Precocious, Dwarfing, and Productive—How Will New Cherry Rootstocks Impact the Sweet Cherry Industry?

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  • 1 Department of Horticulture, Plant Science Building, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824.

Sweet cherries (Prunus avium L.) can be one of the most profitable tree fruits cultivated in temperate climates. While cherry trees grow naturally to relatively tall heights (≈35 ft [≥10 m]), new size-controlling cherry rootstocks similar to those used in high-density apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) orchards are now a reality. The Gisela (GI.) and Weiroot (W.) series from Germany, the Gran Manier (GM.) series from Belgium, the P-HL series from Czech Republic, `Tabel Edabriz' from France, and others of international origin are at various stages of scientific and field testing in North America, with some now being used for commercial fruit production. These stocks confer several advantageous traits besides vigor control, including precocious fruiting and high productivity. While these beneficial traits are exciting, serious problems also have been documented on occasion, such as small fruit size and tree decline. As many of these rootstocks are interspecific Prunus L. hybrids, might there be significant limitations for fruit quality and orchard longevity? What is known about their tolerance to various soil types and/or climatological stresses? What is known about their susceptibilities to pathogens and pests? Further, with the U.S. and worldwide orchard area planted to fresh-market sweet cherries already expanding to record levels throughout the 1990s and a time-honored agricultural tendency toward overproduction until grower profits are minimized (e.g., recent international apple markets), what might be the future impact of such precocious, productive rootstocks on sweet cherry profitability and sustainable production? This overview addresses these topics, providing some answers and some areas for future scientific investigation and industry discussion.

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