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.
Planting of fruit-trees should be finished as soon as possible. Though we have often planted from October up till April, it was more from necessity than choice. In frosty weather there should be no planting done. Concrete should be used for a bottom, which will save trouble, and induce early fruitfulness, as when the roots run down on the hard bottom they turn outwards, and establish themselves in the healthy soil, where they can be easily got at, and cut if necessary to keep down rank growth. We have often made useful concrete with equal parts of coal-ashes and gravel, with a small portion of lime mixed well, using enough water to make it like mortar: a few inches spread over the space below where the trees were to be planted, and well beaten down, and allowed to dry, soon becomes like stone. Care should be taken, when placing the concrete, to let it come up the base of the wall a little, as the roots often find their way down between the wall and concrete. We examined some Apricot roots lately, which had found their way down close to the wall: they were cut clean off; the concrete was as hard as rock.
When planting trees on walls where there are different aspects, proper arrangements should be made to keep the kinds by themselves; for example, Peaches and Apricots should have the south aspect, Plums face to east, and Pears the west; Morello Cherries and Currant (red and white), to be kept late, may face the north; early Cherries and Pears are often placed on a south wall. There is an advantage in having kinds of fruits by themselves, if only for netting, or otherwise protecting them from frost and birds. Lifting of trees which are growing too strong, or where they are cankered and subject to red-spider, may be finished as soon as possible. When fruit cracks and falls off before it is ripe, there will generally be a cause found for it at the roots. They will be either perishing in unhealthy clay, or starving in miserable sand or gravel. The roots should be carefully cleared from the soil with a fork, and unhealthy ones cut off, or strong coarse growers reduced, and the whole replanted in healthy clean loam, keeping them flat and regular over the surface, placing 6 or 8 inches of the healthy loam over the roots, finishing with a mulching of littery dung to keep out frost and drought.
When we see trees of any kind liable to the attacks of red-spider, we suspect the feeders, more or less, have found their way into sandy or otherwise unsuitable soil. As examples we give the following: - In a long peach-house, where about 20 peach-trees were planted, we could not keep the trees free from red-spider by any amount of syringing or watering. The fruit fell off prematurely. We lifted the whole of them in October, and found an excellent border of healthy loam, in which the fibres were matted; but the principal feeders were far down into the bottom, which was only poor sand, which could not keep fruit-trees in existence. A firm bottom of loam and stones has kept the roots in their place, and the trees every year bear heavy crops of fine fruit. We examined a large old tree last season, which always carried fine crops of fruit, but was difficult to keep free from red-spider. Though the border inside the house was matted with roots, the spider would come when the structure was kept drenched with moisture.
We found that a number of large roots had found their way under the concrete of a vine-border. We cut them clean off, and applied a good dressing of cow-dung over the remaining roots, and a fine crop of fruit has been picked, and the tree is in finer condition than ever we saw it, no spider having appeared. A house of Vines we once examined at the roots, which had been planted in a carefully-formed border of excellent loam, bones, etc.; but the drainage rested on sandy gravel, in which the roots found their way, and ran many feet downwards. Red-spider, in the autumn, always appeared in great force; no prevention had any effect on it, while a house of Vines adjoining growing in similar loam resting on concrete never showed spider at all, even though the weather was ever so dry or fine, heat ever so strongly applied, The upper stratum of roots often keeps the trees well supplied for a time, and while the supply is to be had from those lower down, red-spider, and badly coloured or cracked fruit are the result. Quantities of good Pears are now had from standard trees here; until they were lifted from the miserable subsoil, small, gritty, and cracked fruit was all that was produced. Pruning of trees and bushes may be proceeded with as soon as the leaves are all off.
Apples, if in bush form, may be pruned to spurs left on upright rods, cutting out all crop shoots, keeping the hearts open, allowing young shoots to take the place of old ones wearing out. Trees, to keep them healthy and vigorous, should have a portion of old wood cut out yearly, and enough young growth left to take the place of the old. This rule should apply to all fruit-trees. Continued spurring-in brings on stunting and premature decay. Currants, red and white, may be treated like Apples. Black Currants do best by thinning out a portion of young and old wood, keeping the bush healthy and vigorous with upright clean wood. Gooseberries require to be severely thinned, cutting out crossing branches, spurring-in to the main stems, leaving a supply of young wood, and removing old crooked branches. Little topping of the wood is necessary, if upright sturdy leaders can be secured. Save primings true to name, to keep up a stock of fresh bushes; put them in by the lower ends, to keep them fresh till the cuttings can be made. Apple and Pear shoots may be kept for grafts.
Wall-trees should be pruned in open weather, leaving Peaches, Nectarines, and Apricots till February or March. Pears should be spurred in closely, leaving the side spurs close to the wall; old spurs may be thinned out if they are too thick. The centres of young trees may be cut back if a supply of wood is scanty, but for no other reason would we cut back young trees. Plums may be allowed to retain all natural spurs when they are well placed, but nothing should be allowed to grow straight out from the walls. Where proper attention was given during the growing season, there will be little to do with the knife now. Figs may be wrapped up with straw-bands for protection, or thatch placed against the walls will do well. Morello Cherries require a portion of last year's wood cut out, and enough fresh shoots left to keep the tree regular and balanced, but crowding is a great evil. These trees are often liable to canker and die off. Lifting them cannot be always safely done; but if done piecemeal, the trees will stand it well and profit by it. Much cankering in trees is caused by late unripened growth and starting early in spring, when frost takes hold of the sappy wood. Well-ripened wood is perhaps the most important agent in securing free-bearing healthy trees.
Nailing and tying in the shoots should be done on every mild occasion. Raspberry canes which have supplied fruit should be cut out, and the number of young canes reduced if necessary. Rows of them, tied to rails, 9 inches to a foot apart, will be thick enough for ordinary fruiting; they may be topped to 4 or 5 feet high, or more if the rods are strong.
All kinds of shrubs may still be planted when weather is mild: let the pits for the roots be much wider than the roots of the plants; supply plenty of fresh soil if necessary. No roots of other trees should be allowed to enter the fresh soil. If the tree or bush is large, ropes fastened to stakes may be required to keep the tree secure against wind. Fastening all round in the way tents are done will keep all secure, and allow the roots to take hold of the fresh soil. All occupants of flower borders and beds should be cleared off, if not already done. The empty spaces may be filled up, to give effect, at once, with such plants as Stachys, Arabis, Ajuga, etc. Such shrubs as variegated Hollies, Aucu-bas, Variegated Yews, and many others, can be used with fine effect. We often stick pieces of them into beds, to keep the earth covered through the winter. Where annuals are wanted for spring-flowering, shrubs can only be sparingly used. Variegated Kales have found only limited favour. Though I admired Miss Hope's arrangement at Wardie, I was not able to carry it out here. When snow fell, and was followed by wet or frost, both nose and eyes suffered. The scent and sight were anything but pleasant. Dahlias should be removed to dry quarters where no frost can reach them.
Bulbs of all kinds should be planted without delay: rich fresh turfy loam and some sand in it is necessary, to do them justice. Crocuses are a favourite morsel of rats, mice, and squirrels, and require looking after. Tar sprinkled over the beds helps to keep these vermin off: rows and patches of distinct-coloured bulbs have a fine effect. With Crocuses we sometimes have had rows of the following, admired: white, blue, yellow, and purple, in long lines, round a flower-garden. All plants, such as Pinks, Cloves, Picotees, Pansies, Auriculas, etc, under cover, require to be kept very dry. No damp or greenness should be allowed on the surface of pots. Frequent stirring will do all plants good at this season. Give water to moisten the balls of soil through, but not oftener than they require it. Plants requiring greenhouse temperature may be kept at 40° to 45° without sun. Crowding is very injurious to all kinds of plants; naked stems and decaying foliage are the result. All plants for forcing, however hardy, should be kept from frost. Rhododendron, Kalmias, Lilacs, Roses, hardy Azaleas, Deutzias, can be brought into flower (if well prepared previously) very easily with a little moist heat, and do well when in flower in a cool dry temperature.
Roman Hyacinths and Lily of the Valley are among our earliest favourites. Slow forcing suits all hardy plants best. Chrysanthemums now require plenty of manure-water, fresh air, and plenty of light. M. T.