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 great secret in cultivating all plants successfully, lies in furnishing them with food best adapted to their growth and healthfulness. Whenever a tree or plant is found naturally growing and attains a perfection of growth, there, we may suppose nature furnishes the necessary elements. A plant taken from such a locality and transplanted to another of similar character we may suppose will succeed well, but if the soil is moister or drier or is composed of different elements, the character, of the tree must become somewhat changed to meet its new circumstances. If the character of the tree is changed by these circumstances, its duration will, it is likely be changed also, and, very likely the quality of its fruit will be affected by like causes.
It is an object, then for all cultivators, especially those of fruit trees, fully to understand the character of the soils in which they are most at home, and whatever artificial means are used to produce growth and fruit-fulness, should tend to giving them a similar soil.
Our experience in this matter has been somewhat varied. We have tried well-rotted barnyard manure, placed in heaps around the trees in autumn and spread and forked into the soil in spring with very good success. In a solitary instance, we placed half rotten horse manure around a pear tree in autumn, and forked it in, in April. This, as reason fully teaches, came near being a fatal experiment. The tree did not exhibit a single leaf until the July following, and then was saved only by careful treatment, heading in, washing the remaining parts with strong soap suds, and pouring the same material around the roots until the feverish heat produced by the decaying manure around them was subdued. In two weeks from the commencement of this treatment we had our tree in healthful leaf, and had fully learned never again to apply heating manures to fruit trees. Old leaves, we have also tried, and find them valuable as mulching when that is necessary; but placed in the soil they are worthless, nay dangerous, until pretty thoroughly decomposed.
The very best material we have tried, and we can bring proof of its goodness from the experience of others, is a compost of which swamp muck is the body or principal material. Its vegetable matter, in almost every stage of decomposition, its tendency when mixed with the soil to retain just enough and none too much moisture, to keep light and porous itself and keep the soil so, in which it is incorporated, adapt it not only to become an acceptable food for trees, but to keep the earth in a condition for the expansion of the roots. It may be successfully used alone, after the exposure of a few months to the atmosphere, but is essentially improved by adding a couple of bushels of lime or a half dozen bushels of ashes to the cord, or by letting it lie where it will take the wash of the barnyard, or the soap suds from the house.
Here, then, we can do away the objections of those who claim they cannot afford to manure their fruit trees, from the supposition that by doing so they shall rob their other crops, and thereby have a few bushels less of corn or a few hundreds less of hay. They need do no such thing as rob their yards or stables for the purpose. Nature has provided a better material for the object, one that is now throwing out nausea to engender disease, all over the land, but which kindly offers to kindle a new and deeper glow on the face of the apple, and expand the ruddy cheeks of the pear to more healthful dimensions. All she asks for it, is, to have it taken out of her way, for doing which, she promises to create a new supply in the same repository from the leaves that rush there to escape from the driving winds, and the loose material brought from the hills by the noisy rivulet that stops in the sluggish pool to rest awhile in its ocean course. What a beautiful combination! Atoms from crumbling rocks, soil from the woodlands and hillsides, and the cast off drapery of the forest so far decayed, that its identity is lost.
Just the thing to make a new soil of an old one and cause earth to smile again at the beauty of her plants and trees, and glorious, health-giving fruits.