Influence of Blossom and Fruit Thinning on Peach Flower Bud Tolerance to an Early Spring Freeze

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  • 1 Department of Horticulture, Agricultural Experiment Station–Winchester, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2500 Valley Avenue, Winchester, VA 22601
  • | 2 Department of Horticulture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061

Peach trees [Prunus persica (L.) BatSch.] blossom-thinned by hand were overthinned due to poor fruit set of the remaining flowers; however, their yield was equivalent to trees hand-thinned 38 or 68 days after full bloom (AFB). Blossom-thinned trees had three times the number of flower buds per unit length of shoot and had more than two times the percentage of live buds after a March freeze that had occurred at early bud swell the following spring. Blossom-thinned trees were more vigorous; their pruning weight increased 45%. For blossom-thinned trees, the number of flowers per square centimeter limb cross-sectional area (CSA) was two times that of hand-thinned trees and four times that of the control trees for the next season. Fruit set of blossom-thinned trees was increased four times. Flower buds on the bottom half of shoots on blossom-thinned trees were more cold tolerant than when hand-thinned 68 days AFB. Fruit set per square centimeter limb CSA was 400% greater the following year on blossom-thinned trees compared to controls. Removing strong upright shoots on scaffold limbs and at renewal points early in their development decreased dormant pruning time and weight and increased red pigmentation of fruit at the second picking. The number of flower buds per unit shoot length and percent live buds after the spring freeze were negatively related to crop density the previous season for trees that had been hand-thinned to varying crop densities at 48 days AFB. According to these results, blossom thinning and fruit thinning to moderate crop densities can influence the cold tolerance of peach flower buds in late winter.

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