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.
As you were pleased, in a late number, to introduce sortie approbatory remarks upon my management of the peach, it may not be uninteresting to some of your readers to have a statement more in detail. It is not unusual to hear of the degeneracy of the peach-tree - that it is more subject to disease than formerly, and especially the yellows - and that the duration of the tree, in vigorous health, is limited to some six or seven years. I have even heard the belief expressed, that the yellows was transmitted, from generation to generation, by budding from trees apparently healthy, and, also, that the infection was liable to spread from one tree to another.
In my judgment, founded upon the experience of many years, these ideas are erroneous not less than they are injurious and discouraging to the propagation and 'Well-being of the tree. Through the exercise of a little care and attention on the part of the grower, which is but a small return for the generous loads of delicious fruit yearly furnished by this tree, I have been enabled to preserve most of them in full vigor for a period of upwards of sixteen years.
The system I have followed first commences in the nursery, or shortly after the tree has been transplanted, by cutting out the top or central branches, leaving but three or four laterals, at a height not exceeding two or two and a half feet from the ground. This system is constantly followed in after years, which disposes the tree to grow with a hollow centre, admitting light and air more thoroughly among the branches, and greatly facilitating the gathering of the fruit and the future prunings. These latter may be performed during the winter, early spring, or, moderately, during the summer, so as not to endanger the premature bursting or running into wood, of the buds destined to furnish fruit the following year. By means of an ordinary walking-stick, furnished with a hooked handles the topmost branches, even of trees pruned with hollow centres, may be bent down, and made accessible from the ground, until the limbs become too rigid to bend, through extreme old age. This is by no means a small advantage, when, among many hundreds of trees, it is considered that the full flavor of the fruit so much depends upon gathering it precisely at the proper period of maturity, and through-which an examination by the touch may be had with facility; of each separate fruit.
The next, and more important consideration, is to restrain the tree from exhausting itself by its too generous crops of fruit, and Which can only be done, with facility, by diminishing the number of fruit-buds at the winter or early spring pruning. My constant instructions, at this time, are " not -to spare the knife," being well persuaded that it is necessary not only to the longevity of the tree, but also to the size and quality of the fruit. As the fruit is borne only upon the wood formed during the preceding year, the rule is, first, duly to attend to the hollow form of the tree, which should be constantly maintained, and, secondly, to head back each fruit-bearing branch to at least one-half its extent The crop is thus easily kept within reasonable bounds, and if, after the lapse of many years, any of the main laterals become too rigid or too much extended, new ones may be allowed to grow in their place, and the old ones then withdrawn. The vigor and growth of the tree seem to be surprisingly increased under this restraining system, as are also the size and quality of the fruit.
The third important point is, to guard the tree from its insidious and deadly foe, the worm. For this purpose, two examinations of each tree should regularly be made - one in the month of May, and the other in September. Fortunately, the presence of the worm may easily be discovered at or just beneath the surface of the ground, by the oozing of the gum, and, if not duly attended to, will in a short time occasion the destruction of the tree by cutting around the bark, and thus diminishing or totally destroying communication between the tree and its roots. The worm is most speedily and effectually destroyed by scraping and probing them away through the aid of an ordinary oyster-knife, which is usually pointed and formed with a double edge. With such an instrument, a person may go through many hundreds of trees in a day, when the system is regularly attended to as above described, and it will be found that, with such care, but here and there only will a tree be infested and require attention.
As the peach-tree is so generous in its growth, and in its exuberant crops, it is necessarily a great exhauster of the soil, and must have the support of proper manures. It is also essential to its prosperity that the soil should be kept open, and free from grass or weeds. I have found that the cultivation of many kinds of root crops requiring manures and frequent stirring of the soil, such as potatoes, beets, turnips, Ac, are quite consistent with the health and vigor of the tree, but that, when the soil becomes bound through a dense growth of grass, which excludes light and air from the roots, it soon dwindles, becomes sickly, takes on the yellows, and dies. At the period of stoning of the fruit, a large demand for silica is made upon the soil, which must necessarily be dissolved, and conveyed through the roots, trunk, and branches, in a soluble state. It is probable that, along with carbonic acid, some kinds of alkaline manures, such as lime, or a mixture of one-third potash and two-thirds salt, contribute most powerfully to aid the efforts of the tree in effecting its solution, and, with this view, I have caused a handful or two, according to the size of the tree, to be applied upon the soil, and forked in to the distance of about three or four feet around each one, at the time of the examinations for worms in May and September. A dose of guano, to the same extent, in lieu of the above, is also excellent.
Under this system, which is by no means expensive or burdensome, I am well repaid by regular and large crops of the finest fruit. J have never .had a case of the yellows, unless, through some oversight, a tree has been neglected at the examinations for worms, and the application of the alkaline- manures has been omitted.
In my judgment, this disease is owing entirely to a want of attention or neglect of one of the important points I have adverted to, and when a tree, through neglect, has become affected with the yellows, I have in no instance known it to extend to the other trees upon which attention had been,duly bestowed.
[Remarks - The foregoing is worthy of minute attention from all who possess a peach-tree; it is the result of experience, attended by as great success as we have ever seen, and may not only be now read, but' should be referred to annually. - Ed].