Canopy fruit to leaf area ratios (fruit no./m2 leaf area, F:LA) of 7- and 8-year-old `Bing' sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) on the dwarfing rootstock `Gisela 5' (P. cerasus L. × P. canescens L.) were manipulated by thinning dormant fruit buds. F:LA influenced yield, fruit quality, and vegetative growth, but there were no consistent effects on whole canopy net CO2 exchange rate (NCERcanopy). Trees thinned to 20 fruit/m2 LA had yield reduced by 68% but had increased fruit weight (+25%), firmness (+25%), soluble solids (+20%), and fruit diameter (+14%), compared to unthinned trees (84 fruit/m2). Fruit quality declined when canopy LA was ≈200 cm2/fruit, suggesting that photoassimilate capacity becomes limiting to fruit growth below this ratio. NCERcanopy and net assimilation varied seasonally, being highest during stage III of fruit development (64 days after full bloom, DAFB), and falling more than 50% by 90 DAFB. Final shoot length, LA/spur, and trunk expansion were related negatively to F:LA. F:LA did not affect subsequent floral bud induction per se, but the number of flowers initiated per bud was negatively and linearly related to F:LA. Although all trees were thinned to equal floral bud levels per spur for the year following initial treatment (2001), fruit yields were highest on the trees that previously had no fruit, reflecting the increased number of flowers initiated per floral bud. Nonfruiting trees exhibited a sigmoidal pattern of shoot growth and trunk expansion, whereas fruiting trees exhibited a double sigmoidal pattern due to a growth lag during Stage III of fruit development. Vegetative growth in the second year was not related to current or previous season F:LA. We estimate that the LA on a typical spur is only sufficient to support the full growth potential of a single fruit; more heavily-set spurs require supplemental LA from nonfruiting shoots. From these studies there appears to be a hierarchy of developmental sensitivity to high F:LA for above-ground organs in `Bing'/`Gisela 5' sweet cherry trees: trunk expansion > fruit soluble solids (Stage III) > fruit growth (Stage III) > LA/spur > shoot elongation > fruit growth (Stages I and II) > LA/shoot. Current season F:LA had a greater influence on fruit quality than prior cropping history, underscoring the importance of imposing annual strategies to balance fruit number with LA.
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