Fruit Planting Hints
The best time to plant is in late autumn when the leaves are absent from the trees and before the worst of the winter frosts arrive. Actually, fruit trees can be planted at any time during the winter, but if planting is left until rather late in the season it may be that dry weather will occur which would be fatal to the newly-planted trees. When the trees are ordered from a nursery they will arrive in bundles with their roots protected by straw-wrappings. These should be removed and if the roots are dry they can be stood in water for an hour or two, or they can be laid in a trench with moistthrown on them, and left there even for a week or two if it is inconvenient to plant at once. No planting should be done when the soil is frosty, and it is far better to heel in the plants, or to store them in a shed, keeping the roots moist, until the weather is suitable for planting. It is best to open out holes for the reception of the roots before the plants arrive from the nursery. The holes should be large enough to allow the roots to be spread out as far as possible almost horizontally. After taking out the hole and breaking the subsoil, a little of the top soil should be thrown back into the centre, so that the tree when it is resting on this slight mound, will be at the same level as it was in the nursery. This can be noted by the appearance of the soil mark on the main stem. As the tree is put in position, a stake should also be driven in, before the soil is put back into the hole. This avoids any possible damage to the roots when driving in the stake.
The roots, as they are spread out, should be examined, and any that are damaged should be cut clearly away. Fine soil will be thrown over the remainder and trodden down firmly before the hole is actually filled in. More treading round the plant will make it firm in the soil, so that it does not sway in the winds. It should be tied immediately to the stake, and a label also tied to the stake. One important point to remember is that the stems of fruit trees swell as they grow, and a tie made the first year after planting will probably be too tight the next season. Such ties should be examined at fairly regular intervals, and loosened and re-tied where necessary, otherwise, if the trees swell too much, the string used for tying may cut into tne bark, and the result may be the death of the tree.
The planting of all fruits, bush apples, gooseberries and currants, loganberries and even strawberries is on much the same lines; that is to say, the ground must be well dug and well drained. If there is any doubt about the drainage, rough material should be put in at the bottom of the deep hole before the soil is filled in again. Also firm planting is essential in all cases, otherwise the roots may be dried out in air pockets in the soil, instead of being in direct contact with moist particles of soil.
The rule is to prune, not at planting time, but fairly soon afterwards. The reason it is not done at the same time as planting is chiefly that the plant has had one shock, from being moved from nursery to garden, and the pruning would be a double shock, which might prove too much for it. The first pruning should not be too severe, it may be better sometimes to wait until the following winter. But the second season’s winter pruning should be drastic, as the more pruning is done while the tree is young, the more likely is it to establish itself and become a strong, healthy specimen. All standards and bush trees should have their leaders shortened 6 in. or more in the winter after planting, and if the growth during the first summer seems rather weak, pruning should be even more severe the following winter; that is to say, the stems will be cut back to below the point of the first season’s pruning.
It is far better for the amateur gardener to make himself acquainted with the general principles of pruning than to worry too much about the particular method of pruning a particular tree.
The first point to note is that fruit is borne on wood of a different age, according to the type and variety of tree. For instance, apples bear fruit on wood that is two years old, after which the same wood bears fruits from year to year for many years afterwards. Black currants fruit on stems that have grown the previous summer, and these stems after fruiting once do not fruit again. Grapes bear fruit on the current season’s growths.
To note these differences with each kind of fruit that is grown, and to act accordingly, is the real secret of pruning. For instance, if you are pruning plums, apples, pears, sweet cherries, or red and white currants, all of which fruit on old wood, you try to build up a skeleton of main branches, but whereas with apples you cut to the second outside bud of the laterals to promote outward branching, with plums which spread too freely you cut to the second inside bud to induce a more upright growth. After the summer growth you cut back all the young shoots that are not wanted (to extend the size of the tree) to within about an inch of the old wood.
In the case of the fruits like black currants, raspberries and loganberries and also the Morello cherry and peaches or nectarines, where the fruit is carried on the wood that grew in the previous season, you prune by removing all the wood that has fruited, leaving only the young shoots to provide the following year’s harvest. This kind of pruning is done immediately after fruit has been gathered.
Summer pruning, which is the most troublesome to amateurs, need not be done at all in many cases, and if it is, it should only be done by those who have made themselves thoroughly conversant with the reasons for pruning. The theory of summer pruning is that pinching back the side growths of new wood on the tree will induce the formation of fruit spurs near the base of each stem that is close to the old wood. Instead of these side growths being allowed to grow on until the winter, and to be cut back then, they are pinched off in July about six or nine inches from the old wood. The sap concentrates then in the basal buds, so that the formation of flower buds is encouraged. When winter comes, the pruning is carried out in the normal way; that is to say, the stems are again shortened to just beyond the fruit buds. This type of pruning can only be done with those fruits which regularly make fruit spurs in this way, and not, of course, with such fruits as black currants and raspberries.
Summer pruning in the hands of the novice sometimes merely results in a feathered growth of young stems all over the tree, instead of the formation of fruit buds. That is why experts advise the novice to ignore summer pruning altogether.
One last point about pruning: be very careful to use clean, sharp tools. The damage done by the use of blunt tools or dirty tools cannot afterwards be repaired. It is through carelessness in this matter that diseases and pests find their way into the trees. Also remember that a symmetrical tree is more likely to be healthy than one which is unbalanced. Sun and air reach all the branches if they are well placed, instead of being crowded to one side of the tree, and there is also less likelihood of damage by winds to a tree which is well balanced than in the case of a tree which is lopsided.
PLANTING OF A SMALL FRUIT GARDEN
As a definite scheme for planting a small fruit garden I should recommend a few bush apples, pears and plums, standard cherries, and either loganberries, Morello cherries (fan trained), or other wall-fruits, to cover the walls and fences according to aspect. Bush trees are planted from ten to twelve feet apart. Standard sweet cherries will grow to an enormous size, and as much as twenty-four feet must be left between each. The first step in planting a fruit garden would be to arrange these larger trees as desired, and as seems most convenient. Bush trees of quickly-maturing type can be chosen to plant between the taller standard trees, so that in years to come, when the tall standard cherries are really at their best, it may be possible to take out some of the bush trees altogether, without feeling that it has been waste of time to grow them.
HOW STOCK AFFECTS TREES
The age at which a tree comes into bearing depends very largely on the stock on which it is grafted. By consultation with the fruit grower from whom the trees are ordered, it is possible to obtain small bush trees, that will mature quickly, and provide a good crop of fruit in the first ten years after planting. These would be used to interplant among varieties which do not reach their best until the end of the decade, but which will then need more space.
When the larger trees have been arranged in the fruit garden, the small bush fruits should be allotted a place. These must be allowed 5 ft. between the rows. (It is possible to grow a few vegetable or salad crops between these bushes in the first two years of their existence, though later the fruits will occupy the whole of the garden space.) Loganberries and similar berries will be planted about ten feet apart against the fences. Though it is not essential, it is certainly desirable that most of the fruit in a garden should be planted in one section. This makes it possible for a light framework of wood to be erected, over which nets can be stretched during the fruit season, to keep the fruits safe from the attacks of birds. A movable protection is advised, for at other seasons, birds do an enormous amount of good in the fruit garden, by devouring.
REMEMBER THE WHEELBARROW
It is important to allow, in the fruit garden, solid paths or soil tracks over which manure can be wheeled. It is not advisable to plant fruits in grass. The soil should be cultivated round the bole of the tree, for at least five years after planting. It does not seem to harm very old fruit trees if grass grows beneath them, but it has a definitely harmful effect on the health of young trees.
GENERAL HINTS ON MANURING
Cultivation in the fruit garden consists chiefly of keeping downand attending to pruning. Manuring is also important. The condition of a tree can often be judged by the appearance of its leaves. If the leaves have brown edges this indicates lack of potash. Brown, dark centres to the leaves show a need for more phosphatic foods, and undersized leaves of pale colour, show a lack of nitrates in the soil. All fruits need lime annually, and a dressing of potash is also advised.