Alternate-bearing trees produce a heavy on-crop followed by a light off-crop. Whereas climatic events initiate alternate bearing, it is perpetuated by endogenous tree factors. For citrus, the mechanism and underlying physiology by which fruit influence floral intensity the next spring was unresolved. To determine whether reduced return bloom of on-crop trees was due to inhibition of vegetative shoot production and, thus, a lack of “wood” on which to bear next spring's inflorescences or, alternatively, to inhibition of phase transition and inflorescence development on an adequate number of vegetative shoots, fruit were removed from individual shoots monthly or from entire on-crop `Pixie' mandarin trees during periods critical to shoot initiation (summer) and phase transition (winter). Fruit removal provided clear evidence that the on-crop exerted a significant effect on return bloom during the summer by reducing summer–fall shoot growth and, hence, the number of flowers borne on these shoots as well as on old wood of fruit-bearing shoots. The on-crop had less effect in winter on phase transition and return bloom. Buds collected during the summer from on-crop `Pixie' mandarin trees were characterized by high indoleacetic acid and low isopentenyladenosine concentrations compared to buds from off-crop trees. The starch level of the buds was not affected. No differences in hormone concentrations were detected for buds collected during winter from on- and off-crop trees, but buds of on-crop trees had less starch. The results demonstrate that the on-crop reduces return bloom predominantly by inhibiting summer-fall vegetative shoot growth by a mechanism similar to apical dominance, not a lack of available carbohydrate.
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