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.
I have derived great pleasure and profit from the perusal of the writings of those engaged, as I am, in growing fruit trees, whether for sale or in the orchard. Nor has anything that I have seen appeared more practical and useful than your Fruit Gar-den. Still there are many things which I do not do just as I understand others to do in similar cases, and I have supposed it might afford at least some amusement, for me to state briefly the leading points in which my practice differs from that of most or all others. Of course no one will adopt these strange notions unless upon the conviction of his own judgment, and I must candidly admit that they have not had those years of trial which the cautious cultivator can rely on. They were not practiced by my great grandfather, my grandfather, nor even my own progenitor. I can only say they seem to do well with me.
I grow no trees in my nursery for sale. I plant them all. I have no confidence in what is called the whole root seedling stock theory. All thrifty growing trees I prefer, decidedly, upon their own roots. This, in the apple, I accomplish principally by common root grafting and setting the trees well in the ground, by which the grafts generally take root. An observation of thousands of trees has satisfied me that those trees growing on their own roots are longer-lived than those grafted standard high, and longer-lived and more thrifty than most seedlings. One seedling out of four may be found very vigorous and healthy.
Pears I grow chiefly on healthy sprouts that are easily transplanted, bud freely, and layer readily. In these, at the usual season, I insert from one to a dozen buds, according to the size and vigor of the stalk. These buds are inserted on the same side, one above the other, about five inches apart. At the proper season the stock is trimmed of all limbs and buds but those inserted, and topped, and then weakened by a cut at the ground on the same side the buds are set, and is brought over rather more than half to the ground. Here it remains until the shoots are from three to six inches long. Then a trench is dug three inches deep, and the stock is lipped just below each bud and then brought into the little ditch and fastened there as a layer. If the weather is hot, a little fine leafy brush is put arqund them. After a few days, when the trees have become accustomed to their new position, I draw in a little fine dirt which I continue from time to time until they are well rooted. This gives the tree its choice between its own root and the root of the stock on which it is budded. Nine out of ten will show a preference in the end for their own roots, though a free-growing stock will generally root first. I will make no argument in favor of this mode of growing trees.
I am aware many learned professors call all such worthless trash. I may only say I have seen some of the oldest worn out varieties, of great age, growing on their own roots, with the seeming health and vigor of youth, and that I am quite willing to risk the planting of considerable numbers of them.
When I have once got a good stock of a variety, I can of course dispense with my sprout stocks and grow them directly as layers. Most kinds root without great trouble and grow well. I will only add that I prefer all healthy, vigorous trees on their own roots. I know no tree which I should deem profitable to set out in an orchard which I'would not prefer on its own roots. Even the Early Harvest and Sweet Bough prosper well with me on their own roots. But most of my pear trees of this class are yet small.
In trimming trees in the nursery, and when set out, my later practice is quite odd. It is very offensive to the great majority of opinions. I endeavor to grow no nice, pretty, clean, smooth stems, six or seven feet high, that would make a good ramrod. Some, indeed, I run up pretty well, but I rub no buds off, and only pinch the shoots when they have three or four leaves, so that each stock becomes a mass of verdure. As I have practiced this mode only a few years, I can only say it seems to me to promise well. I have not practiced it to an extent which would enable me to give any opinion based on observation, but it is my confident conviction that there can be nothing better to start standard pears on than the quince stock. We know they start vigorously, and also that, if the pear stock is set well under the ground when it is transplanted, it will root freely. Why should not such make the Very best standard orchard trees! I have no doubt they will.
It seems to me that in this way we might secure early maturity in bearing, and in the end the largest and longest-lived trees. Indeed, there seems reason to hope they might be even more likely to live than in any other way. A moderate and sound growth is indispensable in the young pear tree to its health and vigor at mature age. This is secured by first working on the quince; and it is certain that whenever the quince fails to give the pear stock the requisite nourishment, it will root if it is favorably situated. It is as natural as for a man to eat when he is hungry if food is at hand. What say you, Mr. Editor, to starting standard orchard pear trees on the quince!
In another essay, if it is your wish, I will speak of my oddities in planting and managing the orchard.