This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Raising young nursery stock is not the simple operation some imagine. It is easy enough when thoroughly understood, as, indeed, anything else is. As something that will pay, it is worthy of better attention; for who can believe that an European nurseryman can pay for the collection of American seeds, transporting across the Atlantic, raising the trees, with all the risks of importation, and then sell them to American nurserymen cheaper than they can themselves raise them? Yet this is the practice - probably nine-tenths of all the young nursery stock of America being imported.
I do not propose to go into the whole details of. stock raising; and you, my dear sir, in these days of secret curculio remedies, would not wish to give to your readers, for the price of a year's subscription, information that might be worth a good nursery business to some of them; but being interested in the sale of tree seeds, I cannot but desire the success of my customers, and hence offer these remarks on the department of seed raising.
Whatever seeds are to be sown, it is of the first importance that the soil be deep, clean, rich, and well-drained. If these conditions cannot be secured, better not attempt to raise seedlings, but continue to import the young plants till they can be, otherwise the attempt will "cost more than the plants come to".
A piece of land for seedlings should be under thorough culture for at least two years previous, so that every weed shall have been entirely eradicated. It should be well manured both seasons, so that, when ready for seeding, it will be rich, light, and mellow; and, above all, it should be trenched or subsoiled at least eighteen inches deep. Thus you will not be troubled with weeds abstracting the moisture and nourishment, or calling for manual labor which does not pay; and your plants will grow "like willows," holding on to their own, even in droughts like that just passed. Best assured, that if you starve your seedlings, they will starve you.
As a rule, all seeds grow better in a sandy soil than in that of a loamy texture; and some seeds, which I will specify before I conclude, will do only in such circumstances. Aspect is not of great importance, an exposure to the full mid-day sun being only to be avoided, or steep slopes that are liable to wash with heavy rains.
If there be ground enough to spare, it is best to sow the seeds in rows; the seedlings get more light, and so grow more vigorously, and the ground between them can then be loosened occasionally to their advantage; but if the ground be properly prepared as I have advised, they do very well sown broadcast in beds of about five feet wide, or sufficient to enable one to get in to thin or weed if required.
So much for soil and mode of sowing generally; the next is to apply the individual cases. Many seeds will not grow if kept long out of the ground. Of this character are some maples, horsechestnuts, sweet chestnuts, laurus's or the sassafras family, and most of the oaks. These should be sown as soon after collecting as possible; they will, for the most part, grow at once, and be fine little plants before winter sets in. The oaks, even though ripening late, will often send down roots three inches long before they get frozen in. These, in sowing, do not require to be covered more than a quarter of an inch with soil. When it is not convenient to plant at once, seeds of this character should be put into sand, and kept barely moist, and as cool as possible, until all things suit.
There are other kinds that do not grow if not planted before winter. The euonymns, rhododendrons, yews, clematis, all maples and ashes, hickories, and walnuts, nettle-trees, cleanotnus, and silver bells, chionanthus, dogwoods, and magnolias, usually the lindens, and viburnums. Some seeds, even if put in the ground in the fall, if allowed to get "dead ripe" before gathering, will not come up till even the second year. The hawthorns, dogwoods, and hollies, are examples. If such do not come up the first year, they should not be disturbed. I have a bed of Crataegus cordata which appeared in June, this year, and which were sown in November, 1854.
Sometimes it is not possible to get seeds to hand till the frost has closed the ground. The method is then to place them in boxes well mixed and covered with sand, and placed out in exposure to all weathers; but great care must be taken to put them out very early in spring, or they will begin to sprout, and hundreds get destroyed in the operation. This plan should not be followed if the seed can possibly be got in before winter, as they are more apt to suffer by dry weather when retained till spring.
The kind of seeds which do well retained till spring, are principally pines and coniferous plants, the pea-flowered tribe, as the locusts, Kentucky coffee, amorphas, Judas-tree, and laburnum. Pines of all kinds grow best in sandy leaf soil, in a situation not liable to be dried by the sun, or saturated with heavy rains. They must not be buried deeply in sowing; the smaller seeds very lightly raked in, and the larger ones merely sown in dry soil, and beaten in with the back of the spade. The leguminous seeds are best soaked a few hours before -sowing, and should particularly be sown very early, and in deep, rich soil; they are best always sown in rows about as wide apart in the rows as peas are sown, and covered from a quarter to a half inch deep, according to size of seed. .
Most of the hard-shelled seeds grow best when sown in sharp, sandy soil, kept constantly moist; the holly and halesia are especially of this kind. Every tribe of plants - -almost every species - has some peculiar taste of its own, leading it to prefer a particular mode of treatment. This can only be learned by experience - our own, or that of others. In all cases, a strict watch must be set on all kinds of vermin; ground-mice are the most destructive. These are easily kept in check by using peas, soaking them twenty-four hours in water, then tolling them in arsenic, and burying them in the soil.
Crows and chickens are next in order in their destructive propensities, especially on acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, and soft-shelled seeds generally. The remedies for these are various, depending, in their application, entirely on the feelings of the seed-grower. Many employ the gun with good effect.