pinching causing spurs to form on the current year's growths, thus resulting in a profusion of spurs on stubby shoots; it is advisable to thin these at potting time, partly to balance the top in proportion to the loss of roots consequent, on shortening the long ones, and partly to render the head more open: m, point of second shortening of leading growth or stem continuation. The lines across the shoots indicate desirable shortening and thinning at potting; n, cross shoot to be removed.
A, three year old tree from bud or graft: a, leading growth or continuation of stem; b, point of pinching leader at 10 to 13 inches of growth; c, strongest and uppermost lateral trained erectly as a leader; d, side laterals which have not been pinched because they have not made more than three leaves; e, shoots produced from preceding year's stem, and not pinched because they have not made more than eight leaves; f, continuation growth of side branches not pinched because they have not made over eight leaves: g, side growths from branches not pinched because they have not made more than three leaves; h, spurs (short shoots with leaves disposed around a prominent central bud); i, top-dressing of rich compost; j, roots proceeding from holes in the pot into the border.
A, three year old pyramidal tree from bud: a, leading growth or continuation of stem; b, point of stopping; c, lateral taken forward as a continuation of the stem, and not stopped because not exceeding 10 inches in length; d, sublateral not pinched because it is not more than 2 inches long; e, forked side branches, the leaders not pinched because they arc not over 10 inches long - the forking is necessary for the furnishing of the tree with branches; f, refractory shoot of side branch pinched, also lateral from it; g, spurs; h, top-dressing of rich compost; i, roots from the pot in the border.
A, tree three years old from the bud: a, leading shoot or continuation of stem: b, point of stopping leading shoot (about 6 inches); c, leading lateral taken upright as a continuation of the stem, and not stopped because not exceeding 6 inches in length; d, laterals not pinched because they are not over 6 inches in length; e, side shoots not pruned because they are not over 6 inches long; f, top-dressing of rich compost; g, roots from the pot running into the border.