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  • Author or Editor: Todd C. Einhorn x
  • HortTechnology x
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The effect of crop load level on vegetative growth, fruit growth, yield, fruit quality, surface pitting, crop value and return bloom was studied over a 2-year period on 9- and 10-year-old ‘Sweetheart’/‘Mazzard’ sweet cherry (Prunus avium) trees. In early spring, whole-tree crop loads were adjusted to two different levels by removal of reproductive buds (either 50% or all but one) from spurs and compared with an unthinned control. In 2009, heavy crop loads of unthinned trees reduced fruit size by 30 days after full bloom (DAFB). At harvest, fruit diameter of thinned treatments was increased 22% and 27% compared with unthinned fruit. Fruit quality attributes [soluble solids concentration (SS), fruit firmness, and total acids (TA)] were significantly greater for thinned treatments. Thinned treatment yields were reduced 40% to 54% relative to unthinned trees, with greater percentages of fruit in large size classes. Despite significantly fewer fruit per tree, moderately thinned trees had a higher estimated crop value ($142 per tree) than unthinned trees ($125 per tree). Crop value was lowest for the heavily thinned treatment ($107 per tree), reflecting overthinning. In 2010, shoot growth was negatively related to crop load level. Fruit growth of unthinned trees was not significantly affected by higher fruit density until 89 DAFB. Yield of 2010 unthinned trees was 87% of 2009, while thinned tree yields were similar between years. Improved fruit quality and greater percentages of large fruit were observed for thinned treatments in 2010; however, crop value was highest for unthinned trees ($190 per tree), even though 18% of the fruit were too small for fresh market sale. Surface pitting was unaffected by crop load level in either year. Return bloom (flowers per reproductive bud and reproductive buds per spur) was significantly, negatively related to the prior season's crop load in 2010 and 2011. In the current sweet cherry pricing structure, higher crop value is associated with large volumes of medium-sized fruit. Thinning to manage crop load of low-medium density, productive ‘Sweetheart’/‘Mazzard’ trees will not be an annual requirement, though in heavy fruit set years crop load management will improve crop value.

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