This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The ground in which fruit-trees are growing might, with advantage, be tested as to the state of its drainage. This remark may apply more to orchards than gardens: the coating of moss over the bark of so many trees, and the stunted wood, with dead and dying points, seen in so many orchards, show clearly where the fault is. After floods, one may notice how long the water is in disappearing from the surface, and how difficult it is to perform the work of pruning during the winter months by the quagmire-like soil of the orchard. It is labour well spent to drain such places, and it can be done without materially damaging the roots - drains running across the ground about 20 to 25 yards apart, emptying themselves with a fall into a main drain, which should descend to ground of a lower level, running clear from the roots of all trees. We had to deal with an orchard and plantation some time ago, which were ruined by allowing ditches to become stopped; the trees have been dying for years, when a little alteration of the ditches would have saved them.
When there are arrears in pruning, planting, or any other operation, it would be well to make every effort to overtake what has been lost; better do the work "late than never," Get all pruning finished. Peaches and Nectarines which are left to the last should be finished as early as circumstances will allow; as they bear on the wood formed last year, a number of the best placed shoots should be left. Regularity and neatness are objects of greater moment towards fine crops than some seem to recognise. It is seldom one sees Peaches trained in a systematic manner, so that from 10 inches from the ground to the top of the wall regular supplies of fine fruit may be had. Wherever there are gross shoots they may be cut out, as such wood never becomes fruitful. Protection for these and other trees by nets, tiffany, and other makeshifts should be put on. The most important part of this protection is to keep the trees back as much as possible, so that the flower-buds open late, and in a measure escape frosts. Placing the protection at night and pulling it up during the day often does more harm than good: strong sunshine is so likely to excite the buds they are better partially shaded during the day.
We have seen so little advantage - even to those who advocate flimsy protection - that we doubt if it pays for half the labour. When trees are all fastened to the walls, and before the flowers open, it may be well to give a syringing of Ghishurst Compound all over the trees at intervals of several days - tobacco powder, sulphur, and soap-suds does very well; this often acts as a prevention to insects taking up their quarters on the trees, and coming out in strong force during summer. Figs may be uncovered by degrees, but some branches of Spruce or Laurel may be left on for some time to come. "Sudden excitement" means "sudden destruction." It may be necessary to look over some of the early Plums and Apricots with a view to disbudding them. All the shoots coming right out from the trees may be rubbed off as a beginning. Clearing off young growths (as the foliage begins to expand) in a wholesale manner does not only check the functions of the tree, but causes fruit to drop, and exposes it to frost and destructive winds.
With young trees, and where no fruit-buds are on the shoots, we prefer going over the trees, picking out the wood-buds as soon as they begin to move into growth, leaving those placed on the leading shoots which are likely to fit closely to the walls; any leading shoots tending to become gross are stopped at every few joints to give the wood lower on the tree an opportunity of improving. Where wires are used in preference to tying the branches to nails, or the older system of using shreds of cloth, it is well, while the necessary attentions are paid to the developing of the growths, that the branches are not allowed to rest on the wires tightly, or be tied too close to them. Those unacquainted with the method of dealing successfully with wires often allow mischief to be done to the wood and bark, and then wiring is denounced. Double the girth of the wood should be used in each tie to allow room for swelling; sharp twine, and similar dangerous material, should be avoided for tying purposes.
"Examples of Wiring." in a contemporary, have been given by Mr Sheppard of Wolverston (one of the most successful gardeners we are acquainted with); and the crossing of the wires, as given according to the plan of Mr S., is a system superior to our own in every sense, though we are greatly pleased with the latter - the first expense is so small for wiring - and its being permanent is more economical than the untidy method of drawing nails, etc. The elasticity of the wire now commonly used fits closely and tightly to the walls, so that the shoots may be safe from draughts of cold air passing between them and the walls, which seem to have perplexed divers cultivators. Where mulching, staking, and firming the soil to roots of newly-planted trees remain undone, let such important work have attention as soon as the soil is dry on the surface. Gooseberries, Currants, and Raspberries still unpruned may be pruned as early as possible. The system of leaving these late, to make up for the mischief done by birds, is, we think, a questionable practice, and we have never patronised it much. A wash of cow-manure, lime, and soot we never saw fail in keeping the feathered tribe at bay, when painted over the branches or syringed on them.
When Gooseberries are pruned, the most upright-growing shoots should be retained where they are required, spurring closely to the main branches, always removing any stunted old shoots when healthy young ones are there to take their place. The same remarks may be applied to Red and White Currants; but they remain longer in vigour when spurred than Gooseberries. We have rejuvenated many Currant bushes by introduction of new wood when they have been doomed to the fire. Lifting Currants and Gooseberries is a good practice; mulching thickly over their roots when all suckers are cleared away brings the feeders near to the surface; a reduction of watery growths and finer fruit are the result. The lifting also reduces the evil of bushes dying off suddenly. Black Currants simply require thinning regularly, leaving the centres rather open; topping any shoots growing too high, or what is better,' cutting them out, leaving straight sturdy growths to take their place as leaders. When pruning Rasps, leave from four to six of the best canes to a stool; they may be trained over as arches, tied to upright stakes, or, what we prefer to any system, training them in rows to several lines of wire placed horizontally, strongly fastened to oaken or iron uprights.
A thick coating of manure placed over the roots of Rasps is of great advantage to them. Their natural position in a wild state is in shady bog-lands, where they are cool at root. Cuttings of Gooseberries and Currants, to keep up a stock, may now be made and planted. About 15 inches of strong wood, with top cut off and three eyes left, is a good useful size. All buds but those at top are picked off with knife and cut clean below a joint at base. They should be planted in rows firmly. Strawberries may be top-dressed with half-rotted manure. Some put on manure of a littery character, and allow it to wash clean preparatory for the fruit. We think a little clean straw preferable when placed just as the fruit is set.
In the orchard-house active measures to get the trees ready for fruiting should be taken, so that when buds are advanced they may not be in danger of being knocked off. Clear all inert soil from the surface of the roots. Put drainage right. Wash the pots, and surface with healthy loam, three parts, one part of cow-manure, and a portion of bone-meal mixed with the compost; a little coarse sand allows the water to percolate freely when mixed in the surface-soil. Arrange the trees according to their kinds and heights; avoid crowding, and let the trees start gradually. If they have been plunged in ashes during the winter outside, it would be forcing to place them now in more than a greenhouse temperature with plenty of air. As the blooms open, give air carefully when winds are frosty. On front ventilators a screen of tiffany or some other wired breaker may be nailed. Trees under glass cannot stand in cold what they would on walls or other exposure. Have the house and trees always dry at night till nights are warm and sun has power. Water with care at first; and when foliage and wood are expanding freely, let the roots have larger supplies of moisture.
When fruit is swelling, and roots have filled the pots, give guano-water at each time of watering - just sufficient quantity to colour the water. We prefer this to heavier doses at longer intervals. Do not allow the surfaces to become battered. The same advice applies to trees planted out - a system we much prefer to pots; and by lifting a portion of the trees every year, and turning them round to the light, they are easily kept to a dwarf size - healthy and vigorous. M. T.