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James R. Schupp, Thomas M. Kon and H. Edwin Winzeler

The objective of these studies was to evaluate the efficacy of several concentrations of 1-aminocyclopropane carboxylic acid (ACC) for thinning apple at the standard growth stage for chemical thinning timing and a late thinning growth stage. ACC was applied at concentrations of 0, 100, 300, or 500 mg·L−1 to ‘Golden Delicious’/Bud.9 apple trees at 10 mm or 20 mm fruit diameter. Treatments were applied to the point of drip to individual whole trees in a completely randomized design with five (2010) and six (2011) replications. When ACC was applied at 20 mm, there was a linear dose relationship between concentration and fruit thinning in both years. ACC was ineffective at 10 mm. The naturally occurring compound ACC shows potential for use as a reliable late chemical thinner for apple.

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Duane W. Greene, James R. Schupp and H. Edwin Winzeler

Experiments were conducted over a 5-year period to determine the effects of abscisic acid (ABA) and benzyladenine (BA) applied alone and in combination on fruit set, fruit quality, and return bloom of ‘McIntosh’ and ‘Fuji’ apples. ABA thinned in 3 of the 5 years used and it thinned ‘McIntosh’ when applied at bloom, petal fall, and at the 10-mm fruit size stage. On ‘Fuji’, ABA thinned over a range of concentrations from 150 to 1000 mg·L−1. It caused leaf yellowing on ‘McIntosh’ but not on ‘Fuji’. When BA was applied with ABA on ‘McIntosh’, even at a rate as high as 1000 mg·L−1, it either dramatically reduced or prevented leaf yellowing and leaf abscission. The usefulness of applying BA with ABA was inconclusive because of variability in thinning response. ABA advanced surface red color on ‘McIntosh’ and when combined with BA, it reversed the reduction in red color caused by BA.

Open access

James R. Schupp, H. Edwin Winzeler and Melanie A. Schupp

Renewal of limbs by pruning to leave a short, angled, upward-facing stub is common practice for spindle-type apple (Malus ×domestica) training systems. A short, beveled stub cut is thought to stimulate renewal growth from latent buds present underneath the base of the excised branch, and to stimulate smaller, more fruitful renewal limbs with wide crotch angles. We conducted trials over the course of 2 years that involved dormant pruning of ‘Buckeye Gala’ with renewal cuts to compare two stub lengths, 0.5 and 2 cm, and three stub orientations, upward facing, downward facing, and vertical facing, to determine the effects on renewal shoot number, position, angle, and length. We found no clear advantages with either stub length that we evaluated, and there was no improvement in renewal shoot quality with a bevel cut at any orientation. Stub length and stub angle did not influence limb renewal and may be unimportant for training orchard-pruning crews and for machine-learning and robotic pruning.

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Thomas M. Kon, James R. Schupp, H. Edwin Winzeler and Richard P. Marini

The objectives of this experiment were to test the efficacy of a mechanical string thinner (Darwin PT-250; Fruit-Tec, Deggenhauserertal, Germany) on apple and to identify an optimal range of thinning severity as influenced by spindle rotation speed. Trials were conducted in 2010 and 2011 at the Pennsylvania State University Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville, PA, on five-year-old ‘Buckeye Gala’/M.9 apple trees that were trained to tall spindle. A preliminary trail on five-year-old ‘Cripps Pink’/M.9 was conducted to determine the relationship between string number and thinning severity. As the number of strings increased, the level of thinning severity increased. A range of spindle speeds (0 to 300 rpm) was applied to the same trees for two consecutive years. As spindle speed increased, blossom density (blossom clusters per limb cross-sectional area) was reduced as was the number of blossoms per spur. In 2010, leaf area per spur was reduced 9% to 45%. In 2011, the fastest spindle speed reduced leaf area per spur 20%. Although increased spindle speed reduced cropload, injury to spur leaves may have inhibited increases in fruit size. The largest gain in fruit weight was 28 g (300 rpm) compared with the control. In both years, the most severe thinning treatments reduced yield by more than 50%. There was no relationship between spindle speed and return bloom. Severe thinning treatments (240 to 300 rpm) caused significant reductions in spur leaf area, yield, and fruit calcium and did not improve fruit size or return bloom. Spindle speeds of 180 and 210 rpm provided the best overall thinning response and minimized injury to spur leaves, but cropload reduction was insufficient in years of heavy fruit set. Therefore, mechanical blossom thinning treatments should be supplemented with other thinning methods. Mechanical string thinning may be a viable treatment in organic apple production, where use of chemical thinners is limited.

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James R. Schupp, H. Edwin Winzeler, Thomas M. Kon, Richard P. Marini, Tara A. Baugher, Lynn F. Kime and Melanie A. Schupp

Pruning is the cutting away of vegetation from plants for horticultural purposes. Pruning is known to reduce apple tree size, increase fruit size and quality, and decrease yield. Methods for studying the effects of varying degrees of severity of pruning on a whole-tree basis have used qualitative descriptions of treatments rather than repeatable whole-tree quantitative metrics. In this study, we introduce a pruning severity index calculated from the sum of the cross-sectional area of all branches on a tree at 2.5 cm from their union to the central leader divided by the cross-sectional area of its central leader at 30 cm from the graft union. This limb to trunk ratio (LTR) was then modified by successively removing the largest branches of ‘Buckeye Gala’ to achieve six severity levels ranging from LTR 0.5 to LTR 1.75, with lower values representing more extreme pruning with less whole-tree limb area relative to trunk area. Pruning treatments were applied for three consecutive years and tree growth and cropping responses were observed for the first 2 years. With increasing pruning severity the following characteristics increased after seasonal growth: number of renewal limbs, number of shoots, shoot length, number of shoot leaves, shoot leaf area, final fruit set, fruit size, yield of large fruit, crop value from large fruit, soluble solids, and titratable acidity. The following characteristics decreased: limb age, number of secondary limbs, number of spurs, number of spur leaves, spur leaf area, the ratio of spur leaf area to shoot leaf area, fruit count per tree, yield, yield efficiency, crop value from small fruit, overall crop value, and sugar:acid ratio. The LTR provides a measurable way to define and create different levels of pruning severity and achieve consistent outcomes. This allows a greater degree of accuracy and precision to dormant pruning of tall spindle apple trees. The use of the LTR to establish the level of pruning severity allows the orchard manager to set crop load potential through regulation of the canopy bearing surface. This metric is also a necessary step in the development of autonomous pruning systems.