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.
Out of the window I can see an Apple orchard, every tree in which is like a good-sized Chestnut-tree; they bear fruit in cart-loads. At the time when those trees were planted, planting was considered a very simple affair - good deep holes were dug in the turf, the trees put in in rows, and plenty of soil packed around them to keep them steady, and the work was finished. It must be owned that many a fine Plum and Apple tree has been grown, from which many bushels of fruit have been gathered almost annually, with very simple planting, and no management whatever afterwards. That style of planting is not to be recommended nowadays; there are better modes, as well as the best mode, for every particular tree.
Certain sorts of fruit-trees are found from experience to do best on particular qualities of soils, and when the natural soil happens to be of the right nature the tree will thrive with very little trouble; but where the natural soil is unsuitable the wants of the trees must be studied, else comparative failure will be the result sooner or later.
Again, the finer varieties of fruit, for instance of Apples, which are most acceptable at table either as kitchen or dessert fruit, will be found not to succeed under the rough-and-ready planting and management which the coarser and strong-constitutioned cider-Apples are indifferent to; but we must not forget that many of our best Apples are equally robust, for instance, the Old Nonpareil, Hawthornden, or Ribston Pippin; yet the Kerry Pippin, Lady Margaret, and Cox's Orange, scarcely less fine in quality, will grow to the magnitude of forest-trees in company with the cider-Apples. It is, therefore, necessary in forming new plantations of trees that the best conditions be provided for them if a selection of sorts be aimed at.
No fruit-tree will thrive long in an open gravel, sand, or thin chalky soil without very heavy top-dressing, and not even then. Speaking generally, Pears do best on clay soils or soils of a stiff texture; Plums and stone-fruits are best on the chalk; while Apples do best on the lighter sandy soils of good depth, and on peaty soils. It must not be supposed that we hold that these various trees will grow in these soils and in no other; we only mean that those general remarks will give the clue to the planting and choice of soils for the various orchard fruits, where the natural soil is unsuitable.
We have just seen an excellent result following the removal of chalky flinty soil, and the substitution of a clayey soil, on a pretty extensive scale in a first-class garden in Wiltshire, the object being the cultivation of the finer Pears. It was quite clear that, when the best results are aimed at, in the case of the Pear it is as essential to have a made border for that fruit as it is for the Yine. Plums, Peaches, and Pigs were doing grandly in the soil which was poison to the Pear.
No one thinks nowadays of planting without thorough drainage; but we think there is often much unnecessary draining practised. Much of our annual rainfall is carried away by drains, which would be of immense value in summer if consumed in the soil, provided it does not get water-logged from the configuration of the surface. It is water from below which causes most mischief, or overflow water from a distance. In many instances the orchard or fruit-tree border would be quite safe, and even benefited by the want of drains: and we can point to some which would be much improved by being concreted underneath, for the purpose of conserving the rainfall and preventing the roots wandering down into a deleterious subsoil after moisture. A very open gravel should be concreted when it happens to be the subsoil of a fruit-tree border, or puddled with clay.
High planting - that is, spreading the roots on or near the surface, and slightly mounding the soil round and over the roots - is a good rule, but one which should not be by any means universally applied; it is often better to plant deep where a soil is shallow, or on very sloping ground, that the trees may have full benefit of rains and mulchings; on the other hand, on stiff clay soils high planting is advisable, for another reason, namely, to get the heat of the sun, as well as to throw off rains, as stiff soil does not so readily get heated in spring as light, being more retentive of moisture.
This and the next months are the best in which to plant all sorts of fruit-trees before the leaves are all quite fallen off; they will then have time to make considerable progress at the root before winter. Trees against south walls may remain a little later, for if there be many bright hot days in October, the wood is liable to shrivel; a wall will even in October get very hot and trying to a newly-planted tree. Trees which have become shrivelled will generally come all right again in winter, and we have found them even bear a heavy crop of fruit the following season, as if nothing had been the matter; when signs of shrivelling are noticed the tree should be shaded and syringed in the evenings.
A few general observations on planting, which may only be mentioned as reminders to the inexperienced, are these: to dress all strong roots by cutting off the bruised ends; to cut out twisted roots and spread out the fibres carefully; to secure the trees carefully to stakes for the time being, but not too tightly or permanently, as the soil will sink, and consequently the tree.
It is very essential to tread all moved soil as firmly as possible under the tree, and afterwards when all the soil is filled in. Avoid all gross manures in the soil for young trees. Avoid planting trees which have often been cut back in the nursery, and are consequently full of dead snags and old cuts, or trees which have been injured by rabbits and hares; these last seldom ever do well, and are a perpetual eyesore.
The Squire's Gardener.
The directions of the "Squire's Gardener" on planting fruit-trees are very seasonable; and if I may be permitted to contribute ray quota to what he has so well written on this subject, it will give me much pleasure. The principal fruit-trees in the kitchen-garden here were Espaliers, planted at 2 1/2 feet from the box; many of them must have stood from the time the garden was first made, judging from the immense size of their trunks. The hedged-in appearance the quarters of the garden, it may well be imagined, must have had with these Espaliers presenting the appearance as of an unbroken hedge all round the borders, continued until about seven years ago, when I received the sanction of my employer to eradicate them, which being thoroughly done, the ground was trenched to the depth of 2 1/2- feet, this being done early in the autumn, as the old worn-out trees bore scarcely any fruit. The ground having stood for a time in order to allow it to subside before planting the young fruit-trees, and having made a careful selection of the most approved sorts of both classes - viz., Apples and Pears - the distances were measured off, beginning with the first tree at 3 1/2 feet from end of border, and 4 1/2 from box in front of border, and 9 feet between each tree.
Before planting a stake was driven firmly into the ground, to which the tree after planting was secured. The arrangement followed was to plant first a dwarf Apple tree, and next a pyramidal-trained Pear, and so on alternately. The manner of planting has been as follows: no pits were made, the roots were carefully spread on the surface of the soil, and maiden loam, of which we happened to have a good stock in reserve, was employed in the planting to about the depth of 6 inches; on the top of this an inch or two of well-rotted manure was laid for mulching, and this was covered with a thin sprinkling of soil. All the planting was finished before the end of November. The following season some of the trees carried fruit, and ever since nothing could be more satisfactory than their growth and crops of fruit. The growth of wood each season is moderate but well matured, the fruit-buds being very plump. The borders are never dug with a spade, but annually get a gentle forking over with a steel digging-fork. The mounds round the trees, where the great mass of roots is, are never disturbed. The character of the soil is strong stiff loam, having a considerable proportion of clay.
I am strongly of opinion that were these trees grown upon the old principle of planting in pits, they would by this time be showing undoubted symptoms of canker in the wood; as with scarcely a single exception the fruit-trees in the orchard are affected with it, the character of the soil being much of the same nature as that of the kitchen-garden. If it were not for the fear of trespassing too much on your valuable space, I might give you an example or two of the productiveness of these trees. Out of 35 varieties of Apple, Sturmer Pippin, of which I have two planted, are the only weakly ones, and of 23 varieties of Pears all are vigorous. H. R.