The question of intercropping a young orchard is one
to be carefully considered. As it is often practiced it is very
injurious to the orchard, but it is possible to manage crops so as to
be of very little harm to the trees.
While the practice may be
inadvisable in many commercial orchards, yet on a general farm we
should by all means think that it was the right thing to do. Certain
facts must be remembered, however, which have a bearing on the
Trees are a crop, as much as corn or grass. If we grow a crop between
the tree rows we must remember that we are double cropping the land
and that it must be fed and cared for accordingly. There is absolutely
no use in setting an apple orchard, expecting it to take care of
itself, "just growing," like Topsy, as numerous dilapidated and broken
down orchards bear ample testimony. If orchards are to be cropped
this must be judiciously done with the trees primarily in mind.
The best crops to grow in a young apple orchard are those requiring
cultivation, or which permit the cultivation of the land early in the
season. Field beans, potatoes, and garden truck of all kinds, as small
vegetables, melons, etc., are among the very best crops to grow in the
young orchard. Corn will do if it does not shade the trees too much.
Small grain and grass should not be used, especially where they come
up close to the trees. These crops form too stiff a sod and use up too
much moisture. A mulch of straw, cut grass, or coarse manure will help
to correct this condition somewhat when these crops must be used.
After cultivation until midsummer buckwheat makes a satisfactory
orchard crop in some cases.
A regular rotation may be used in the young orchard to advantage when
a space is left next the trees to receive cultivation. This space
should be at least two feet on each side of the tree the first year
and should be widened each year as the tree grows older and larger, to
four, six, and eight feet. This method has been used by the author
very successfully for a number of years. Some good rotations to use
in a growing orchard are: (1) Wheat or rye one year, clover one year,
beans or potatoes one year; (2) oats one year, clover one year,
potatoes one year; (3) beans one year, rye plowed under in spring,
followed by any cultivated crop one or two years. The essentials of a
good rotation for an orchard are: A humus and fertility supplying
crop, preferably clover, in the north, and cow peas in the south, and
at least two crops in four requiring cultivation up to the middle of
Most of the points regarding the management of young trees have
already been mentioned, but a few others should have attention
directed to them. Fall planted trees should not be cut back until
spring. In the spring all newly planted trees should have their tops
cut back rather severely to correspond with the injury to the roots in
transplanting, thus preserving the balance between root and top. This
will usually be about half to two-thirds the previous season's growth.
From three to five well distributed branches should be left with which
to form the top. During the first few years of their lives the young
apple trees will need little or no pruning, except to shape them and
remove crossing or interfering branches.
Constant cultivation at frequent intervals until midsummer should be
the rule with young growing trees, with which this is even more
important than with older trees. It is a good plan to plow the orchard
in fall where possible, always turning the furrows toward the trees,
leaving the dead furrows as drainage ditches between the rows. At
Beechwood Farm we have always banked the trees with earth in the fall,
using a shovel. This not only firms the soil about the tree, holding
it straight and strong through the winter, but it affords good
protection against rodents, especially mice. Where rabbits are
prevalent it is well to place a fine mesh wire netting around the
trees in addition to this.
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Next: Pruning The Trees
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