This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
The end of October is the best time of the year for planting fruit-trees. Plant only where the soil is dry. Orchard - trees on good deep soil should stand 25 feet apart after they have fully grown. Mark the rows then at 25 feet apart. This will leave a good deal of unoccupied space, so it may be as well to plant the trees 12 1/2 feet apart in the rows. In this case every alternate tree is to be lifted before it crowds its neighbours. Trees of this kind, when planted on soil prepared as we have described, need very little trouble afterwards; but they are years in coming into bearing, and are only suitable for those who have room to form a regular orchard, or who have a large vegetable garden. For those whose ground is limited - and most cottage and villa tenants and owners have only small spots - we would recommend a miniature orchard. A miniature Apple-orchard should be planted with trees of the English Paradise Apple stock; for on these, especially when root-pruning is practised, the trees grow dwarfer, and bear fruit more plentifully and sooner than when on the free (or seedling) stock, which is the one suitable for large orchard-trees. Anybody having a plot of ground 50 feet or so square, may have three dozen of trees, if trees on these stocks are planted at between 7 and 8 feet apart.
At this distance occasional root-pruning will be required, even on these dwarfing stocks. Those who have only a small plot to devote to Apple cultivation had better plant trees 6 feet apart each way. These trees require to be kept in small bulk; and for this purpose, trees grafted on the Doucin, or French Paradise Apple stock, should be planted. Mr Rivers, in 'The Miniature Fruit-Garden,' advises the planting of such trees as these much closer together than what we have advised; but we have had something to do with orchards planted on Rivers's plan, and we consider that the room which we have recommended is little enough. Cottage and villa owners could not do better than procure Mr Rivers's little book, and well study its teachings; but our experience is, that the excessive restriction which is there recommended, is not suitable. We will not criticise Mr Rivers's teaching. His indomitable perseverance and enthusiasm we admire. We feel grateful to him, and honour his memory for the great work he did for Pomology; but we think that, for ordinary growers, and more especially for beginners, a less tied-down system, if we may so express ourselves, is more worthy of recommendation.
We therefore advise beginners to allow their trees the distance named.
Perhaps we ought to say that only young healthy trees should be planted; and trees which have been repeatedly cut back to keep them small, are neither young nor healthy. To make sure of getting proper plants, it may be as well to select the trees personally, and to get them from nurserymen who have a reputation to lose; for it is no uncommon thing for worthless kinds to be sold under fine names.
Having got the ground ready, and the trees to hand, mark the precise places where they are to be planted, and dig the holes as large as will allow of the roots being spread out on all sides. On dry soils the holes may be 8 inches deep, and on wet ones 4. Make the bottom perfectly flat and firm. On this firm bottom spread an inch of pulverised soil, from off the surface, and put the tree on it. Any strong or broken roots should be shortened back with a sharp knife, for all cuts must be short and clean : every fibry root must be saved. Only dry pulverised soil should be placed next the roots, and carefully worked in among them; and if the soil is of a very heavy description, it will be well to have a heap of such soil prepared beforehand. On dry soils the ground should be left level; on clayey land it should be raised - heaped up round the tree - 2 or 3 inches; and in all cases it should be made thoroughly firm, so that heavy rain may not have a chance to water-log, and so sour it, and that the roots may have something firm to lay hold on. A stout stake should be driven in beside each, and the tree securely fastened to it, to prevent it rocking when winds are high, otherwise all young roots will perish as fast as they form.
Between the trees and the stakes some soft material should be placed to prevent the stakes chafing the bark. Old cloth, matting, or even straw-rope will do. Lastly, put a circle of partially decayed manure, 3 inches thick, over their roots, and beat it firmly and neatly down with the back of a fork. This covering will protect the tender roots from frost in winter and drought in summer, and every rain-drop that falls on it will take food down to the roots as they stretch through the soil in search of nourishment.
A. H., H. (To be continued).