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Growing Fruit Trees in your Garden

Fruit trees at home, practical suggestions for cultivating fruit trees in small yards in city or village.
There is a vision wondrous fair which fills the eye of the man who sets out fruit trees in his back yard. As he tends and watches them, the vision comes ever nearer, and at last it becomes a delightful reality, - there are ruddy apples ripening among the green leaves. Other trees bear fruit after their kind. The promises of earlier years are redeemed. But the harvest is not the only reward.

There is pure enjoyment in the care of young trees. Each year reveals new phases of their life stories. Each year challenges us with new problems. As if they possessed intelligence the trees respond to every change of treatment. There is no dullness in the waiting years before they bear fruit. Have you ever planned and planted such a little garden orchard? If not, then try it. Now is a good time to begin.

How much of your land is behind the house? Is there a plot fifty feet square to plant? Then you have room for a dozen fruit trees, with ample space for small fruits and vegetables among them.

Choosing the fruit trees. What fruits are you specially fond of? You will try to get those, of course. Make out your list from the catalogue of a reliable nurseryman. This is one of the best parts of the whole enterprise. There are fine flavored varieties that you particularly dote upon. Get these if they have been tried and found hardy in your locality. Let somebody with more ground test new varieties. First-class trees are a few cents higher in price than the second class. The latter are inferior, - crooked perhaps, or rough or undersized. They may outgrow these defects, - and they may not. To save the difference between the prices of first and second-class trees on a small order would be very poor economy. You cannot afford to do it. The nurseryman calls first-class all trees that are well­grown, free from blemishes, and bear the characteristics of their variety.

For example, a Northern Spy should be tall and straight with a long tap root; but a Greening of the same age should be shorter, with shallow, spreading roots and angular limbs. The proper age. People often make mistakes about the ages of the trees they plant. Peach trees should be one year old when set in their final places. Apples, pears, plums, and cherries should be two, or better, three years old. The age of a tree is reckoned from the time that the seedling stock is budded with the desired variety. The ages given above are standard ones for commercial orchards. A four­year-old apple tree is worth less than a three-year-old, and a three­year-old peach tree is not worth setting out. Many people pay fancy prices for trees older than the standard ages, expecting them to come into bearing earlier, but much of their money is wasted.

Dwarf trees. These have many advantages over standards. They occupy less room and are easier to care for in every way. If they receive good cultivation they produce larger and finer fruits, although not so many as trees of standard size. Dwarf apple and pear trees of some of the leading varieties can be procured from nurserymen. Dwarf trees are easy to spray, and the work of pruning and harvesting is greatly simplified because no ladder is necessary.

Planting fruit trees. You may have your trees sent to you in the fall or in the early spring. Peach trees are better set out in the spring, as they do not ripen their wood as early in the fall as many other fruit trees. Fall planting should be done early enough for the roots to establish themselves before winter sets in. Trees thus planted get an early growing start in the spring.

Distances apart. How far apart shall the trees be set? Ordinary apple trees at least twenty-five feet in the home garden. Thirty-five or forty feet is the orchard rule. Peaches should stand sixteen feet apart each way. Dwarf apple or pears may be as close as eight feet. Often peaches are set between apples. They are shorter-lived and are gone before the apple trees begin to shade them. To get a dozen trees on a space fifty by sixty feet you will have to set some of them near the boundary lines. This is legitimate, for your neighbors will take enough of the fruit that hangs over the fences to ease your conscience as to the fertility your trees steal from their soil.

Cutting back. You may not count the tree properly planted until you have cut back its top. This is really best done before the planting. It seems a pity to "sacrifice" any of the top, - it is so thrifty looking, but heavy top pruning is the price of success in this first year of the tree's orchard life. The roots have been severely pruned in the digging.

Unless the top is cut back correspondingly, the maimed roots will be overtaxed, and the life of the tree be endangered. Three or four short thick branches should be left at the top, above the single trunk. They are to be the large limbs.

Feediny fruit trees. The soil contains much plant food which the rootlets can find if only the earth remains mellow and moist. They cannot work their way into dry, hard clods. Trees can take their food from the soil only when it is dissolved in water. What wonder that they languish when the soil is cracked and hardened! We cannot dig down and crumble those hard clods around the roots, but we can break up those at the surface. Then rains will soak down and soften the under soil. By keeping the surface soil fine and by raking it frequently, the evaporation of moisture from below may be checked, and the roots will then go on feeding without interruption.

But there inevitably comes a time when growth is checked because the food supply runs low. The soil may be rich, but its fertility is not inexhaustible. If the trees do not do well even when you keep the soil loose and fine under them, it is probable that they are in need of plant foods: nitrogen, phosphoric acid or potash.

Cover crops. A second way is less expensive than buying chemical fertilizers, but slower. It is to sow "cover crops" of rye, or clover, or beans, and to turn them under while yet green. This returns to the soil much that the plants took from it while growing, and much that they gathered from the air.

The pod-bearing plants, as peas, beans, clover, and vetch, have the power to gather nitrogen from the air and to store it away in little swellings called tubercles along their roots as well as in the parts above ground. When these plants are turned under and decay, they give their nitrogen to the soil, along with their other constituents. The cover crop not only enriches the soil but it also holds it from washing, and improves its physical condition. Vegetable fibre added to the sand and clay that constitute the soil enables it to hold moisture like a sponge. Cowpeas and crimson clover are much lauded as cover crops, especially in the south. They are not hardy in the northern tier of states, - there rye and other grains are sown instead. They contribute less of nitrogen but more of phosphoric acid and potash, the two important mineral plant foods. Rye is particularly valuable on soddy lands where it is often at first impossible to get a stand of clover.

Subsequent fruit tree care. Fruit trees do not take care of themselves. They may survive neglect, but care is what brings good fruit and plenty of it. The fight against insect pests and fungous diseases must be waged industriously in the home garden as well as in the commercial orchard. The victory pays for all the struggle.

Harvest your fruit tree. To stand under one's own trees and pluck the fruit when nature has brought it to perfection - this is the final reward of all the labor and the waiting in the home garden. The grocer's best products are not to be compared with these. To have fruit from June to June again, - some to eat from the tree, some to give away, some to put away for winter use - this is the dream of the gardener come true.