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.
Draining and subsoil plowing are the two great improving operations of modern farming; and they are by far more important to the orchardist and all who grow and plant trees, than to the farmer who cultivates merely annual crops.
Having the ground thus thoroughly prepared for the reception of the trees, planting is in order; and the first step is to dig the holes. Now it so happens, that in the seasons of planting nearly all classes of people, both in town and country, are pressed with their ordinary avocations; and the consequence is, that planting is either deferred till too late, or else it is done hurriedly and badly - the holes are made just large enough to cram the roots into, and the earth is thrown in about them without any higher aim than merely to cover them. In these cases the roots are crowded, confused, and bent up, so that a large number of them never come in contact with the earth, and of course die. The careful planter will make holes so deep that a bed of good, friable, sandy loam may be spread on the bottom, to set the trees on. It makes a great difference what sort of soil is placed around the roots; because, as every propagator knows, certain soils are much more favorable to the emission of new roots than others.
We object to all kinds of manure, chips or shavings of wood, and various other materials that are occasionally prescribed; all of which may be very useful and proper to be placed near the roots, to furnish a supply of nutriment when young active rootlets have been formed, and are capable to make use of them. To promote re-rooting, use fine, fresh, sandy loam - a large proportion of sand, as this remains porous and does not hold injurious quantities of moisture. Then the holes must be wide enough to allow every root to be spread out its natural length, and in a free, natural direction; because every twist or bend has the same effect as a twist or bend of a branch - namely, that of checking the flow of sap to it, and inducing feebleness. In replacing the earth, exclude all poor soil taken from the bottom; fill in the sandy loam mixture carefully and slowly, so that not a cavity will be left, but that every root will be placed in direct contact with the soil. Some kid-glove planters use sharp sticks to work in the earth, and thus injure the roots.
The man who is really in earnest, will take his hands.
In the spring, and more especially at an advanced period, when the soil has become quite dry, and when it is likely to remain so for a length of time, a pail or two of water, or a sufficient quantity, may be applied, to furnish the degree of moisture necessary to promote the formation of roots, and also to supply the demand which the opening buds will make upon the roots. This water should be applied before the and the consequent baking of the Burface, which would render the application of water an injury rather than a benefit Trees are very often planted too deep. The formation of new roots requires heat, air, and moisture; and roots that are buried far beneath the surface are in a great measure excluded from the genial influence of heat and air, and the ends, instead of emitting new fibres, decay, and of course the tree lingers and dies. Vast quantities of trees are lost on this account, and we can not too strongly urge planters to guard against it. If we examine healthy, vigorous trees, we find that the most active, important roots, are not far from the surface; and we know that it is a very good plan to bury deeply any portion of a tree that we desire to keep in a dormant state.
When the tree is planted, it should immediately be mulched; that is, a covering three or four inches deep of half decayed manure or litter should be spread over the ground in a circle around the tree, from the trunk to the extremities of the roots, and some distance beyond. This mulching prevents evaporation from the soil, and, what is very important, aids in preserving a uniform temperature about the roots; besides, when Tains come, they dissolve this mulching, and wash down its fertilizing parts to the roots. This is a much safer way of applying manure to newly planted trees than placing it in immediate contact with the roots.
In cases where trees are much exposed, or have sufficient top to catch the wind, supports of some kind are necessary until the roots have taken hold of the ground. In some cases a single stake will be sufficient, but it must be sunk so as not to injure the roots; and there should be a piece of cloth, matting, or some soft substance, placed between the tree and stake, or tied loosely around the tree, to prevent it from being chafed.
We have said nothing about pruning the tree. We said, in last month's article on this subject, that shortening the branches at the time of transplanting was a necessity only because the roots are generally mutilated and injured in taking up. This is substantially true. If we could take a young tree up with all its roots entire and uninjured in any way, and replant it before they could suffer from exposure, there would be no need of lopping off branches. But this we may as well say is impossible - the roots must and will be cut and bruised and broken and dried; and the more they suffer, the less able they will be to fulfil their functions; and therefore, in the case of deciduous trees, we must either shorten and thin the branches, or see our trees die. All bruised and broken roots should be pruned off clean and smoothly up to the sound wood, else they will decay, and retard the formation of new roots, if they do not kill the tree. The freshly cut surface of a sound root, placed in proper soil, like a cutting, under favorable circumstances, soon emits new fibres.
In reducing the top, regard should be had to the form of the tree; in most cases it is better to thin the branches than to shorten all closely. It should always be remembered that leaves aid in the formation of roots. In fact, unless the leaves continue to prepare new matter, the roots will not grow, no more than the leaves will continue to perform their functions without the aid of the roots. We know that leaves expand before the roots have become active, and that new roots are formed before any leaves appear; but in both cases the support is derived from the unexhausted supply laid up during the previous season, and which would last for a very short time. This is why trees sometimes put forth leaves most promisingly, and wither under the first warm sun; the roots being unable to extract sufficient moisture from the soil to compensate for evaporation. Just so cuttings often send out leaves, and promise to the uninitiated a rapid growth; and in an hour they are withered. No roots were formed, and the small stock of food laid up in the cells of the cutting was soon exhausted.
In regard to the management of trees subsequent to planting, we shall have something to say next month.