The day has gone, probably forever, when setting out fruit trees and
giving them occasional cultivation, "plowing up the orchard" once in
several years, would produce fruit. Apples and pears and peaches have
occupied no preferred position against the general invasion of the
realm of horticulture by insect and fungous enemies. The fruits have,
indeed, suffered more than most plants. Nevertheless there is this
encouraging fact: that, though the fruits may have been severely
attacked, the means we now have of fighting fruit-tree enemies, if
thoroughly used, as a rule are more certain of accomplishing their
purpose, and keeping the enemies completely at bay, than are similar
weapons in any other line of horticultural work.
With fruit trees, as with vegetables and flowers, the most important
precaution to be taken against insects and disease is to _have them
in a healthy, thriving, growing condition_. It is a part of Nature's
law of the survival of the fittest that any backward or weakling plant
or tree seems to fall first prey to the ravages of destructive forces.
For these reasons the double necessity of maintaining at all times good
fertilization and thorough cultivation will be seen. In addition to
these two factors, careful attention in the matter of pruning is
essential in keeping the trees in a healthy, robust condition. As
explained in a previous chapter, the trees should be started right by
pruning the first season to the open-head or vase shape, which
furnishes the maximum of light and air to all parts of the tree. Three
or four main branches should form the basis of the head, care being
taken not to have them start from directly opposite points on the
trunk, thus forming a crotch and leaving the tree liable to splitting
from winds or excessive crops. If the tree is once started right,
further pruning will give little trouble. Cut out limbs which cross, or
are likely to rub against each other, or that are too close together;
and also any that are broken, decayed, or injured in any way. For trees
thus given proper attention from the start, a short jackknife will be
the only pruning instrument required.
The case of the old orchard is more difficult. Cutting out too many of
the old, large limbs at one time is sure to give a severe shock to the
vitality of the tree. A better plan is, first, to cut off _close_
all suckers and all small new-growth limbs, except a few of the most
promising, which may be left to be developed into large limbs; and then
as these new limbs grow on, gradually to cut out, using a fine-tooth
saw and painting the exposed surfaces, the surplus old wood. Apples
will need more pruning than the other fruits. Pears and cherries need
the least; cutting back the ends of limbs enough to keep the trees in
good form, with the removal of an occasional branch for the purpose of
letting in light and air, is all the pruning they will require. Of
course trees growing on rich ground, and well cultivated, will require
more cutting back than those growing under poorer conditions. A further
purpose of pruning is to effect indirectly a thinning of the fruit, so
that what is grown will be larger and more valuable, and also that the
trees may not become exhausted by a few exceptionally heavy crops. On
trees that have been neglected and growing slowly the bark sometimes
becomes hard and set. In such cases it will prove beneficial to scrape
the bark and give a wash applied with an old broom. Whitewash is good
for this purpose, but soda or lye answers the same purpose and is less
disagreeably conspicuous. Slitting the bark of trunks and the largest
limbs is sometimes resorted to, care being taken to cut through the
bark only; but such practice is objectionable because it leaves ready
access to some forms of fungous disease and to borers.
Where extra fine specimens of fruit are desired, thinning is practiced.
It helps also to prevent the tree from being overtaxed by excessive
crops. But where pruning is thoroughly done this trouble is usually
avoided. Peaches and Japan plums are especially benefited by thinning,
as they have a great tendency to overbear. The spread of fruit
diseases, especially rot in the fruit itself, is also to some extent
Of fruit-tree enemies there are some large sorts which may do great
damage in short order--rabbits and field mice. They may be kept away by
mechanical protection, such as wire, or by heaping the earth up to a
height of twelve inches about the tree trunk. Or they may be caught
with poisoned baits, such as boiled grain in which a little Rough on
Rats or similar poison has been mixed. The former method for the small
home garden is little trouble, safer to Fido and Tabby, and the most
reliable in effect.
Insects and scale diseases are not so easily managed; and that brings
us to the question of spraying and of sprays.
For large orchards the spray must, of course, be applied with powerful
and expensive machinery. For the small fruit garden a much simpler and
very moderate priced apparatus may be acquired. The most practical of
these is the brass-tank compressed-air sprayer, with extension rod and
mist-spray nozzle. Or one of the knapsack sprayers may be used. Either
of these will be of great assistance not only with the fruit trees, but
everywhere in the garden. With care they will last a good many years.
Whatever type you get, be sure to get a brass machine; as cheaper ones,
made of other metal, quickly corrode from contact with the strong
poisons used.

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