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.
Being very much alike in their nature and requirements, we have placed the Plum and the Cherry under one heading. Much of what we have said on the root and top cultivation of Apples and Pears applies to these fruits, and need not therefore be repeated. In one particular Plums differ from Apples and Pears - they are invariably grafted or budded on the Plum-stock. Mr Rivers tried the Sloe, but he does not seem to have secured particularly favourable results, as he does not advise the use of it as a stock, "except as an experiment." We have "experimented" with Sloe-stocks, but although bud and grafts "took" easily enough, we never could secure a satisfactory aftergrowth - indeed the plants would not grow at all afxter the first year. How -ever, dwarf Plums are easily secured by the ordinary process of lifting and root-pruning. This, when repeated several times, results in roots like wigs; and when this happens, it is necessary to thin out the matted roots, for otherwise it is almost impossible to introduce new soil among them.
Indeed, if this be not done, little check will be given to the trees; so when small trees are wanted, the thinning of the roots becomes doubly necessary.
Another peculiarity about Plums is that some of the kinds may be raised from seed. Damsons and Greengages come tolerably true from seed; but good forms should always be propagated by budding, for slight differences generally occur, which in a generation or two become great ones. This is proved by the many inferior Greengages and Damsons to be met with. At the same time improvements sometimes occur, so that raising these varieties of Plums from seed becomes very interesting. Generally, however, we advise the beginner to purchase budded trees.
The finer dessert Plums require to be planted against walls facing south or south-west. This is especially necessary in Scotland, and in the northern counties of England. Fan or cordon training is the only mode of training which we think suitable for Plums on walls. We may observe that the fruit-bearing spurs are apt to get very long, so that it is well to keep them from running too far out from the wall. Some kinds are very apt to get bare of spurs altogether; and to keep the wall well supplied with bearing-wood, young shoots should be laid in, to supply the places of the older branches as they become bare.
The appended list of Plums has been selected from a collection which grew north of the Forth, so it may be regarded as suitable for northern localities. Southern growers may add such other kinds as are found to do well in their own localities. In favourable districts, many of the kinds which we here recommend to be planted against sheltered walls facing the sun, may thrive in the open garden. The climate must settle the question.
The earliest; a medium-sized fruit, and only second quality; but the tree is an abundant bearer, and the fruit ripens with the later Gooseberries; it is thus particularly valuable.
Thoroughly well known, and well deserving of a place.
One of the best, so far as regards quality, and when treated to a sunny sheltered wall, a good bearer.
Another excellent kind, well worth a favoured spot when room can be afforded.
A first-class fruit, and a good bearer on a good wall.
One of the very best; may be kept after it is ripe for some time.
Although not the finest in flavour, it is yet so very good, and so certain and prolific a bearer, that, had we only room for one Plum, it would most decidedly be Victoria that would be planted.
Only in good localities in the north.
When only room can be afforded for one tree on walls, let it be Victoria. If two, let the second also be Victoria or Early Rivers. If there is only room for one in the open, the common Damson should get the place, as it is the bardiest, the freest bearer, and its fruit is generally useful. When more room can be afforded on the walls or in the open, the others may be confidently added.
Cherries are not often grown by amateurs with very small gardens; yet there is good reason for recommending that one or more trees should be planted. We import Cherries, and they are to be had cheaply; but they are, unlike the imported Apples, very inferior to what we can raise ourselves. For placing against a gable or other portion of the house, what more useful and ornamental than a Cherry-tree ! In spring, the sheets of snow-white blossom which they produce enchant us; and when the hot days of summer come, the luscious fruit assuages our thirst with juices wholesome and cooling. What better gift could one give to a sick friend or loved child ?
Their cultivation is simple. The tree will thrive in any not too heavy garden-soil. Two feet of it on a dry bottom is sufficient. Fan-training is best, and to secure a moderate fruitful growth, root lifting and pruning should be resorted to, just as advised for the Apple. It is not a good plan to lift and cut back strong roots some years old, for they are very apt to run far away and become bare; and cutting hard back is almost sure to result in paralysis, if not death. To make sure of having the roots well in hand without any risk, proper care should be taken of them from the first. Cherries in good soil grow rapidly, sometimes too much so; so it is good for them to be lifted and to get their roots regulated a bit. Once in every two or three years will be sufficient. When the space to be covered is large and the subsoil very good, they may be left alone at the root; but, generally speaking, it is much better to get them into good condition from the first.
Excepting Morellos, they should be pinched and pruned on the same principle as Apples. Some of the kinds are apt to throw out occasional shoots, strong enough to swallow up the resources of the whole tree. Plums often do the same. "When these shoots are not wanted, they should be rubbed oft at once; but when suited for filling a bare place, they ought to be pinched after they have grown a foot, and the resulting shoots pinched again. This will check the tendency to steal their neighbours' means.
When there is room for only one tree, by all means let that tree be May Duke. All things considered it is the best, and will thrive in any position, unless that is very much exposed. The fruit is always finer, however, on south aspects.
The next one we recommend is the Morello, and this is a cooking Cherry. Its main recommendation is, that it fruits profusely in the very worst of aspects - due north. If there are any dwarf walls facing north or east, the most profitable things the owners of very small gardens could plant to cover them are black and red Currants - especially black ones - for they actually do better in such positions than anywhere else. But if there is a high wall - too high for Currants to cover - then a deep border should be made, and a Morello Cherry-tree planted. They are best on the common Cherry-stock for a high wall; but if for dwarf walls, they are better on the Mahaleb. Whether small or tall trees are grown, the management of the top is the same, and differs altogether from what is suitable for the May Duke. Apples, Pears, Plums, and May Duke Cherries should all be trained, pinched, and pruned on the same principle. Morellos, black Currants, and Peach-trees - we ought to add Apricots and Gooseberries - bear their best fruit on last season's wood. Therefore we ought to retain enough of young wood all over the plants of these fruits, to bear a sufficient crop of fruit. To insure this, the pinching and pruning must be conducted on a somewhat different principle.
Instead of pinching in all the summer growths to a leaf or two, as advised for Apples, etc., each shoot should be allowed to produce two or three others, to be laid in parallel with the main branches. Only those which would unduly crowd the others should be pinched; and we may observe that those which grow straight out from the wall should be rubbed off altogether after they have grown an inch or so, and the others be pinched to two or three leaves. Generally speaking, the shoots which are to be retained should all proceed from the upper side of the branch from which they spring. "When laid in from both sides, it is impossible to have all the shoots on the tree pointing from a common centre; and when they do not, the tree never looks well. Gardeners get this properly impressed on them the first time they try their hand at the nailing of trees; but amateur gardeners generally ignore it, and the result is, branches innumerable, not crossing perhaps, but pointing across, each other's path, which causes a slovenly and distressing appearance to persons of an orderly mind, and leads to confusion worse confounded by-and-by, to say nothing of the unnailing and renailing which it necessitates. It is necessary, therefore, to lay in perfectly straight all branches pointing regularly outwards.
It is as easy to nail a branch straight as crooked, and when they are all straight the distances at which they are apart are very easily regulated. When crooked it is an impossibility, for then the branches are here widely apart, and there close together, which means waste of wall-space at some places, and at others the waste caused by over-crowding. Attention to this is necessary for all trees, but it is doubly so in the case of Morello Cherry-trees. "We need not, therefore, apologise for entering these remarks here.
In pruning Morello Cherry-trees, a constant cutting back and thinning out of old branches is required, to make room for the young wood which is being continually laid in. Even when the trees are young this cutting back must take place, otherwise the bottoms of the trees wall get bare, and only the upper portion will be suitably furnished. To secure a proper supply of this young wood, whole branches may need cutting back. When this is done, the neighbouring branches should be spread out, to cover the vacant space until young wood has been trained up. Then the neighbouring branches should be cut in their turn, and this should go on continually. In order to keep trees well furnished with healthy wood, it is often necessary to cut out or back main branches.
Peach-trees should be trained on the same principle, and therefore we think we had better say something of Peach-trees here, although placing the Peach after the Cherry may seem a curious arrangement. For amateurs in northern localities the arrangement is right enough, for Peach-trees are to them less valuable than Morellos.