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.
Most cultivators prefer this season for the planting of fruit-trees and bushes, and where it could not be performed by the end of October the sooner it is in hand the better. It is well when one can go to the nursery and pick out their own; they see what they want, and can choose it, and in most cases they get the same. Clean, healthy, young trees we prefer to those stunted and cut back often : maiden trees, in the hands of those who can train them, answer all purposes well. Cutting in severely young trees, without any real object in view, is a practice which should be one of the past. We have often covered walls with trees which had none of their leaders cut back, except when they were growing grossly in summer : they were then stopped, and perhaps the three or four laterals thrown out would be left to fill up the space. Proper restriction at the roots (except in the case of large orchard-trees) is far more preferable than cutting in branches. Where planting is to be done, have the ground well trenched; place brickbats or stones immediately under the tree, to prevent roots running downwards. When roots get away from the influence of sun and air they soon lead the tree to barrenness.
Cut off any bruised or mutilated roots clean; lay all flat out, separating the fibres as much as possible; work among them some nice fresh loam, then fill all up, gently tread, and place mulching neatly over the surface. Tie up the branches lightly to the walls or fences to keep them safe from wind, and allow them to remain unfastened permanently till the soil sinks to its minimum level: much mischief is often done to the bark by being in a hurry in tying up the branches to the walls. In orchards and open spaces staking securely is of primary importance.
It is well (as we have formerly hinted) to learn something of the kinds of fruits doing well in the localities where planting is to be done : planting collections instead of selections often leads to disappointment. Fruits do not always do well in every soil and locality. Even in localities, influences of soil and other circumstances change character as well as success. Pruning of bushes, Apples, Plums, Cherries, and Pears, may be done as soon as the leaves are off. Pyramid Apples and Pears, if well stopped and thinned during the summer months, require little now, further than regulating what is intended for spurs. There are two styles of Pyramids: one having all the fruiting spurs on the outside of the tree, and the inside filled up with the strong permanent wood; the other has all the branches spurred from top to bottom, outside and inside. Whichever plan is preferred, the safest method is by restriction at the roots, that the spurs should be made to bristle over every part of the tree. Look out for canker, and where it may be seen let the tree be lifted and replanted, keeping the roots up, and well mulched.
Plums do with much the same treatment as Apples and Pears, also Cherries, except Morellos, which do best with thinning them, and leaving the wood full length; but means, by lifting or root restriction, should be used to prevent gross growth - short, stiff, spurlike wood is always fruitful. The thinning of orchard trees or standards of moderate growth may be done as early as time will allow. We have had such trees from the nurseries, which never had a knife on them, planted with the shoots full length. The following year these growths were knotted all over with spurs - fruit-bearing then becomes certain. The same principle is adopted with Pears, Plums, Cherries, etc, on walls as when grown as standards. Timely and skilful treatment in summer is half the battle; absence of crowding, and healthy, well-developed foliage, are points which are of importance. The best system of training we do not know, as all ever we tried (other things being equal) were attended by same results. Training may be done as soon as opportunities afford : with fans the centre may be kept open, and cut further back than the others, as side-shoots are not likely to grow so strong as those which are more upright; evenness of growth must be studied if the tree is to be handsome and to cover the wall profitably.
Horizontal training is simple, and suits every tree well - Pears and Peaches have been with us specially fine on trees trained thus - not that we suppose training itself had anything to do with it, but this we know, that the work on the trees required less than half the labour of fan-trained trees. Upright or perpendicular training can be done with two shoots, one taken right and the other left at bottom - say a foot from the ground - and the upright shoots all start from these at about 9 inches or 1 foot apart. I have frequently trained seven or nine shoots on fans into perpendicular trees, which answered capitally. We have had Peaches, Figs, and Cherries do well by this training, but taste is the chief matter in this. Whatever system is adopted it should be done well. Now is a good time to clear trees from moss, and whitewash them with lime. Renovating old trees by clearing away the old soil, and mulching them with good cow-manure, is a practice which will pay itself in course of time. Dwarfed trees, which are a mass of fruiting spurs, may have the same treatment as that advised for old trees. Rasps may be shortened and tied to their stakes, or arched over; a good mulching is advantageous to them, also to established Gooseberries and Currants after they are pruned.
These may be spurred, cutting out some old branches every year,' to be replaced by young growths; keep centres open, and leave the upright growths. Black Currants may be regularly thinned all over, avoiding crowding the shoots; top any which may be growing out of bounds. Suckers from all fruit-trees and bushes should be cleared off closely : they ruin the trees and bushes in course of time.
The planting of all kinds of fruit-trees is safer where the work is completed, all mulched, and made secure against wind : many are not ready to plant before this season, and others prefer leaving it to spring; but we have a strong objection, for many reasons, to planting fruit-trees or shrubs between December and February. What is known as winter pruning is the removal of the useless growths, crowded spurs, and old bearing wood, to admit of laying in fresh. As much as possible of this work may have been done in summer and autumn pruning. Cut close to a wood-bud, and leave nothing to die back, where crowding threatens. The worst formed branches or shoots should be removed. The wounds should be cut smooth. With standards (especially large orchard-trees), upright branches left, crossing ones cut clean out, and centres open, is the summary of the pruning of such trees. With the limited space of gardens, specially of the small amateur class, the work is of a different character, and upright bush or pyramid-formed trees are best: where they have been kept to size and form by keeping the roots within bounds, and in a mass of fibre, the pruning is a very light operation.
The branches are then in a mass of fruit-spurs, and a little shortening of current year's growths, removing worn-out spurs, and clearing off anything that is dead, are the chief wants of such trees. Mulching them may be of great advantage.
Where any show signs of canker, or shoots dying back, it is certain that they are in unhealthy soil. The feeders may have penetrated into a depth far from heat and air, and are perishing. Bringing them up to the surface, spreading them out nicely into fresh soil, covering 6 inches, and mulching with manure, will do much towards restoring them, and keeping them healthy and fruitful. If brickbats, stones, or concrete are used to prevent the roots from going downwards at planting, much labour may be saved in future. We have lifted a wall of Apricots, Plums, and Cherries this autumn; and under them were placed a quantity of broken brick, lime-rubbish, and turfy soil on the top of it. All are well covered with clean loam, and mulched to keep out frost and drought. Such trees ought to go on for many years without showing any signs of gross barren wood; and such wood on Apricots is at all times in danger of dying off. The Apricot is one of the hardiest trees known, and one which requires most fresh air; but when the roots get into soil such as is well known to be foreign to them - cold wet clay, for example - "dying off" may be seen at any time.
We often have remarked that they may be met with doing well year after year with no skilled training, but then the roots are where they have their natural food, and make up for a deal of neglect otherwise. By all means train as elegantly and skilfully as possible. While doing the one thing, see that the primary requirements (that of the roots) are not neglected. Firm, rocky soil, with a fair amount of lime in it, is very suitable to Apricots; in fact, all stone-fruits do well in such soil. All bush-fruits may be pruned and mulched with good manure. Where there are signs of exhaustion in the bushes, they should be lifted and planted in good soil well enriched. Gooseberries do well with such a change. When pruning bush-fruits it is well to remove a few of the older branches every year, and introduce a number of young ones. The plants are then always in vigour, and fit for their work. It is of much importance to trees to scrape moss or other vegetation from their,, bark, and a good washing of lime, and some soot to darken it, applied to destroy insects. A good dressing of rich soil and manure may be given after old inert soil is removed. The draining of orchards or gardens for benefiting fruit-trees should have attention at earliest convenience.
Do no work of this kind without a just reason : to do it at random is worse than useless.