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 Orchard-House has become an object of interest to many amateurs of late in this country, and to them some remarks on the cultivation of fruit-trees in pots, from an old cultivator, may not be devoid of interest.
The principles of good culture are the same in reference to all exogenous plants, but practical application of them under different conditions of cultivation is various; arising from the diversity of climate, whether natural or artificial, to which we subject them, as well as from the mode of culture adopted, whether of confinement in the limited space of pots or tubs, or in the open border.
In orchard houses in England it is not unusual to adopt both modes, that of pot-culture and of open border culture, in the same house. That is not advisable in this country. It may be done successfully by a skilful gardener, master of his profession; because he will know how to avert or to remedy any injurious result arising from the different effects which the two methods produce upon the trees subjected to them. But the tyro had better confine his system to one of the two; and as pot cultivation is that for which these orchard houses were originally more particularly intended, it is to that system that the following remarks are intended to apply.
The first thing to be done is of course to obtain a suitable supply of large pots, not less than eleven inches in diameter, and others larger; and a stock of healthy young trees.
Whether peaches, pears, or whatever kind is required, the most satisfactory mode for the amateur is, to grow the plants into the bearing condition himself, in preference to purchasing them prepared in pots in a bearing state; because it frequently happens to the young horticulturist, that he, by mismanagement, destroys expensive specimens, perhaps without obtaining one crop from them; whereas, if he grows them himself, he will assuredly learn much in the course of the operation, and his mishaps will not be so costly. This, of course, requires some patience; and those who do not possess a sufficient stock of it, may, at the good nurseries, purchase trees of the various descriptions of fruit properly grown in pots for immediate bearing.
The great essential, to commence with, is suitable soil. This consists in good open loam; not clayey on the one hand, nor sandy on the other. The former would be too stiff for the fibrous roots to work freely, and the latter would be too poor to grow a tough, sound wood, without which fruit of fine quality can not be produced. If the top six inches of a rich pasture can be obtained, a good heap of this laid up, turf and all, with a little lime sprinkled between every two or three layers of it, will at the end of a year be the very thing required without any addition to it.
If a clayey loam only is available, some sharp sand or road grit must be added to it to open its texture, and also a small quantity of old stable manure. And if a sandy loam only can be had, it must have a goodly quantity of old rotten dung added. But these are by no means so eligible for the purpose as the top of a good unctuous loamy pasture, without manure, because the object is, not, by stimulating rapid action in the roots, to produce either a large or extended growth, but to have the wood that is made, of a sturdy, mature quality, yet of a moderate size. This will always be found to tend more to fruitfulness than the rampant growth consequent upon highly manured composts, such as we want if our object is to grow a large cabbage; and which would have been equally useful in the orchard house if we wished to grow peach leaves only instead of fruit.
As regards manure, that will be required occasionally in the orchard house at certain stages of growth; but that is best supplied in top dressings and in the liquid state.
Provided with a good soil, the next point in commencing operations in an orchard house is to pot the young trees. Upon the efficient way in which this apparently simple operation is performed, very much of future success will depend.
There are two different methods of preparing fruit-trees in pots for cultivation under glass. For that which is first about to be explained, the larger the pots are the better. One thirteen inches in diameter will suffice for the first two years, but not smaller than that The object in potting well is so to place the plant or tree, that the roots may ramify freely and as nearly equally as possible throughout the whole mass of earth, and from the center to the sides of the pot; and to keep the consistency of the soil equal throughout, upon which will depend the even distribution of water, which has to be constantly supplied to afford nourishment and to retain the soil in such a state, as enables the roots to appropriate to their use the elements necessary for the production of the organization of the plant.
To secure these objects good drainage is the primary step. Broken pots afford the best material. An inch of these in depth should be placed all over the bottom of the pot, and upon these put a layer of equal thickness of moss or half decayed turf, to prevent the earth when placed in the pot from getting down to the lower drainage material, and stopping it up. A better material than moss for the latter purpose is cocoa-nut fiber, or the outer husks of cocoa-nuts torn or beaten to pieces.
Supposing the potting compost to consist either of loamy turf laid up. or of the mixtures above advised, it should be chopped up with the spade and used in the rough state. If some of the pieces of the fibry turf are as large as eggs, so much the better; their elastic quality will compress, and will tend to keep open the ball of earth. It is a good plan, also, to mix some pieces of charcoal an inch or more square, or of broken sandstone, or any porous stone, with the compost, in the proportion of a hatful to two bushels. This is to keep open the soil, and to become little reservoirs of moisture around which the young roots will cling.
Having laid the foundation of drainage, cover it over with an inch or two of the compost, and then introduce the young tree. Before doing so, however, examine the roots of it carefully, and cut off smoothly any torn or ragged root. Then, holding it in the pot with one hand in such a position that, when filled, the surface of the soil may just come to the same part of the stem of the plant that touched the surface of the ground from which it has been removed, (and taking special care that it is not now placed deeper than it was planted before,) fill round and between the roots gradually with the potting compost, thrusting the earth down from time to time with the points of the fingers or a potting stick of an inch diameter. By this means the roots are to be placed in close contact with the soil throughout the pot. Take care that, while sufficient pressure is used to make the earth moderately firm, the force is not so violent as to break the roots. Thus the pot, when filled, will, from the pressure having been applied as each handful of earth was introduced, retain something like an equal consistency of texture throughout, without any thumping of the pot on the potting bench, as is sometimes recommended, to the great danger of the roots.
The pot should not be filled to the top edge: leave an inch in depth of the pot within the rim free to receive and retain the water necessary in future cultivation.
When thus placed in the pot, the young plant will be in a favorable condition to ramify its roots throughout the ball of earth, during which process it will bo forming its head, consisting of its branches and its bearing wood. By the time that frame-work of the future tree is perfected, the roots will have filled every part of the compost, and, in the common parlance of gardeners, the tree will want potting. But now will appear the great value of efficient work. No new potting must take place, at all events until a crop of fruit has first been grown; and hence the importance of having got the roots into such a state, by the past treatment as will enable the cultivator to supply the tree with all the nourishment it will require during the next year's culture, for its growth and for maturing a crop, by means of liquid, whether water only or combined with manurial matters.
It will be readily perceived that this can only be done by an even distribution of the liquid throughout the ball of earth; and that distribution can only be insured where the potting compost, and the mode in which it has been used, are such as to render the whole a moderately compact body, pressing nearly equally on its several parts, and upon the sides of the pot in which it is placed; the downward pressure being resisted, and the center consequently retained open, by the elasticity of the body of roots on the one hand, and of the fibry potting material on the other. It may seem to some that needless minuteness has been insisted on upon the subject of potting. But, the principle explained in this paragraph being understood, the young cultivator will soon learn by experience of how great consequence it is that these first operations (in this method of fruit growing) should be well performed.
But there is another mode of preparing or potting fruit-trees for the orchard house, differing materially from the foregoing, and which is adopted when it is intended that the pots shall be placed in the house upon a rich border, into which the roots are to be allowed to introduce themselves through the bottoms of the pots during the growing season; and this is a much more simple operation, and moreover a better mode for insuring a large crop; because, although placed in pots, upon that system the plants are not dependent for support upon the earth in the pot only, but, while in active growth and in the season for maturing the fruit, they partake in a great measure of the advantage derived from open ground culture, without being liable to many of its casualties. And therefore, where the situation of the orchard house is such as to permit of these borders, or rather where the proprietor does not desire to combine other objects in the same house, the last mentioned plan is the best for adoption. But whenever it is wished to adopt pot culture in a house in which, for any reason, it is not intended to have an open border of earth, the plan of potting that has been described is the only one that can hold out the prospect of a moderate degree of success.
Before proceeding with remarks upon the general principles of cultivation, the other system of potting just alluded to shall be explained.
( To be continued).
[This is a subject of growing interest, and its value is destined to be fully tested here by some of our leading amateurs. We have already expressed our opinion as to the extent of its value. The second article of "An Old-Country Man" contains full particulars in regard to pruning, watering, and general treatment. - Ed].