Two years of field experiments were conducted in eastern New York to evaluate the efficacy of a multi-step thinning approach on reducing crop load (no. fruit per cm2 trunk cross-sectional area) and increasing fruit size of 'Empire' apple (Malus ×domestica Borkh.). Applications of Endothall (ET) at 80% bloom, NAA + carbaryl (CB) at petal fall (PF), and Accel™ + CB at 10 mm king fruitlet diameter (KFD), alone and in all combinations, were compared to a nonthinned control and to the application of NAA + CB at 10 mm KFD (commercial standard). In both 1996 and 1997, orthogonal contrasts indicated the multi-step treatment significantly increased fruit size, reduced cropload, and reduced yield compared to single applications. Effects on cropload of consecutive treatments were largely predicted by multiplying effects of individual treatments. Although all thinning treatments except for NAA + CB at PF in 1997 significantly reduced cropload, no single treatment thinned sufficiently to ensure good return bloom. Compared to NAA + CB at 10 mm KFD, multi-step thinning with NAA + CB at PF followed by Accel™ + CB at 10 mm KFD produced bigger fruits in both years, and resulted in a higher percentage of spurs carrying a single fruit in 1996. When fruit size was evaluated after removing the effect of cropload (cropload adjusted fruit weight), NAA + CB at PF, Accel™ + CB at 10 mm, and the two applied sequentially, resulted in greater cropload adjusted fruit weight than the nonthinned control in both years, whereas NAA + CB at 10 mm did not. Contrast analysis of treatments with and without ET showed no significant effect of including ET on fruit size, though total cropload was reduced at P = 0.10 and total yield was reduced (P = 0.03 in 1996 and P = 0.12 in 1997). No deleterious effects from multi-step treatments have been observed. All thinning treatments significantly increased return bloom in 1996 and 1997 compared to the control with little difference observed between treatments. Chemical names used: naphthalene acetic acid (NAA); 1-naphthyl-N-methylcarbamate [carbaryl (CB)]; 6-benzyladenine [BA (Accel™)]; 7-oxabicyclo (2,2,1) heptane-2,3 dicarboxylic acid [ET (Endothall™)]
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