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 reader will no doubt have observed that in all cases early autumn has been the season recommended for planting the various fruit-trees I have brought under his notice. In the case of the Peach and Nectarine it is perhaps of even greater moment than with any other fruits already named. The earlier in autumn the operation of planting is done - say after the middle of August - the greater will be the chances of success; if left till spring, the later in spring it is performed, the greater will be the chances of failure and permanent injury to the young tree. This is easily accounted for. The Peach starts early into activity in spring, so that if transplanted after the sap is in full flow, the check occasioned by the sudden change proves often very injurious by deranging the whole system of the tree for a time. Its means of providing nourishment are for a time destroyed until it has become fixed in its new situation and begun to form young spongioles. This being the case, all activity in the tree is for a time suspended; and if the weather should be dry, the wood, and even the buds, will to a certain extent become shrivelled. It takes no great amount of physiological reasoning to prove the injurious effects of planting under such circumstances.
By planting in autumn all this is avoided, and the young tree gets time to settle into its new position and form young roots, which are ready at the first call of spring to start and carry on the work of the season. If planting in autumn cannot be done, the next best plan is to lift the young trees in December or January, when they are at rest, and put them in by the heels in some sheltered corner until their permanent quarters are ready for them. Here they should not remain longer than the end of February ere planted. The nearer the surface the Peach and Nectarine are planted the better. It is a common practice - and a good one, especially in wet, cold localities - to spread out the young roots on the surface, and cover them over to the depth of 6 or 8 inches, thus leaving the young tree standing upon a little mound. The stem of the tree should not be nearer to the wall than 5 or 6 inches, thereby giving it ample space to swell and grow without coming in contact with the wall, which is very hurtful to the tree, and also in time gives it an unsightly appearance. If the tree is planted in autumn it would be well to give it, in the first place, a good mulching to prevent evaporation, and afterwards to ward off the frosts of winter from its young and delicate roots.
If planting is not done till spring, there will be no need for mulching till the middle or end of April, unless severe frost should succeed the operation; in that case, by every means have it done. If, however, the weather should be genial and warm, the influence of the sun upon the soil will prove of much benefit until such time as its rays become too strong and cause rapid evaporation, after which a good mulching will prove of much benefit. It should, however, be removed early in August, as the young tree will now be established, and will not require it the same as when first planted; the truth is, it will be beneficial to the tree to have the soil around its roots then exposed to the action of light and air.
The style of training generally adopted for the Peach and Nectarine is the fan in one or other of its modifications. No other style can well be applied to it, considering the maimer of its growth and the way in which its wood and fruit-buds are produced. As indicated in my last paper, some cultivators have attempted a sort of spur style of pruning. Of this I do not approve; but beyond this there are two other methods of pruning in general practice, either of which in different circumstances will be found very good. In both cases the wood intended to be cut is taken entirely away, and no semblance of a spur is allowed to remain. The difference consists in the advocates of the one system leaving the shoot entire, while the advocates of the other remove the point of the shoot left, generally cutting back to the first wood-bud beyond the first fruit-bud upon the shoot. Now in practice the one may be right under certain circumstances, and the other wrong, while if the circumstances were changed the reverse might be the case. My practice has been to adopt both of these methods. When the tree is young, healthy, and vigorous, I consider it best to cut the point out of the shoot, always cutting at a good wood-bud in front of the best fruit-buds upon the shoot.
If the shoot were left entire upon a tree, such as I have indicated, the sure result would be that the point bud would start first into rapid growth, making a too strong and probably unhealthy shoot, while all, or nearly all, the back buds would remain dormant, thus causing the tree to form its growths far from home, the inevitable result of which would be the leaving of the tree bare of young wood and foliage save at the extremities. Now by pruning as I propose this is avoided, and a well-furnished tree is the consequence. In the case of an old tree it is very different. When a Peach or Nectarine tree has arrived at a certain age it generally ceases to a great extent to produce what are usually known as gross watery shoots. At this age it also begins to produce its young wood and fruit more regularly all over the tree; the fruit-buds often predominate over the wood-buds to such an extent that sometimes the whole shoot is clothed by them except the point bud and a few others down near the base of the branch. Where the tree has arrived at this stage of its existence there should be no pointing of the shoots, as all the wood-buds produced will be necessary to bring forward and perfect the crop.
Besides all this, it is sometimes the case that old trees drop a great many of their buds during the period of rest; but in no case have I ever known the point bud to fall; so that should all, or nearly all, the wood-buds fall save this one at the point, it should be left so that it may carry the fruit through to the period of ripening. As already stated, both of these methods may in practice be correct, but I have indicated to the best of my ability the circumstances under which each of them may be followed with the greatest safety.
The next point for consideration is the protection of the blossoms from the effects of frost. As the Peach and Nectarine produce their expanded flowers early in the season, and before the leaves of the trees are sufficiently developed to afford them, any natural protection, it is absolutely necessary that some artificial means be adopted to insure their safety. This will be all the more obvious when we consider that the Peach is a native of such a genial climate as Persia. It is therefore necessary that some sort of protection be obtained, and I know of nothing better suited for the purpose than the woollen netting already recommended when speaking of the protection of the Apricot, at page 349 of the present volume. For full particulars regarding it, and the manner of its application, I must refer the reader to that article. Much of the success of Peach and Nectarine culture depends upon proper attention to this important matter. Not only is protection necessary for the blossoms, but the young leaves and shoots so often suffer from late spring frosts that it is as necessary for them as for the flowers.
The woollen netting should be allowed to remain for the protection of the trees till the middle of May. Progressing with the season, the next thing requiring notice is the thinning of the fruit. If the season is good, and the tree in perfect health, more fruit will set than is required to form a crop. This being the case, it is necessary to go over the trees when the fruit is about the size of Peas, to remove all superfluous or badly-formed fruit, leaving the best ones single, and at distances of from 4 to 6 inches apart all over the tree; the small-growing varieties at the former distance, and the larger-growing at the latter. Even at these distances there will be four times the number of fruit necessary; but as the crop is not secure till after the stoning period, they can remain and be afterwards thinned out to 9 inches and 12 inches apart respectively, according to the size of the fruit. At these distances the weight of crop and quality of the fruit will be better than if less space is allowed them.
(To he continued).