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.
There is probably no subject on which advice has been more uniform in our horticultural journals, than that regarding the size of fruit trees for transplanting into an orchard. The nation which is so proverbially fast - whose boys, it is commonly reported, reach tobacco-chewing maturity before the age of ten, and whose girls are reckoned very backward if they have not received several offers of marriage before their teens - must, of course, carry out its principles into every department. Transplant only small fruit trees, is the advice from all quarters. It will pay better in the end, it is said, than large ones, for they will grow enough faster to be able to bear sooner, and that nothing is gained in the long run by so much hurry, etc.
But, without venturing to say any thing against the practice of our youth chewing tobacco with their milk-teeth, I will make bold to advance the opinion, contrary to all this advice from almost every source, that fruit trees (especially standard apples and pears) should not leave the motherly arms of the nursery, until they are several years older than at the time when they are generally placed in the orchard.
Let us see how this matter stands. Little trees, only two or three years old, are scattered over the ground, at the rate of about forty or fifty to the acre; as far apart as they will need to be when they have stood a century. During their first six or eight years in the orchard, for various reasons, they require a great deal of labor and care; very much more than if standing for that time in the nursery. They are a great hinderance to the cultivation of the field. One who has had no experience in the matter could not be made to comprehend the extra labor and an-noyance of cultivating a crop among young trees, in plowing, harrowing, driving in with a team, etc. Small trees, also, even with the greatest care, are much more liable to injury from a great variety of causes than large ones; not only from teams and implements used in cultivating, but from the crops on the field; they are so much more easily over-topped and smothered by any thing growing around them. The general care of the trees, too, is much increased; the same degree of culture being obtained only by much more care, as the trees are scattered over so much ground.
Under all these considerations, would it not be below a fair estimate to say, that during the first six or eight years, after the age at which trees are usually placed in the orchard, they would require five-fold more care and labor than if in a nursery, and would not be near as well cultivated? I think it would be advisable for any one wishing to set out an orchard, who can not obtain trees of large size, to take those of the common market size, and place them in a nursery again; but one in which they would have much more room than before. If thus managed, in the right manner, I have no doubt that fruit could be obtained from them sooner than by the common method. A choice piece of land should be selected for the purpose, and the trees placed from four to six feet apart each way; being careful to leave a wide headland all around, for the horse which cultivates them, to turn upon. In such a place they could be well taken care of, with but trifling labor. No one but the owner need enter that little plot, and Pat would be spared many sound scoldings for letting the oxen run over choice trees. After they had attained at least six years' additional growth, would be soon enough to place them in the orchard.
All that time the usual routine of farming could go on in the field destined to receive them, unencumbered with little trees; and this every one will know, who has had experience, is no slight matter.
The main objection that will be advanced against such a course is, the extra labor of transplanting large trees. But the fact is, this matter is vastly overrated by most people who, either from inexperience or mismanagement, have been unsuccessful. I believe that, all things considered, the labor of starting an orchard is less, if the trees, when set out, are twenty instead of six feet high. The simple act of transplanting would, of course, be more expensive. Suppose but four could be taken up and set out by two men in a day, it would require them but ten days to fill an orchard of an acre. This extra labor would weigh as nothing against the six or eight years of additional trouble, had they been out of the nursery during that period.
And the risk of transplanting large trees, too, I think is much overrated; if the operation be rightly managed, 1 think it can be performed with uniform success. Notwithstanding all that has been written on the subject of transplanting trees, is there not still much room for improvement? I mean among intelligent men who have eschewed the old method. For a man who should now follow the fashion belonging to the by-gone days of cider-orchards, may as well be given up as an incurable case. There is one deficiency in particular, in the method of many, whose way in the main is right; and the great trouble is in such cases generally that the operator thinks he is attending to all the scientific details, and doing it "book-fashion." I refer to a lack of care in sufficiently protecting the small roots from drying. Most would think it a work of supererogation to use a watering-pot and blankets in removing a tree a short distance, especially if the day were not sunshiny; but for myself, I maintain that a watering pot is second only to a spade as an implement in transplanting. The other well-known precautions are of course necessary, but this I consider the most important, but 1 fear the most frequently neglected of all.
The hydropathic system is the only sure remedy, and the watering-pot is the guardian spirit that will carry trees safely through the transplanting process. Some can never be made to comprehend how quickly the minute fibrous roots are deadened by a few moments' exposure to the air; but let it be borne in mind, that the tree, in a state of Nature, would not, in its whole century or more of existence, have its roots so dry for an instant as they generally become in removing, and it will not seem incredible that they are so little fitted to bear an exposure. Have a watering-pot constantly on hand, and keep the roots dripping wet, from the moment they are first in sight until they are buried again.
In removing large trees, the tap root must be cut off, and it is not necessary to retain the side ones at much distance from the centre. Success in transplanting depends less on the large amount of roots retained, than on the care with which a few are preserved from injury. Avoid dryness, and wounding the bark of the roots, with attention to mulching for the first one or two seasons, and large trees may be removed much easier than is generally believed.
About six years ago, I removed a pear tree which had stood for more than thirty years in a field distant from the house. It was only twenty-six feet high, having made but little progress for the length of time; in fact, the rings of growth were so close together, that it almost needed a magnifying glass to distinguish them. The labor of transplanting took two men a half-day, including the preparation of the soil to receive it. It has borne annually since, from one to two peeks, except the first two years, when that was prevented by picking off the blossoms; for a tree should never be suffered to bear for two or three years after removing, nor should any attempts be made to graft it in that time. It had been the intention to graft this tree, after it had fully recovered from the shock of transplanting, but it was found to yield a natural fruit, which we scarcely place second to the White Doyenne.
An apple tree considerably larger than that 1 removed three years ago with success, and the whole labor required two men about three-quarters of a day.
My father set out an apple orchard of two acres about nine years ago. Most of the trees were from a neglected nursery, but were of large size. They have been grafted since; but, notwithstanding all these disadvantages, they have borne considerable fruit for the last few years; and the orchard, when compared with-others set out at the same time, appears very much in advance. The ground has been constantly cropped from the first, a great deal of the time with corn; a practice which would have ruined small trees.
1 give these merely as instances, to show that the opinions are not mere theory unsupported with practice.
[We like to see a subject looked at from all points of view. The advice so generally given in horticultural journals is based upon certain recognized facts, and we are compelled to say that the advice is sound. We have had no inconsiderable experience in transplanting large trees, with probably as much success as usually attends the operation; yet our experience, as well as widely extended observation, leads us to the conclusion that it is wiser to plant small trees than large ones. We have transplanted trees of large size with what would be called good success; but it has been done under favorable circumstances, and with much labor and expense. The trees have never recovered the ill effects of the removal; small ones planted at the time are now, in fruitfulness and every other particular, in far better condition; and this we take to be the general experience. When a large and valuable tree must be moved to save it, the labor and expense necessary to insure the greatest measure of success should not be spared. Moving trees from one part to another of one's own lands is quite a different thing from planting trees from a nursery; he who should undertake to plant trees from a nursery of the size and age referred to by Mr. Benton, would lose not less than eighty per cent. of them.
Then, again, the quantity of fruit he gets from his large transplanted Pear tree is no encouragement to plant large trees. It is true that we are a fast people; in some things too fast; but if, with generous treatment, a Pear tree eight or ten years from the bud, will yield us three pecks or more of Pears, why should we wait twenty or thirty years for them? Transplanting is an unnatural and violent process. In France, with a climate infinitely more favorable than ours for such an operation, experiments in transplanting large trees, skilfully conducted, have for some years past been made, and they have recently been reported as failures. This, we think, must be accepted as the general rule; like all other general rules, it will now and then have its exceptions. We think the horticultural journals are right in not recommending the planting of large trees. - Ed].