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.
[The following pithy, spirited, and practical article - one of the best ever sent us, will commend itself to every reader. Ed.]
The inquiry is frequently made, "At what season is it best to prune apple trees?" Now if we take down Cobbett's edition of "Forsyth on Fruit-Trees," we read at page 48 as follows - "The best time to prune apple trees, is in the month of April or May." If, then, we open Kenrick's "New American Orchardist," at page 107 we read thus - "The most suituable season for pruning (apple trees,) is that interval between the time when the frost is out of the ground in spring, and the opening of the leaf." Cole, in his "Fruit Book," at page 57, says - "Moderate pruning should be done in June, July, or August, though it will answer very well till December, If trees are pruned in July, August, or September, the wood will become hard, sound and well seasoned - we should prefer October, November, or even December, to the spring, which is the worst season."The author of "the Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America," at page 31, (11th edition,) sums up the matter thus - "There are advantages and disadvantages attending all seasons of pruning, but our own experience has led us to believe, that practically, a fortnight before midsummer is by far the best season on the whole, for pruning in the northern and middle states."
I have heard by tradition, the advice of a clergyman of a former generation, famous alike for worldly and spiritual knowledge, to a hearer, who asked him at what time he would advise to prune apple trees - "When your tools are sharp," was the reply - a reply, by the way, which seems to embody the wisdom of all modern writers on the subject.
All the writers of books, and most of the growers of fruit, have some decided opinion on this point, on which they are ready to peril "life and limb," both of their trees and themselves, if necessary, and although most of the late authors teach otherwise, the general practice in this section of the country, is still to prune apple trees in March and April, before the bursting of the buds. And it will require strong and obvious reasons to change the custom among our farmers.
Pruning an old orchard, which has been neglected for ten or a dozen years, and especially one that has been recently grafted upon full grown trees, is a pretty serious matter, requiring time and a strong arm, as well as skill. They who tell us that trees properly trained, require very little pruning, and that it may all be done the first week in June, no doubt speak truly, but not very satisfactorily to us, of the northern latitudes.
We have snow and a frozen soil, in New-Hampshire, until April. During that month, much of our land is unfit for the plow, and "planting time," for our corn and potatoes, our principal hoed crops - is from the 10th of May till the 10th of June. From the end of planting, all hands are hoeing until "haying time," which commences with July, and continues through that month and part of the next, so that there is no leisure for us except in early spring, or in autumn.
It is at this season, while waiting for the coming on of the "spring's work," when the blue bird and robin are heard welcoming the first bright, still days of the season, that you may see the farmer with his boys, both great and small, perched upon the old trees of the orchard, pruning and grafting. Many a boy of twelve or fourteen have I seen engaged in this employment, and* not unfrequently, a lad of eighteen or twenty, makes it his business for several weeks, to go from town to town, with his grafting tools, and an assortment of scions of his own selecting, setting them for two cents each, and warranting them to live, and waiting for his pay till the following year, when he again goes over his route. This, you will say, is entrusting the business to rather unskillful hands. And so, indeed, it is, but it is far better so than not done at all, for by similar means, have some sections of our state been filled with the best varieties of fruit. To be sure, one who trusts to another's selection of varieties, finds himself egregiously deceived sometimes, when his trees come to bearing, for every man has some favorite kind of apple, which he persists, against light and knowledge, in regarding as superior to everything else in the world.
It may be some discovery of his own, of some fruit of about the size of a pumpkin, and of similar flavor, or more likely it is the product of some famous old tree, that stands by the back door of the old homestead, where he used to play with his brothers and sisters and the old housedog, and eat green apples when a boy. I have a picture of just such a tree in my memory, of which the apples were sweeter than any that grow now-a-days. I always forget to set scions which are recommended as coming from anybody's father's or grandfather's place; and there are reasons less complimentary to poor humanity, for not trusting to itinerant performers in these branches.
I may as well confess to having fallen in with the practice of my neighborhood, of pruning in early spring, at the time of grafting. Kenrick and Forsyth were considered good authority, formerly, and although I admit that my opinion has been at times much shaken by more-modern writers, I have, from personal observation, seen no reason to change my practice.
The reasons of convenience with us, are very strong for pruning in April, rather than in summer. Besides the fact that it is comparatively a leisure season, are other reasons for preferring the spring. At that time the bark does not slip, and there is less danger then than later, of injury to the tree by standing on the limbs, as well as by the starting of the bark where the branch is cut off.
With us, nobody pretends to graft after the bark begins to slip, and it requires more care and skill than can readily be purchased, to remove limbs of large size without leaving bad wounds, from the causes referred to. I am fully aware that we who read the Horticulturist, know how to amputate limbs scientifically, and that we should, by no means, be guilty of placing a lawless foot upon any tree, to its hurt; but the fact is that many of the orchards are owned by farmers, who do not wear velvet slippers, especially when at work, and one "finds no rest for the sole of his foot" on a tree, without some substantial protection against knots and the rough bark, so that it must and docs happen, although against all propriety, that many thick boots go upon our trees, and many coarse saws are used in pruning, and a great many limbs are taken off by persons too unskilful or indolent to cut on the under side first, to prevent splitting or stripping off the bark.