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.
To say much about these will be a recapitulation of the past few months' practice. Many, however, do not think of planting their fruit-trees before this month and onwards, and we have more than once planted when they were coming into leaf. Where the work remains unfinished, no opportunity should be lost in bringing it to an end. Rather than be advised entirely by any material in print on the subject of kinds, see which do well in the district; consider soil and altitude as well as latitude. As an example, we visited a friend who grows Apples and Plums largely on his farm, and he plants with the view of getting a crop every season. Last autumn his orchards were a sight to be remembered, every tree being loaded; but there were other items worthy of notice (not of imitation) - weeds of every description were growing in their rankest form among the trees, - Gooseberries, Currants, vegetables, and some Roses smothering each other; yet the trees were loaded. No cultivation is attempted, nor considered necessary. Soil of rocky marl, in which the roots become a mass of fibre but grow freely, secures the fruit-crops in this jungle. Prune, stake, train, mulch, destroy moss and lichens - do whatever trees and bushes may require. The coming months will bring plenty of work with them.
Make cuttings of Gooseberries and Currants; a few in store are often useful. M. T.
It is expected, as a matter of course, that all training, staking, and other requirements of fruit-trees have been attended to. Rather than leave undone such work, do it "late" in preference to "never." Gooseberries, Currants, and all bush-fruit should be mulched if practicable. Caterpillars are often supposed to be cleared off and the trees saved for the season, by taking a quantity of the soil away from, say, 3 or 4 feet round the collars of the bushes, and replacing it with old tan, good manure, or something else. We last season did this, and mulched well with cow-manure, but never had such attacks of aphis and caterpillar before; and the attacks were repeated till late in the season. Mulching of Rasps is a good practice, especially where soil is light and exposed to the south. Disbudding may now have due attention : take off all growing outwards first, and go over the trees at intervals of a week in preference to clearing off all at once. Sudden checks mean soliciting the company of aphis and other vermin. Young trees may require a soaking of water, if soil is light and dry; but seldom is this the case during April. If they are sending out unequal shoots, pinch the tops out of the strong ones to aid the weakly growths.
Now is the time when dying off is seen among Apricots, and with gross free-growing trees it is generally more common. We have more than once referred to wholesale dying of branches. A few weeks ago we visited a number of gardens of fame (among the amateur class), and all had more or less been under the lash of Apricot disease - whole walls cleared to the stumps of the trees; indeed scarcely an Apricot was to be seen, and the more thrifty growers had changed their tactics, and, giving up Apricot and Peach growing, had planted in their stead Cordon Pears and Plums; others had filled the borders with Pyramid Pears, and left the wall to keep out prowlers (plenty of them being in the adjacent towns). The soil, we observed, was light and gritty, evidently spongy and loose - the very opposite of what we have examined where growers in Oxfordshire have gained their fame for fine Apricots. If lime is deficient in the soil, it may be added with advantage. It is singular that Apricots are often seen doing well on cold exposed positions, while in favoured districts the tantalising disease is often worst; but we would advise the "afflicted" to give up the growing of these stone-fruits, and try Pears, Morello Cherries, and Plums in their stead; and enough Apricots might be purchased with the overplus of the Pears, if sold in a proper market.
If aphis appears among Peaches, Plums, or Cherries, which it often does, "Fir-tree oil" may be found a simple remedy, as prevention and cure. Tobacco-powder, mixed in soft-soap water, syringed over the tree before the flowers and leaf-buds burst, might prove a friend in need. M. T.
In this department attention to netting of fruits from birds and protecting from wasps will be an everyday consideration. Gather all stone-fruits before they are ready to drop. The trimming of dwarf trees, to let in sun and air to the fruit, should be completed. If any root-pruning is to be done, now is a good time to do it; but the idea that trees require this annually is simply absurd - indeed such a practice is positively injurious. Roots going away into bad soil from sun and air should be cut off; but the destruction of fibres is barbarous in the extreme. Careful lifting is better, and good mulching draws the roots upwards, and improves the fruit immensely. Allow sun and air to have full power on wall-trees. M. T.