This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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.
We do not recommend amateurs in northern localities to plant Peach-trees in their gardens, for they very seldom prove satisfactory unless they are under glass. It would be somewhat out of place, in addressing ourselves to amateurs with small gardens, to speak of their cultivation in Peach - houses; but as this may fall into the hands of persons favourably situated in the matter of climate who may wish to grow a few Peaches, we shall give cultural directions which may be of service to persons unacquainted with their wants.
The warmest places on the walls should be accorded to Peaches, for want of heat is the reason why they fail in most seasons, as the wood does not ripen well, and therefore the trees are perpetually subjected to curl, or mildew, or blister, or some other troublesome disease, which often spoils, and sometimes destroys, trees in the open air.
A good border of deep soil is another necessity; for a heavy soil on a wet bottom, or a very thin soil on a gravelly bottom, does not suit them at all. If necessary, drain the borders thoroughly, and deepen the soil to 2 feet. If it is heavy, lighten it by replacing it altogether, or mixing in light soil or other lightening material. If very light, add heavy soil, if it can at all be got. The soil ought to be moderately rich, but not enriched by rank manure, for such induces a growth not easily ripened, and this is the main thing to avoid. A little hot-lime is a good thing to mix with the soil; and for manure, a moderate dressing of inch bones should be given.
Peach-trees are budded for the most part on Plum-stocks; and of course the roots can be managed in the same way as Plums. It is very desirable to keep the roots fibry and near the warm surface, for on this a good deal depends - in fact it often constitutes the difference between failure and success.
Training should be done as we have advised for Morello Cherries. Disbudding generally takes the place of pinching in this case. Disbudding is just rubbing off the buds, when they have grown an inch, which would furnish shoots in places where they would not be wanted. It is a simple process, and easily learnt, and although some do not practise it, all our best gardeners do. In the case of young trees, which have not filled their places, cutting out is not proper; and, when young strong shoots are to be disbudded, it may be neces-ary to leave two or three buds to develop, instead of only one or two. But outdoor trees should be prevented, by lifting and root-pruning if need be, from making wood over a foot long; for short sturdy growths are always more fruitful and healthy than strong, sappy, half-ripened ones. The case is somewhat different under glass.
"When pinching is properly done, winter-pruning is reduced to a minimum, and, when the wood is well ripened and short, only consists of cutting out the old wood. Such shoots as we have said are best should not be pruned back at all, although some people do it. Ill-ripened shoots, which have got spoilt by winter's frost, should be cut back to sound wood. In doing this, care should be taken to cut to a growing bud, for most of the buds on good wood will be flowered over. These are round and plump, and often in pairs; and when this is the case, there is sure to be a narrow-pointed wood-bud between them. Cut to this. The pruning and fastening of the shoots may be left over till March; for then it will be seen what wood needs pruning off, and no mistake can be made among the buds, for the flower ones will be showing pink.
The blossoms when open, and the fruit when newly set, are often destroyed by spring frosts. These same spring frosts are, in many districts, almost all that makes fruit uncertain. Many plans are taken to ward these off, but the only really successful ones are glass roofs and hot-water pipes. Still, a frost of only a night's duration may be defied, if the trees are covered with some protecting material. Common fish-nets, such as are used for protecting the autumn fruits from the birds, when doubled and put on a foot or two clear of the trees, are often quite enough. Frigi-domo and other nettings are even better; and for small trees, mats, packsheets, etc, may be quite sufficient. If the frost is keen and the trees exposed to wind, and if it lasts for some days, these often prove ineffectual, and sometimes as bad as the frost; for a heavy covering which excludes the light, weakens the fertilising powers of the sexual portions of the blossom, so that they fail.
The fruit requires to be gathered by hand, and just before it is ready to fall. When it falls, even although into a net, or on moss, it is somewhat spoilt. Peach-fruits won't keep - a few hours only serve to spoil them; and, like Strawberries, they are never so good as just when gathered and eaten.
Peaches, Cherries, and Plums are often attacked by different species of aphides or green-fly. Smart syringings of soapy water, at intervals of a few days, if persisted in, will soon rid the tree3 of these pests. In hot summers red-spider proves troublesome on hot soils. The same cure will suffice for it, if the water is directed forcibly against the under sides of the leaves. Occasionally scale proves a trouble on the Peaches. We never saw it out of doors, but we have the highest authority - the editor of this Magazine - for saying that paraffin-oil, mixed with 100 times its own bulk of water, and syringed on the trees when they are bare of flower, is a perfect cure. After the application has been on the trees for some hours it should be syringed off with hot water; for if the application has been too strong, or has not been properly mixed with the water, it might do mischief. First one syringeful discharged into the vessel containing the mixture, and then the next on to the trees alternately, will keep the oil and water mixed in due proportion.
When the previous summer has been warm and the spring favourable, it often happens that too many fruits set, and when these are not thinned, they are inferior, and the trees made unfit to bear a crop the year following. When the fruit has fairly set, manifestly inferior ones should be rubbed off", and afterwards only one left to each one-foot length shoot. Longer growths on vigorous trees may bear two or even three, but more means poor fruit. Nec-tarines are just Peaches, but have smooth instead of downy skins. Some writers range them as different species, but they are not.
Hales's Early - an American kind - is the earliest really good kind, and is therefore likely to do well in the open air. At Chiswick it ripens among the first days of August. Early York is also a good early sort, suitable for outdoor culture. In warm districts, even in Scotland, Grosse Mignonne, and Early Grosse Mignonne, do fairly well in favourable seasons. We have also seen Royal George, Kensington, Bellegarde, and Vanguard do well in Scotland.
Among Nectarines Lord Napier is one of the best, as it is free and early, and of good flavour. Elruge, Balgowan, and Violette are also trustworthy kinds.