Floral budbreak and fruit set in many southern highbush blueberry (SHB) cultivars (hybrids of Vaccinium corymbosum L. with other species of Vaccinium) begin prior to vegetative budbreak. Experiments were conducted with two SHB cultivars, `Misty' and `Sharpblue', to test the hypothesis that initial flower bud density (flower buds/m cane length) affects vegetative budbreak and shoot development, which in turn affect fruit development. Flower bud density of field-grown plants was adjusted in two nonconsecutive years by removing none, one-third, or two-thirds of the flower buds during dormancy. Vegetative budbreak, new shoot dry weight, leaf area, and leaf area: fruit ratios decreased with increasing flower bud density in both cultivars. Average fruit fresh weight and fruit soluble solids decreased in both cultivars, and fruit ripening was delayed in `Misty' as leaf area: fruit ratios decreased. This study indicates that because of the inverse relationship between flower bud density and canopy establishment, decreasing the density of flower buds in SHB will increase fruit size and quality and hasten ripening.
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