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.
Are we not a singular people, fond of extremes, novelty, and innovation? Let any subject strike the popular ear, and it is ridden, "Gilpin" like, without either rhyme or reason; when the fit is off, as suddenly abandoned. A case in point is, that some one suddenly has come to the conclusion that mulching trees is neither useful nor proper I Shade of the ever lamented Downing I tell it not 1 let it pass into oblivion still-born I Let not so truly valuable an adjunct to the tree-grower be slandered into bad odor thus thoughtlessly. No I no I for all time, on this subject, keep facts in view. Well, indeed, may the ignorant opposers of scientific manipulations eschew treatises when such evanescent flickerings are treated as cool reflections. Because, forsooth, some foolish persons choose to build a haystack around their trees, where bees do congregate, and hornets build their nests, does it follow that a more judicious application should merit the malific thrust thus given? The practice itself is American; the English, from whom we are prone to copy, need no such special mulch. Their climate is so universally moist, that a dry, clear day to them is an exception. With us, on the contrary, our summer months are generally hot and dry.
The soil, unless constantly stirred, becomes baked and hard. The occasional showers run from the surface without penetrating any useful depth, and hence vegetation, especially trees recently planted, suffer greatly during that portion of the season when in truth moisture is most needed; the plant ripens prematurely, and early sheds its leaves. There is a variety of loam that is always moist, yet never wet, and does not bake or crack. But such soil is not as common as I wish it were, and hence the arboriculturist must exercise his skill in adapting his means to a desired end. But let me record my dissent to this vandalism, and give some reasons therefor. All observing, practical men must know full well that too rapid evaporation is the bane to be guarded against in removing plants of any kind; that shade, synonymous with mulch, is highly necessary in clear weather. For however carefully a tree may be taken up, the greater part of its feeders are destroyed. Thousands of minute fibres thread the soil, and in most instances at great distances and depth, which can not be removed with the plant. The tree thus deprived of its ten thousand suc-tion tubes is placed in a new medium, and the losses it has sustained are attempted ofttimes to be replaced by artificial watering.
Here again is an error. Practice fully proves that artificial watering at such times does not remedy the evil, but rather hastens the death of most plants by surfeit and decay at the roots. A pail or two of water, perhaps drawn from the well, and dashed around the plant, is far different from that fluid found in the soil, which has become chemically charged with the natural pabulum necessary to nourish a living tree. But mulch it, prevent excessive evaporation, preserve the tempered moisture of the soil, by the appliance of some light litter, such as straw, cut grass, chip dirt, etc.; and if you desire to make doubly sure, mulch the body of the tree also, if large, with hay, or straw bandings, or what not; and watch then the sure result Instance street shade trees - young maples, elms, lindens, etc. - what rapid and splendid growths they frequently make - their roots, one-half buried under a close flagging, while the balance are under a ten-inch pavement I Is the mulch here prejudicial? Some nine years since, I planted twenty-five ten-year-old cherry trees; I well recollect being ridiculed for the attempt No matter; I wanted cherries, and cherries I got. I superintended their lifting, yet with all my care they were sadly mutilated; fortunately, it was a rainy time.
They were carried a mile, and planted in holes previously prepared. "I know how to plant a tree." All were mulched, and each tree was wrapped with a hay rope from the collar to the main branches; and even there, as far as possible. All lived; nay, they grew, and although I paid a high price for them, they soon repaid me in fruit and pleasure many fold. Since then, I have transplanted two hundred cherry-trees five years old; seventy of them I mulched with pea haulm, and lost not one. The balance were not mulched, and I lost (or they are growing feebly) more than forty. They were all equally well planted in good loamy soil.
Last spring I decided to remove a dozen beautiful dwarf pears into my lawn. They were ten years old, and had borne well for years. The trees were carefully taken up, and as carefully planted. For a time all looked well; but soon, alas I feebleness was plainly visible; a portion of them shed their leaves entirely, and the knowing ones said they were "gone." Not so, however. I mulched the surface of the ground for a circumference of eight feet, and then I mulched the trees. They were ten feet high. Stakes twelve feet long were placed around each tree; the branches were drawn together, and tied with listing, and then a cotton sheet was wound around the whole. Night and morning, with a syringe, the branches were moistened; no water to the roots. In three or four weeks the buds began to swell, and at midsummer they were in full foliage again. The sheet was gradually removed, and during a rainy time entirely so. Some of them made several inches of new wood, while others set some fruit, which, as a matter of course, was taken off. Of the twelve, eleven have entirely recovered. The twelfth, during severe gales, had the sheet badly torn, and so left.
It is feeble, and may not recover.
Some years since I made an experiment to test the utility of mulching specifically. I took up two dwarf pears, two years old, trimmed their roots and pruned their tops alike, and replanted within ten feet of each other. One I mulched three inches deep with tan-bark; the other was left without anything. In the fall I took up both trees for examination. The mulched tree showed innumerable new rootlets, while the other had no visible sign of any change, other than the granulation of the cut. The mulched tree made plenty of new wood; the unmulched very little - yet both seemed in good health.
At another time I employed a man to take up some fifty pears, four years old, (standard); each as lifted to be replaced in the hole and slightly covered, intending to plant them some days hence. Upon taking them up subsequently, I found the rascal had cut all the roots off close to the stem, so that each would readily go into a half bushel measure. Determined, if possible, to save them, I hit upon this expedient: a load of tan-bark was procured, and the trees buried two feet deep, save a portion of the tops; there they lay until spring, when the tan was removed from the branches. The 15th of May I planted them on the north side of a fence (shade), for a recuperative period. New roots had put forth in the tan. They came out fresh; all lived, and have done well.
Three years since a piece of land came into my possession, having at a prominent point a pear wilding, probably fifteen years old. At first I concluded to cut it down. But on reflection - a tree being easier cut down than built up - I determined to make an experiment with it. I had finished grafting some weeks before, and had thrown a small bundle of Bartlett scions in the wood-house. Upon the 12th of May I picked up those dry scions, headed every branch of the tree, excepting one, to within five inches of their base - cleft grafted them, eight in number - one in each branch, the branches being about an inch thick. Six of the scions I covered entirely with dissolved shellac. The other two were left as usual. The six grew finely, while the two died out 1 This season the tree bore some very fine specimens. Now, it may be said this case is irrelevant; but not so. The scions were mulched - that is, evaporation was checked so long as needed.
We should not forget the fact, that all our popular fruits are entirely artificial. The normal condition of the plant has become changed. Their tissues have become lax, and their constitution more or less enfeebled. The wilding has strong and vigorous roots, with generally a long tap-root. Their wood is firmer, of closer texture, and possesses a much greater vitality, and hence needs not those aids practice finds necessary to employ, to insure success with our more edible fruits. There are some certain varieties of our high-bred fruits, whose peculiar habits enable them to bear much better than others the alternating influence of drowth and moisture - the Heart and Bigarreau cherries, for instance. Their roots penetrate deeply into the soil, while the roots of the Duke and Morello varieties are horizontal and near the surface, and especially need mulching. But of all fruit-trees, none require mulching so positive as the dwarf pear. The quince roots are fibrous, and lie near the surface; a continuous and large draft of properly eliminated sap is demanded by a vigorous growing top, which should it fail only temporally, growth ceases, and a stunt is the result, which rarely recovers itself.
Tolerable care in planting, with a suitable mulch, will insure the safety of at least eight of every ten; while eight-tenths die or fail to do well without it.
In transplanting trees, stones of all sizes, and bricks, whole or broken - not rejecting bones - I have an especial favor for. They are placed in suitable position among the roots. They are called "mulchers," and have, I conceive, a valuable office to perform. They not only drain the soil, but keep it moist and cool at midsummer. They are, in fact, a "mulch" of the second degree. On the 10th of September, ult., I planted an acre of strawberries. The weather was hot and very dry; the soil had been several times plowed in July and August, and was very dry. The plants as taken up were carried to the shade of a tree, where they were trimmed, that is, part of the leaves were cut off, and the roots shortened one-half with a pair of scissors. They were then dipped in soft mud, and carried to the planter in a basket, three or four hundred at a time. A German woman planted, while another followed close on with the tan cart, and dropped fiat upon the plant about two or three quarts of wet tan. When all was so done, the cultivator was run lightly through, leaving all neat and smooth. Had some novice seen the plat at this time, he would have gazed in wonderment at the conical heaps of tan; rarely any of the leaves were visible.
Subsequent Tains, however, partially uncovered them, and in about three weeks after I ,sent the planter with some score of plants to re-plant misses. She brought full two-thirds of them back, as not required. They have now, November 10th, made new leaves, and are strong for the winter. Pray now, what am I indebted to for these successes, if not to Mulching?
[The above has been on hand some time, but has lost none of its freshness, and is now in season. Mr. C. writes warmly; but he does not understand the drift of the discussion at the meeting of the Pomological Society as we understood it, which we think was mainly directed against excessive mulching. We have not the proceedings at hand, but will look them up, and recur to the subject again. - Ed].