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Title: Tree nursery
Original Title: Pepiniere
Volume and Page: Vol. 12 (1765), pp. 320–324
Author: Unknown
Translator: Ann-Marie Thornton [Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Russell, Terence M. and Anne Marie Thornton. Gardens and landscapes in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert : the letterpress articles and selected engravings. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. Used with permission.

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Citation (MLA): "Tree nursery." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Pepiniere," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 12. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Tree nursery." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Pepiniere," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 12:320–324 (Paris, 1765).

Tree nursery, a plot of land intended for the propagation, cultivation, and raising of all species of tree until they are ready to be permanently planted. In a tree nursery, one sows stones, pips, nuts, kernels, and in general all seeds which are used for multiplying different sorts of fruit tree, as well as various trees which are intended either for forests and rural properties or for embellishing parks, gardens, and entrances to chateaux and country houses. The nursery plot should consequently be arranged into different sections according to the different types of cultivation and tree one wishes to grow there.

After having considered the soil condition, exposure, and size which are best suited to a tree nursery, we will enter into detail on sowing, grafting, cultivation, transplantation, propagation by cuttings and layers, and, lastly, the precautions and attentions required for the initial raising of young trees.

The piece of ground selected for a tree nursery should be of mediocre quality: if the tree nursery were situated in low, damp, rich soil, this would be as great a drawback as if the soil were dry, light, and too shallow. The soil condition is here of greater import than the initial progress of the trees: if the trees are lifted from soil which is muddy and too solid, they risk being transplanted into soil which is inferior or at least mediocre, and in either case they will languish, perish, or need time to adapt. If on the other hand they are taken from soil which is poor, barren, or exhausted, the young trees will be thin and dry and the roots feeble, slender, and short, as though they were only root hairs. Such trees will be languid and impossible to revive: they will not take root again readily and will never grow vigorously, even when they are planted in much better soil. It is therefore necessary to establish tree nurseries in medium-quality soil of a depth of 2-3 feet, which has body and substance without being rich or damp and is loose, fertile, and well conditioned.

An easterly exposure is best suited to a tree nursery, and a northerly is preferable to a southerly aspect, which is the worst possible exposure for the initial progress of trees. The next most favourable site is that of the slopes, since particular care should be taken to avoid the permanent dampness which is most contrary to the successful formation of fruit trees, evergreens, etc.

The size of a tree nursery depends on so many factors that it cannot really be decided upon without knowing the particular layout from which it should be determined. However, by studying the significance of each of these factors, a general impression can be formed which will enable us to judge the area required for the tree nursery’s intended uses. It is usually estimated that an acre contains 48,400 square feet, and that by planting the young trees at intervals of one foot in rows two feet apart one acre will contain 24,200 trees. This does not however take account of the area needed for cloisters, allées, seedbeds, and empty spaces, given that it is impossible to fill every corner, that once a range has been emptied it must be recultivated, that some trees perish, are defective, or do not take again when grafted, and, lastly, that one must wait several years before grafting rootstocks which are to be grown as standard trees. It should therefore be estimated that half of the site will be needed for cloisters, allées, seedbeds, and other areas required for use, and that the other half will contain only about 12,000 trees according to the given spacing. However, since some trees die, are defective, or do not take again when grafted, a quarter must be deducted, leaving 9,000 trees. Moreover, given that the growing period is three years for a dwarf peach, four or five years for a dwarf pear, and 7-8 years for a standard tree, it takes an average of five years to raise 9,000 trees, from which it follows that a tree nursery of one acre will be able to produce only 2,000 fruit trees a year. Furthermore, because the spacing, both in the rows and between each row, is too close for some trees, a further third must be deducted from the product of the tree nursery, which will now stretch to no more than 1,500 trees. From this, we may conclude that a quarter of an acre will suffice for an individual who wishes to raise only fruit trees and has quite extensive gardens to maintain, and that three or four acres are needed for a seller who is solely concerned with nursery gardening and could sell 6,000 young fruit-trees a year. However, if one also wishes to raise forest and collector’s trees, one must increase the area of land in proportion to the size of the trees one wishes to cultivate, and, since 6-7 years are required to form most large trees to the point where they may be permanently transplanted, one acre of tree nursery will generally form only 1,000 of these trees each year. We can therefore estimate that in order to form a complete tree nursery in which all sorts of trees are to be raised, a site of six acres is necessary to produce 10,000-12,000 trees a year, excluding the young seedlings which may be taken from seedbeds beyond that section of the tree nursery which is in use.

Fruit trees usually form the principal object of tree nurseries: if you wish to limit yourself to them, divide the piece of ground into six equal sections, of which the first will be assigned to the seedbed which will supply the nursery, the second to peaches and apricots, the third to cherries and plums, the fourth to pears, the fifth to apples, and the sixth to walnuts, chestnuts, etc. If you intend to broaden the scope of the tree nursery to include every sort of tree, you must divide the tree nursery into six more equal sections, of which the first, which will become the seventh, will be planted with white mulberries, the eighth with elms, limes, horse chestnuts, and poplars, the ninth with exotic trees, the tenth with collector’s shrubs, the eleventh with evergreens, and the twelfth with forest trees and hornbeams. I will treat the cultivation of each section in turn, in order to avoid repetition and explain matters as simply as possible without prolixity.

The seedbed must be situated in the section which has the most favourable exposure and the best-quality soil. By the most favourable exposure, I mean one which is south-easterly and sheltered to the north by hedges, walls, or large trees. However, these trees must not spread their branches or roots over the plot of land, since this would be doubly detrimental and worse than inadequate shelter. The best-quality soil is the healthiest, lightest, loosest soil in the nursery plot, of which one sixth is reserved for the seedbed in a small tree nursery and only about one twelfth in a large tree nursery, given that most seeds of large trees are sown in the area in which they are to be raised and that few seedlings are required to replenish such trees because they take so long to develop.

The seedbed section can be further protected, and the growth of the seedlings accelerated, by being walled with a palissade of which the height is determined by the size of the seedbed: this palissade is best formed from evergreens, which provide equal shade in all seasons.

It is also advisable to divide the section assigned to the seedbed into six parts, of which the first will be sown with the stones of different stone-fruit trees, the second with the pips of apples, etc., the third with the seeds of shrubs, the fourth with those of large trees which shoot in their first year, the fifth with those of trees which do not spring up until their second year, and the sixth with those of evergreens, which will thrive in the part with the least favourable exposure and the smallest degree of shelter.

The section assigned to the seedbed does not require the same depth of soil as the rest of the tree nursery: it is sufficient to have it dug to a depth of 1½ feet, in addition to which this piece of ground must have been well cultivated for a year and cleared of stones, weeds, etc. It is also advisable, for ease of cultivation, to divide it into beds four feet wide, the dividing paths of which should provide at least fifteen inches for freedom of movement. On the method of sowing, it is worth noting that it is bad practice to broadcast the seeds, which is doubly disadvantageous, since it is impossible to dig the soil round young seedlings which are scattered and to disentangle and remove the weeds growing among the good seedlings. It is far better to sow the seeds in drills, which may be made along the length or width of the beds provided that one leaves from six inches to one foot between each drill, according to the progress made by the various trees in the first two or three years. If the seeds are sown in drills, the depth of the drills must be proportioned to the size of the seeds: the largest seeds require a depth of two or three inches, whereas for medium seeds it suffices to make a furrow in the manner practised for sowing peas. In both cases, the soil is covered up and levelled with a rake. The finest seeds must be tended more carefully: they need a depth of only one inch, and once the seeds have been sown they must be covered with the finest and richest compost, which should be spread carefully by hand until the seeds are covered by a layer of only half an inch. One should refrain from levelling the soil, so that moisture may be concentrated and retained around the seeds.

Sowing may be carried out in different seasons, a circumstance which merits our attention. Some seeds ripen in summer, and could be sown as soon as they were ripe were there no risk of them germinating and sprouting before winter, when a great number would perish in inclement weather. It is therefore advisable to postpone this operation until autumn or spring. Of these two alternatives, the sowing period should be determined by the size of the seeds. The end of October and November is the best time for sowing large and even medium seeds, but one must await the onset of spring to sow fine seeds, especially those of resinous trees. One must, however, preserve the seeds, most of which need to be stored in soil or sand in a dry, sheltered location. We cannot treat this matter in detail or enumerate the small number of trees, which, being tender when young, need to be protected during the first few winters: for this, the reader may consult the article pertaining to each particular tree. It is also assumed that the seedbed should be watered during periods of dry wind and drought, hoed, spudded, cultivated, etc. The transplantation of the seedlings into the tree nursery according to the season and strength of the seedlings will be discussed in the following sections.

After the seedbed, peaches and apricots must be placed in the next best section of the tree nursery, and always in the healthiest section. These trees are raised from seed only when one wishes to procure new collector’s cultivars, since there are only five or six peaches which may be propagated from seed. Furthermore, when they are cultivars, these trees are not long-lived: one usually grafts them in order to accelerate their growth, perfect them, and improve their longevity. As one plants far fewer apricots than peaches, the former need occupy only a small area of the section assigned to these trees, of which only a quarter should be formed for the open ground. The rootstocks which are compatible with apricots and peaches are damson, cherry, and ‘Saint Julien’ plums, almonds, and apricot and peach seedlings. [1] Certain apricots and peaches are more compatible with some of these rootstocks than with others. The moisture level of the soil in which the trees are to be permanently planted should also be taken into consideration when a rootstock is being selected. Each of these factors should be borne in mind when choosing a rootstock. The rootstocks are planted at intervals of 1-2 feet in rows 2-3 feet apart, according to the space available. November is the best month for planting these rootstocks, which one should cut back to six or eight inches in order to prepare them for budding in August of their second year. It is preferable to sow the peach and apricot stones, along with the almonds, directly in the tree nursery, in which case they may be grafted during the same year and will all form dwarf trees. The rootstocks which are intended for the open ground are grafted only after four, five, or six years, when they have gained the required strength. All of these trees must be removed from the tree nursery when they are maidens: those which have grown too vigorously are as much to be rejected as those which are too feeble, while medium shoots are to be preferred. Lastly, it must be observed that sweet almonds with soft shells are less suitable because the seedlings which spring up from them are more prone to gumming.

Cherries and plums occupy the third best section of the tree nursery. The rootstocks which are compatible with cherries are the wild cherry for growing tall trees, and the Saint Lucie cherry, which is named ‘canot’ in Burgundy and ‘canout’ in Orleans, for forming medium- grown trees. [2] The common red cherry is not used as a rootstock because it is not long-lived and its roots throw out suckers. These rootstocks are removed from the seedbed after two years, and planted in the tree nursery at the same distances as apricots and peaches. They may be shield budded using dormant buds the following year for forming dwarf trees, or standard trees if they are left to grow freely for some time. One may also wait for the stems of the rootstocks to form and then graft them at a height of six or seven feet. Plums are also propagated by grafting: the rootstocks which are compatible with them are black damson, cherry, and ‘Saint Julien’ plums. These rootstocks are also removed from the seedbed after two years and planted and spaced at the time and in the manner detailed above. When they have grown sufficently broad, they are shield budded or cleft grafted.

Pears are also propagated by cleft grafting or shield budding on to pear cultivars or wild quinces. Rootstocks which have been cultivated by being raised from seed are referred to as ‘cultivars’ in order to distinguish them from wild pear stocks, which can be taken from woods but are less suitable than cultivars because they conserve a bitterness which passes to the fruit one has grafted on top. [3] The pear cultivar rootstocks are all removed from the seedbed at the same age, planted at the same time, spaced at the same intervals, and grafted in the same manner as the preceding trees. Wild quince rootstocks are raised in two ways: young seedlings are sometimes taken from the bases of old quince trees, which are called mothers and are kept in a corner of the tree nursery for this purpose. The quickest and commonest method is to take cuttings one foot long and the breadth of a little finger, and plant them early in spring in rows spaced at the same intervals as rooted seedlings, half burying them in the soil. In their first year, one should be careful to leave only the tallest branches and suppress other shoots before they have grown to more than two inches. The rootstocks are shield budded on the old wood in their second year. Pears grafted on to cultivars are suitable for forming large trees in the open ground and are used as espaliers only in soil which is dry and light, because they take too long to fruit. Pears grafted on to wild quinces are especially suited to damp soil and espaliers. Since far more pears are intended for espaliers than for planting in the open ground, two thirds of the pears in the tree nursery must be grafted on to wild quinces. Only those trees which have been grafted for two or three years are ready to be permanently transplanted.

It is also common practice to multiply apples by cleft grafting or shield budding on to apple tree cultivars, Doucins, or French Paradise rootstocks. Apple rootstocks raised from seed are known as cultivars, like pear rootstocks, and are preferred to wild apples taken from woods for the same reason. They are raised and trained in the same manner as pear cultivars. Cultivars are taller and more long-lived than French Paradise rootstocks, with Doucins between them. Apples grafted on to Doucins form only medium-grown trees, but these grow rapidly and produce excellent fruit promptly. French Paradise rootstocks are suitable for forming small trees which may even be of ornamental interest. Doucins and French Paradise rootstocks spring up readily from cuttings, which are planted in the same manner as wild quince cuttings and may also be grafted on to the old wood in their second year. These trees must be removed from the tree nursery only when they have been grafted for two or three years, but since one removes more apples grafted on to cultivars than on to other rootstocks, one must cultivate twice as many of the former.

Walnuts, chestnuts, and other similar trees are raised from seeds sown in the section of the tree nursery in which they are to be cultivated. The seeds, which should be stored in sand in a dry place during the winter, are planted at a depth of two and at intervals of four inches in rows two or three feet apart. After the second year, the young seedlings are pruned, and those which are planted too closely are removed and used to ornament empty spaces, though one should ensure that the seedlings are at least one foot apart. One should continue to prune these trees in subsequent years but more sparingly, cutting back the branches only as the trees gain in strength: however, any branches which shoot too vigorously on weak stems should be cut to three or four buds. No other cultivation is required save that of enabling the trees to grow upright. After five or six years, they will have gained sufficient breadth and height to be permanently transplanted.

The white mulberry is so useful that one can never spend too much time multiplying, growing, and spreading it to every suitable location. On the cultivation of this tree, we could simply refer the reader to article Mulberry tree, but this subject is so interesting that we need not fear repetition. The white mulberry can be raised from seed or cuttings: the first method produces a large number of seedlings but with poor-quality leaves, whereas the second method produces fewer trees but more rapidly, and with leaves of the same quality as those of the mother plants from which the cuttings are taken. The seeds are sown in the nursery seedbed. When the beds are ready for cultivation and have been well levelled, one traces out horizontal drills one-inch deep at intervals of 6-8 inches by pressing a rake handle on to each bed. The seeds are sown as closely as lettuce seeds and covered with well-rotted compost, which is spread on the drills by hand so that the seeds are covered by a layer of only half an inch, and the beds are left in this condition without being levelled. One ounce of seeds is needed to sow a bed thirty feet long by four feet wide. The most suitable sowing period is from 10-20 April. One may take the precaution of covering the beds with a small quantity of long straw, which prevents the air and sun from penetrating fully and the soil from becoming hard-packed as a result of watering. The seeds must be watered sparingly and only when necessary. The strongest seedlings may be placed in the tree nursery after one year, and the remaining seedlings after two years; they should be spaced at intervals of one foot in rows three feet apart. The following spring, one should cut back all of the lateral branches, but in subsequent years they should be pruned only as the main stems gain in strength and become able to support themselves. However, any branches which shoot too vigorously on weak stems should be cut to three or four buds. When these trees are four years old, most of them will be ready to be permanently transplanted. However, it is easier and quicker to raise white mulberries from cuttings, which it is futile to graft and which must be planted in the section of the tree nursery in which the trees are to be cultivated. For the method of raising these cuttings, see Mulberry tree. The Spanish mulberry is the only mulberry which may be propagated from seed without the leaves degenerating. Only a small number of mulberries raised from seed have good-quality leaves, so one must graft on to those which are defective in this regard. They may be shield budded using dormant buds or flute grafted at any age. The best leaves for silkworms and silk are those borne by the cultivar known as ‘Reine bâtarde’. Grafted mulberries have one serious drawback: it is claimed that these trees die suddenly at the age of twenty-five or thirty years, even when they are flourishing. This problem has been reported in Languedoc, Provence, the Cévennes, etc. It is therefore advisable to grow white mulberries from cuttings, since it is the simplest and quickest method, and produces fine, long-lived trees.

Elms, limes, horse chestnuts, poplars, etc. merit a place in a large tree nursery. Elms are raised from seed and trained in the same manner as mulberries. Limes are propagated by layering: to this end, one must keep some common lime stocks or mother plants in a section of the tree nursery and mound layer their shoots, which will have rooted sufficiently after one year to be planted in the tree nursery. Horse chestnuts and walnuts are also raised from seed sown in the sections in which they are to be cultivated, and are trained in the same way. Poplars are grown from cuttings of twelve or fifteen inches, which are planted in rows in the section in which they are to be cultivated and spaced at the same intervals as trees of a similar size. The main cultivation which these trees require is to be made to grow upright and to be pruned sparingly as they gain in strength and become able to support themselves. However, collector’s species may be shield budded using shot buds or dormant buds. As elms do not peak easily and are prone to become covered with an excessive number of short, slender branches, they must be felled entirely after their third year to one inch above ground level: they will then be left with only one centre leader which will grow promptly after five or six years. [4] Most of these trees will be ready to be permanently transplanted at five years for poplars, six for elms, seven for limes, and eight for chestnuts.

Exotic trees must be raised and trained according to the size of their seeds. The largest, such as the acorn, may be sown in the section of the tree nursery in which they are to be cultivated. Small and even medium seeds must be raised in the seedbed. Moreover, as a number of these trees are sufficiently delicate to require protection from frost for two or three winters, it is advisable to sow them in pots or seed trays so that they may be stored in winter. The various trees are planted in the tree nursery as they become sufficently strong. Most of the seeds will come up in their first year, but some will appear only in their second year and will sprout completely only in their third. One must wait and tend them patiently. There is so much variation in the progress and training of these trees that we cannot enter into detail on the subject.

Collector’s shrubs need their own section: if they are placed next to tall trees they will be impeded and in many cases suffocated. Moreover, shrubs may be close planted in tighter rows. They should otherwise be treated in the same manner as tall trees.

Evergreens must not be mixed with deciduous trees, less to prevent colour patterning and create a more striking and uniform effect than because these trees need to be tended differently. Evergreens thrive in sites of the coolest, shadiest, and most northerly exposure but none the less require a site which is healthy, since they cannot tolerate damp. They are treated in the same manner as deciduous trees with regard to sorting and preserving the seeds and the age at which the seedlings may be removed from the seedbed, but not in relation to the proper season for planting them in the tree nursery. These trees behave quite differently from deciduous trees: the latter must be planted in autumn or early spring, whereas evergreens must not be transplanted until the season is mild and reliable, that is, just before the sap begins to rise. These weather conditions usually prevail in early April, July, and September. During these seasons, one must take advantage of dull, damp weather to transplant the trees. This operation is generally successful only when the trees are young: where possible, one should take the precaution of planting them on their root balls, and, even more importantly, cover them with straw and water them regularly but moderately until one is certain that they have taken again. It follows that they cannot be left in the tree nursery for a sustained period and must be permanently planted as soon as possible.

Lastly, forest trees are planted in the remaining section of the tree nursery: with regard to the method of raising and training them, the size of the seeds, and the nature of the trees, one may follow the guidelines laid down for exotic trees.

The cultivation of a tree nursery consists primarily of three diggings a year, which must be made lightly with a pointed pick rather than a spade, which would damage the roots of the young trees. However, one’s primary objective must be to control weeds which, like insects, are all the more voracious for not being long-lived. All weeds intercept light rainfall, dew, mist, etc., and exhaust the soil of its sugars, mineral salts, and moisture, so that weeds can be regarded as the scourge of young trees and especially of new plantations. Another essential aspect of nursery cultivation is the pruning required by different trees. The main pruning should not be carried out until the cold weather has passed. One should then visit the trees during the summer months in order to cut back, shorten, and prune the disorderly, detrimental, or superfluous branches, taking care, however, to prune the evergreens sparingly and leave them with more than half of their branches. One must also preserve the natural form of flowering shrubs growing as bushes so that they may be placed in borders or bosquets, and train those trees which are to form palissades. Lastly, the gardener must devote most of his energy to watching over the shield-buds continually, since they require constant vigilance.


1. The cherry plum is Prunus cerasifera; the apricot is Prunus armeniaca.

2. This is Prunus mahaleb.

3. The wild pear is Pyrus pyraster.

4. See article Elm.