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 winter of 1853-4 will be remembered in many parts of the country, as having been remarkably disastrous to Pears on Quince stocks. Large numbers of trees were totally lost, and many others were very seriously injured; so much so, that they continued to die off at intervals during the early part of the summer. These injuries were experienced throughout a large portion of this State, - in some localities more severely than in others. They extended westward to Michigan, and in some parts of that State were very great. Such an unprecedented loss, felt simultaneously in several sections and States, could scarcely fail to create alarm; and what we may call a panic actually did prevail for a short time. Newspapers and individuals hastily, without for a moment investigating the causes which led to the disaster, pronounced the Quince stock unadapted to our climate; declared that it should be abandoned; and that we must, as in former times, place our reliance on Pear stocks. Persons who had recently made large investments in orchards of dwarf Pear trees, others who contemplated such investments, and many of those who had planted fruit gardens, and those who were about to plant, made anxious inquiry on the subject; and not a few whose apprehensions were most strongly awakened, set at once about planting Pears on Pear stocks, to take the place of those on the Quince.
Now we propose to show that there are not, nor were, any real grounds for alarm; and also to suggest some means of preventing a recurrence of injuries from the same causes. That there was no real cause for alarm, we assume simply on the ground that such a disaster had not occurred before in this country. We suffered seriously around Rochester, - quite as seriously, perhaps, as in any other locality, - and yet, during our experience of fifteen years engaged in extensive cultivation, we do not remember having lost a single Pear tree on Quince, on account of the Quince having suffered from the effects of winter. During that period we have experienced one or more winters of such intense severity that the "oldest inhabitant" could not remember an equal; yet out of hundreds of thousands of young Quince stocks, standing in exposed nursery rows, and of acres of trees of various ages from one to ten years, we are not aware of having lost one from the effects of the winter upon the stock, up to the disastrous period of which we write.
Indeed, we have often taken occasion to remark, that the nurserymen and fruit growers of this country had great reason to be thankful to Him who rules the seasons, for their favored exemption from those oft recurring periodical calamities experienced in other countries, from extraordinary degrees of cold, and other destructive phenomena.
"Who has not heard of the destruction of whole Orange plantations in the South, and even in Italy, from extreme cold. In various parts of Europe, we hear of trees and shrubs, usually quite hardy, totally cut down over wide spread sections of country, from some unusual or unseasonable cold. No longer ago than last spring, the whole fruit crop was cut off in most parts of England and Scotland, and thousands of voung trees - Cherries, Apricots, Peaches, and even Plums - were totally lost. Ornamental trees and plants suffered from the same cause, and thousands of specimens of many years' growth, and great value, were lost The English horticultural journals hare not yet got through with publishing the results. The fine disease in Europe is another one of those occasional misfortunes which befall the cultivator, and which no human foresight can anticipate or ward off We have heard of a minute beetle, so minute as to be almost invisible to the naked eye, making its appearance all at once, and carrying destruction into whole regions of Pine forests.
The blight known as "the fire blight" which for the last seven or eight years has committed serious ravages on the Pear tree in various localities, moving about and shifting from place to place in a most mysterious manner, is another of those disastrous visitations. These are things that rational men will expect, just as much as they do hurricanes both, by sea and land, hail-storms, floods, and drouths. The cultivator, of all other men, must continually feel himself at the mercy of the elements, - he can never count with safety upon a crop until it is gathered: and it is perhaps well for him that this is so; for it reminds him that, notwithstanding the wondrous works of his enterprise, industry, and skill, he is still powerless as a child in foreseeing or guarding against the extraordinary phenomena of nature. In one night, or day, or hour, or even in one minute, the labor of years is swept off, and all he can do is to shake his head, and say, alas.
But men now-a-days are not easily discouraged. Would we not all agree in pronouncing it the height of folly, in English nurserymen and planters, to abandon the cultivation of all trees that suffered by last spring's frosts; or in plant-growers to abandon plant-culture, because their glass roofs have been all smasked by a hail storm; or in the Orange-growers of Genoa to cease their culture, because a severe winter occasionally destroys their crops, and even their trees. To abandon the use of the Quince stock, merely on account of the destruction of last winter, would be no less a folly; for such circumstances as led to it may not happen again during the lifetime of any one now living.
And now, what were the circumstances? Judging from our own observations here, and the accounts of persons in some other localities, we believe them to be these: In the month of January we had first a severe cold, which, in the absence of snow on the ground, penetrated it deeply; then came a slight fall of snow; and then a thaw. The thaw for a day or two was rapid; and just as the snow was all melted, and the ground about half thawed, intense cold set in all at once. The whole surface of the ground was covered with water which could not get down, and this water was suddenly converted into ice, so that one might have skaited for miles over the country; the wind blew a perfect hurricane at the same time, so that our men who were at work pruning in the nursery were compelled to quit, as they found it impossible either to face the cutting wind or to keep their feet on the ice; our teamsters, even, who are seldom deterred by the weather, "hauled off." We never saw such a dismal time. Evergreens, that in the coldest weather have usually an aspect of warmth and comfort, were pictures of distress; their branches and leaves were frozen stiff, and looked dried up, instead of yielding as usual to the blast; their small branches and leaves were broken one against the other, so that the ground beneath seemed as though the trees had been beaten with sticks.