This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
We are again at the end of another year of our labor, glad to feel that they have been of some use in the spread of horticultural taste and knowledge. We are particularly glad to feel that our "hints" have not been thrown away. We endeavor to make this an especial feature of our magazine. Here we admit nothing but what has been submitted to the severe test of practice and experience. In other departments we strive to encourage thought, and allow latitude to speculations; but in this, only those things are suggested that have been tried in the balance and not found wanting.
We want to insist just now, in view of what we have said the past year in reference to the finer kinds of evergreens, on what we have frequently urged - the importance of planting-places very thickly at first, in order both to produce an immediate effect, and also because the shelter which one another affords, makes the trees grow with greater health and vigor, than when exposed singly to the force of wind and sun. At this season, no better employment can be found than in thinning out these thick planted places. It will of course require much judgment; but one fond of trees, and the effects which they produce, will not be much at a loss. Sometimes it is hard to bring oneself to cut down a tree which one has watched grow for so many years; but it often must be done if we would preserve the symmetry and beauty of our places. When there is any question as to the proper tree to be taken away, the size of the place may help one to decide. A tree which will in time occupy much space can be more easily spared from a small place than one which will never transgress a limited space. Indeed, except for the purpose of rapid growth to nurse more valued trees, large growing things should not be tolerated in small places.
The green grass, which is the charm of all gardens, soon departs when large trees are about.
Of course, this talk about thinning out, brings us to another great Winter employment, that of pruning. There is no very great amount of science required for this, and yet some judgment is necessary. This is often done with little more reason than a boy has for whittling a chip - merely to have something to do. For notwithstanding the many papers that have been written " on the philosophy of pruning, " the naked question, "What is the best time to prune trees?" is one with which the gardener is continually bored. The keen-edged gardeners give the cutting reply, " any time when your knife is sharp, " but the more good natured say: " It depends on what you want to cut for." The street cutter "wants to keep the tree head low, " and cuts down to make them branch lower; cutting in Winter does not have this effect, so that unless one has some other object to combine with it, such as to clean the tree of bark scales or the larva of other insects, or the giving of employment to some half-starved tree carpenter, the work might as well be left undone.
If you want a branch to push strongly at the point where you cut a part away, prune in Winter. If your tree has branches crossing each other, or has half dead branches, or anything tending to spoil the form or symmetry of your tree, prune in Winter; but as a rule the less pruning is done the healthier will be your trees, for it may be accepted as a rule in gardening, that all pruning, whether in Winter or Summer, is a blow struck at the vitality of the plant.
Many kinds of trees that do not seem to thrive well, will be greatly improved next year by having a surface dressing of manure or rich soil thrown about them. Evergreens are no exception. A singular notion used to prevail, that manure of any kind was injurious to evergreens, probably through noticing that they were usually found in poor, barren soil. Our best American coniferae growers, however, have long practiced manuring them and with the best results. Guano has been found particularly beneficial to the Spruce family, and will probably be found as good for the whole family of evergreens.
It would be well, at this season of leasure, to examine and decide on the course of improvements for the ensuing year.
It does not, in very many cases, require much time or money so to alter the appearace of a place as to make it bear a very different look to what it did in the past year. A new clump of cheap shrubbery may be planted, or an old one taken away to admit a new view that may have grown up since the original planting. A strip of grass may be laid down on what was once bare gravel. Here a small rockery may be put together; there a nest of roots thrown up, and ferns and trailing plants freely interspersed between them. In this corner you may place a stump, and entice Ivy or some climbing vines to grow over it - a rustic arbor may be formed in some inviting nook, and in another shade-enticing spot, a rustic chair or bench be fixed. Even the outlines of the flower-beds may be changed, or of the walks themselves, or even the contour of the surface in some instances, and all, in many cases, at the expense of a very small expenditure of time and money.