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 extreme severity of the weather that we have experienced has caused great destruction among plants, and much anxiety is felt with regard to its effect on the coming fruit season. These visitations ought to impress fruit growers with the great necessity for close observation in ascertaining the most eligible conditions and localities for orchards. Attention should be particularly directed to insure those conditions that will favor thorough ripening of the wood in the fall; for we may rely upon it that this is the most important, and, indeed, the only practicable preventive against injury from severe frosts. It is well known that many plants which, in their native climates, can endure very low temperatures, are, under our artificial treatment, unable to withstand the slightest frost. We are told that in their natural condition the young wood of these plants is so thoroughly matured as to be as brittle as glass, even to the extreme points of the shoots. This is a most interesting question to fruit cultivators, and, although practice points to various expedients that will assist maturation of the wood, there is no single requirement so essential, or so productive of permanent benefit as thorough drainage, and consequent ventilation of the soil.
Low, sheltered situations are unsuitable for fruit trees, not only from a tendency to prolong growth in autumn, but also from the liability of early action in spring exciting the flower-buds, and rendering them liable to be destroyed by frosts. It might also be worthy of consideration whether orchard trees are not generally planted too thin. By planting 18 or 20 feet apart, instead of 30 and 40 feet, the foliage would in time completely shade the ground, prevent surface radiation of moisture, and the same amount of trees could be set in smaller space. The entire surface of the ground could then be annually mulched by a top dressing of manure, and early in spring, and at intervals during summer, the whole ground kept loose and porous by slight diggings with suitable forks.
Pears grafted on quince require deep, rich soil, to derive full benefit from this method of culture. Many failures have occurred, and much disappointment has been occasioned, by those who have planted these without knowing what they were about. Of course, all such failures are attributed to the trees, and the system of grafting them; few people care about taking blame to themselves, if they can by any means shift the responsibility.
Pear culture on this system is not for those who plant a tree as they do a gate-post, and who look upon the after-treatment of both in the same light - that is, leave them till they rot, and then put in a fresh one. In planting, surround the roots with a peck or so of leaf or wood mould; this starts them vigorously. Cover the whole of the quince, and about an inch of the pear-stem, with soil. The quince roots freely from any part of its surface; therefore, deep planting in this case is not injurious, and it prevents the depredations of the borer. If the roots appear stumpy, stunted, and destitute of fibres, cut several upward slits on various parts of their surfaces, to encourage root formation.
The amount of pruning that trees require at planting, depends upon the degree of mutilation and maltreatment the roots have been subjected to. The older the tree, the greater the mutilation the roots are likely to suffer, and, consequently, the more branch pruning will be necessary. For this reason, young trees are better for general planting than older ones; two years from the bud is a favorite age for the removal of nursery trees. At this age, too, they are just in condition for training to any desired form. Young trees that have been neglected during last summer, with reference to pruning, and have shoots three or more feet in length, should have those luxuriant shoots bent down and fixed in that position. Close pruning such shoots only increases their vigor.
Care in disbudding where branches are not wanted, and pinching early the extreme points of those shoots that seem to grow too strong, will early attract the attention of those who wish to see a perfect and well furnished tree.
In connection with the writing of these calendars, we have had various inquiries in regard to the proper extent of enriching soil for fruit-trees. Trees that were originally planted in rich compost, and have annually been liberally treated with manure, are, after nine years, still growing vigorously, but showing little or no disposition to fruit. This result is quite in accordance with experience. Trees have their periods of youth, maturity, and old age. When young, and growing with vigor, or, if this vigor is upheld with high culture, the wood-producing force is alone excited; and if, in addition to this, they are annually curtailed of the strong shoots by pruning, in winter, it further increases the preponderance of the roots over the branches. There are various expedients practically resorted to with the view of checking wood growth. Grafting on a slow growing stock, which will naturally afford a less supply of sap than the graft would otherwise take up; digging round the roots, and cutting through the strongest of them; ringing, or cutting out a small piece of bark round the stem; tying the branches to a horizontal, or even a pendent position, are means which have long ago been practised to attain this object.
The true method of deriving benefit from manuring fruit trees was not, then, as it is but imperfectly, even now, understood. That is, by judicious and skilful summer pruning. Equalizing the sap, and preventing the development of luxurious shoots, must receive attention during growth. The most vigorous growing shoot will be effectually checked by simply breaking out the point. It is perfectly possible to train trees in any desired shape, and keep them in a healthy and constantly productive state, without the use of a knife, or any instrument sharper than the finger and thumb. This subject will come under consideration again.
The season of growth is the proper time to prune and train fruit-bearing trees. Look over peach-trees, and shorten in the points of those branches haying fruit. This slight check to wood growth will enhance the size and flavor of the fruit. Towards the end of the month, the points of all strong shoots should be pinched off, and some removed altogether if the trees are producing much wood. An early and thorough ripening of the wood is the most important desideratum with fruit-trees. Gooseberries and currant bushes will be improved by thinning the wood, and shortening the side shoots. The fruit should also be thinned, if superior fruit is an object. Raspberries will have their fruiting period much extended by a good watering; thin out the shoots for next year's crop, and cut out the old canes as soon as the fruit is all gathered.
Strawberry plantations may be made as soon as young plants can be lifted; this is a favorable time for their removal; puddle the roots in mud before planting, and they will scarcely fail to grow, even should the weather be very dry.
Strawberry plantations may be set out this month. Select plants from healthy vines, and mulch immediately after planting, if convenient. Those potted last month for forcing, should receive plenty of water, and be kept clear of runners.
Fork up slightly between the rows of strawberries, if the soil is very compact. Never use a spade unless to dig up the bed; no plant repays extra care more certainly than the strawberry, and perhaps there is none less satisfactory under poor treatment. Deep, rich soil, and mulching during dry weather, will be attended with success.