The garden owner who can spare a part of his ground for vegetable cultivation rarely needs much encouragement to do so, but a great many amateur gardeners who could well plant a small but useful mixed orchard are afraid to venture into this department of horticulture. Undoubtedly, the reason is that the amateur is nervous about the use of a pruning knife.
It does not need very great horticultural skill to grow good fruit. Neither does it need a great expenditure of time or money, certainly no more than to grow good roses or good dahlias. If you can afford the initial expense of plants that are already formed into bushes, standards, or cordons, according to your tastes, fruit growing is one of the simplest of garden operations.
The pruning of established fruit trees is quite simple, and its principles can be mastered in a very short time. Some fruits actually need very little pruning at all when once the mature shape of the tree has been formed. The only pruning on old standard cherries and plums, for instance, consists in cutting away broken or diseased branches and occasionally taking out a branch if overcrowding threatens.
What, therefore, should the owner of a spare plot of ground do to convert it into a small home orchard? First, the home orchard should be planned with an eye to the aspect of the ground available, and to the type of soil that exists. Planning should also take into account the needs of the family. It would not pay to grow, commercially, fruits that were not well suited to the soil and aspect, but it does pay the small family to grow a little of everything, irrespective of the kind of soil they have. A plot of mixed soft fruits, with a few apples and pears, need take up very little space, and is well worth the trouble.
Naturally, the owner will be well advised to grow principally fruits that are suited to the natural soil. For instance, if the soil is damp, even if it is waterlogged during the winter by flooding from a near river, it will grow excellent black currants. If the soil is light and warm, it will grow raspberries and currants, though light soil will need some feeding where these fruits are cultivated. Poor sandy soil is not liked by any fruits.
Light sandy loam, especially when it is overlying chalk, will do well for cherries, and a stiff loam over chalk is ideal for plums and damsons. Damp soils suit quinces and the raspberry and loganberry family, while strawberries like a rich soil in good heart, i.e., well cultivated and well drained.
A small fruit orchard can be arranged to take a great variety of fruits if it is well planned. A walled enclosure is ideal, since apricots, nectarines and other slightly tender fruits can be grown against the south wall. Failing walls or fences, a fruit patch can be well enclosed by a wire fence on which can be trained the various climbing berries—blackberries, loganberries, veitchberries, etc. or fan-trained or cordon fruits can be used on wire fences if the site is not too open and exposed.
Where there is any choice of site, a slope facing to the east should be avoided. Frosts are less dangerous if the early morning sunshine does not fall directly on the trees, and fruits on an eastern slope will often be ruined by a slight frost NA. Hen those on a western, or even a northern, slope remain undamaged.
Shelter can be provided for the orchard by planting a row of damsons or of myrobalan plums along the side where winds are troublesome. These fruits are pretty hardy, and even if they do get damaged, the loss is less than if the more choice fruits, such as pears, were ruined by cold winds.
It is quite impossible to give the ideal arrangement, since so many local factors are always involved. The best procedure to adopt is this : first see to the boundaries, arrange protective planting if necessary, or build walls or fences. Allocate plants according to site, but with due allowance for the amount of time available for cultivation Cordon and other trained trees are far more exacting than loganberries, for instance, though the gathering of soft fruits is somewhat troublesome in the season of their ripening.
Next consider whether the plot is large enough to allow for standard fruits, or whether bush fruits are preferable. Standards are decorative, and when fully grown they are extremely profitable, but bush fruits are generally considered a better commercial proposition where a quick return is wanted. Bush apples andpears are more easily pruned, and the fruit is more easily gathered. Cherries are generally grown as standards.
The advantage of standards is that other crops—small soft fruits or salads—can be grown beneath them. A common practice with orchards is to plant standard and bush fruits alternately, allowing for the removal of the bushes when the standards become large enough to require the whole of the space. In such a case it is important to obtain small bush fruits of the kind that will come quickly into bearing. This is a matter which is controlled not only by a choice of variety but by the kind of stock on which the fruit is grafted. It pays then to take the nurseryman into your confidence when you order fruits for a new plantation. Fruit growers will willingly look at your planting plan and make suggestions if you ask them. It is always better to make a plan on paper, to scale, so that the plants are properly spaced.
Begin to fill in the details of your planting scheme by inserting first the fruits that appear to you to be most important. In this family tastes must be considered. A further point that affects this first choice is that some fruits such as apples can be bought in good condition in the markets, while soft fruits such as raspberries and currants, are difficult to obtain in prime condition. Moreover, the finest of these fruits are never grown for market, because they are too soft skinned to travel well.
Finish the planting
scheme by adding as many varieties and kinds as possible, so that you have a little of everything. A glut of one kind of fruit is often an embarrassment in the home garden. When that particular fruit has a good season, it is impossible to sell at prices which pay for the labour of gathering, and there is not much fun in gathering fruit that you could buy at about a penny a pound ! On the other hand, if you have a variety of apples and pears and cherries, some flowering early and some later, you are pretty sure to have some fruit even in a bad season, for the frosts that kill the blossom on one tree will not touch the others. At harvest time you get a further advantage, since the season of ripe fruit is greatly extended by having several succession, not simultaneously.
In arranging the fruits, try to make the best possible use of the site by inter-cropping, on the same principle as intensive culture of the vegetable garden. For some years at least, soft fruits could be grown between bush and standard apples and pears and cherries and plums, assuming these larger fruit trees are planted at the distance apart which will allow them to reach maturity uncrowded. In the same way, when a plot of currants or gooseberries is planted at the proper distance apart, i.e., with 5 ft. or more between bushes or rows, there will be available space for a season or two between the rows, and strawberries might with advantage be grown there. Better still would be a few rows of salads inter planted, as the strawberries, while they would not crowd the other fruits, might be rather shaded by the bushes and so fail to ripen well.
A point to be kept in mind is that when soft fruits are used for permanent interplanting, i.e., to remain as undergrowth to standard varieties, which will fruit in trees, a little extra space between the standards is advisable, so that some sun reaches down between the rows.
We cannot leave the question of planning the fruit garden without mention of what is often the only possibility for the home gardener, that is, the plan of intermixing fruit with the flowers. In a very small garden it would be absurd to allocate any part of the plot entirely to fruit, but there are a great many fruits that could well be grown in the smallest garden plot. Loganberries and blackberries, for example, are very good subjects indeed for the small plot. They can be trained to walls, fences, or to simple wire strained between stout posts, and in this fashion they not only make good boundary hedges,” but also serve to break winds. Many an allotment has been protected, as well as made more attractive and more profitable by loganberry screens of this type.
Cordon-trained apples make a particularly effective screen between vegetable plot and flower garden. Think and decorative, they might well form the background to a flower border, with a path running behind them and serving the vegetable garden. Alternatively, cordon-trained trees can be grown against boundary or possibly on the walls enclosing tennis courts, and in other places in the garden design. Espalier-trained fruits may be grown on to a pergola.
In a smaller garden still a single specimen standard tree set in the lawn might be of a fruiting character. There is little doubt that a well-grown cherry or apple (particularly the pink-blossomed apples such as Cox’s Orange, James Grieve, etc.) is as decorative as any of the so-called flowering” trees, and when al fruit it is particularly lovely. The corner of a small garden may be made attractive by the use of standard fruit trees.
Large gardens might frequently include an orchard belt between two sections of the flower garden, or a group of orchard trees might be used to separate the flower garden from any unsightly but necessary feature, such as a potting shed or greenhouses. Without going so far as to say that fruit trees should always be first choice, one might say that fruit trees should be considered first, and the purely ornamental trees only substituted after careful deliberation.
The various types of fruit trees all have their special use in a mixed planting scheme Let us consider these types, and how they are formed.
A standard tree is a tree which is restricted to a single stem where it rises from the ground level, but is allowed to branch out and form a bushy, spreading head at some distance from the ground. For general convenience certain height classifications are universally adopted. For instance, a standard fruit tree usually has a bare main stem up to a height of 6 ft., while the term half-standard refers to a tree with about 41 ft. of bare stem.
As a rule a fruit tree grown naturally will not be a standard but will be of rather bushy character, and the standard is therefore
an artificial production. In a great many cases standards are formed in the nursery by grafting or budding, at the required height for the head, on to some common stock. If, however, the grafting is done at the ground level, and a standard subsequently produced by careful pruning, or if the tree is grown on its own roots, the head is formed by cutting the top of the main stem just above the 6-ft. Level, and as the side shoots develop immediately below this point, pinching out the tips to induce a sufficiently bushy growth. It may be noted here that the effect of pinching or cutting back any stem is to cause the buds immediately under the pruning point to break out into growth. As a rule three or more of these buds develop in place of the single, leading stem, so that it is easy to produce as many branches as required on a young tree.
Subsequent pruning, if it is necessary, is generally done with an eye to the production of flowers and fruits, and to the extension of the main branches. Too much pruning of the leaders on old-established trees may lead to a feathery growth that does not allow sufficient sunlight to strike the branches, and the production and quality of flowers will fall seriously in consequence.