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 importance of cultivating these under a recognised system to give the best results is not at all so general and successful as might be expected. From the amount of information scattered broadcast by every garden periodical and standard work on pomology, one would almost suppose that any advice on the matter is wellnigh superfluous. But there are so many villa-gardeners, young amateurs, and others continually entering into the list of cultivators, that there is a continuous demand for "simple guides and instructors," so that no apology need be offered for devoting a paper entirely to this interesting subject. We say "simple guides" - any others are useless, and disregarded by the most of readers. To give the most information in fewest words is why the advanced writers on horticulture are accepted as real teachers and all who aim at eloquence and profound language when teaching horticulture defeat the object entirely which they have in view. We know as a fact that much of the very long letters on horticultural subjects is passed over and remains unread by those who are thirsting for knowledge, time being too precious to wade through words.
Some of the evils most generally met with in fruit-gardens and orchards are crowding of the branches, allowing the trees to grow away at first into gross spongy wood - all pith, which does not ripen and cannot bear fruit - badly drained land, woods belted closely round the trees, so that they get very little fresh air, and roots getting away from the surface-soil into a cold and barren subsoil, when canker takes place, and probably death. Where soil is very suitable for most kinds of fruit, as in this county (Worcester) and two or three others, the attention given, except in comparatively few cases, to high-class cultivation is rare, the soil and climate accomplishing so much without the aid of cultural skill ; but when the practice is of a scientific character, as may be seen in a high sense at Rev. Canon Lea's orchards at Droitwich, where every system of culture except on walls is represented, the crops are invariably heavy and the trees healthy, especially Plums, Apples, and Pears. Crowding must be prevented by pruning out the branches and lifting the trees, in their younger stages, out of the soil, and transplanting them afresh. Cutting the roots off indiscriminately, often with a spade, is barbarous work.
Where they are long, naked, and grown far from the space allotted for them, the knife may be carefully applied at lifting time (when the growth of wood is nearly finished and the leaves about to fall). A tree of bush form should be opened out in the centre to allow light and air to have full power in ripening the fruit-buds, which arc, of course, prepared the previous season.' Badly-drained land, especially if in a low and flat position, must have main drains and cross ones leading to them, and the whole taken with a fall beyond the orchard or garden to some distance. If air or light is kept from the trees by plantations or other means, it is useless to attempt to do justice to both - though trees as break-winds," at a proper distance from an orchard or garden, are advantageous. Barren subsoil can be kept in its place and the roots out of it by a proper system of lifting and mulching. Tap-roots are evils which should not be allowed to exist. Timely attention to young trees by lifting them, or concreting the holes at planting time, will save disappointment, by giving fibres instead of huge thongs of roots which draw up a superfluous amount of water. Mulching of trees with good manure attracts the roots upwards, where they can have the benefit of sun and healthy soil.
Planting of the trees is a very important operation, the best season being October and November; but trees are often seen in good health and bearing plenty of fruit which have been planted at all times between September and May. We have lifted and transplanted trees with roots in a mass of fibre with success during the dog-days but such cannot be a general practice. At the present season, if planting is to be done, we would say, wait till near the time of the sap flowing, when the buds begin to swell; the roots then push into new soil, and little check is sustained. Meanwhile the trees should be chosen in the nursery grounds; and if weather is dry and suitable, the ground may be prepared for the trees. We have planted a new garden and orchard of goodly size within three years (besides a number of small new ones), and during this season a good old garden and orchard has been renovated, and planted with choice collections of fruit-trees. The two places are very differently situated - one on the west coast of Wales (the old place), and the new one in a beautiful part of Worcestershire. The Welsh place is low and flat, only a few feet above the level of the sea, the soil light and gritty.
The gardens and orchard are enclosed with dense woods, and no doubt have been ruined for want of fresh air. The new garden is high and dry, fairly sheltered, and soil of the most tenacious description. The system of preparation for planting as a necessity is widely different. Trenching in the first place is necessary for both situations - two spades deep, and the bottoms turned over roughly. The holes are made a good width (the roots being spread out as far as they would go), a quantity of brick and lime rubbish was worked into the bottoms of the holes, and a quantity of fresh loam added to each hole. In the old place the trees are planted high above the surrounding flat and low ground, well mulched, and the surface above the roots left rather flat. In the new place the ground was not raised at all (except slightly for the wall-trees); and though many of the trees were planted so late as May (all the wall-trees at end of April), and they have been all lifted or half lifted, the most of them bore a useful crop last season. Some of the kinds were very heavy after being thinned. Preparation for the trees has special advantages when done suitable to soil and locality.
In these two places two opposite courses had to be pursued, the one lot of trees being in danger of suffering from drought, and the others in danger of being destroyed by wet - the rainfall being great, as well as the position being low and flat. The same preparation holds good for all kinds of bush-fruits, as well as for larger trees; and whatever is done let it be well done, as lost labour and disappointment too often follow hasty preparations. In choosing kinds, have the best; but localities have their favourites, and experience has always prompted me to get a good proportion of free-bearing hardy fruits, even if their quality were not the best. As examples, we have planted dozens of Stirling Castle, King of Pippins, Lord Suffield, and Blenheim Orange Apples a large number of Louise Bonne of Jersey, Beurre Diel, Marie Louise, and similar proportions of late-keeping Pears lots of Victoria, Pershore Egg, Kirke's, and other hardy Plums. These are expected to be loaded every year, while many of the best kinds are uncertain. Rasps require a deep, heavily-manured soil, in a cool position. Pruning still undone may be left till the days are longer.