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P. Inglese, G. Barbera and T. La Mantia

Flowers and stems (cladodes) of cactus pear [Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.] appear simultaneously in spring, and a second vegetative and reproductive flush can be obtained in early summer by completely removing flowers and cladodes of the spring flush at bloom time. The seasonal growth patterns of cactus pear fruits and cladodes were examined in terms of dry-weight accumulation and cladode extension (surface area) to determine if cladodes are competitive sinks during fruit development. Thermal time was calculated in terms of growing degree hours (GDH) accumulated from bud burst until fruit harvest. Fruits of the spring flush had a 25% lower dry weight and a shorter development period than the summer flush fruits, and, particularly, a shorter duration and a lower growth rate at the stage when most of the core development occurred. The duration of the fruit development period was better explained in terms of thermal rather than chronological time. The number of days required to reach commercial harvest maturity changed with the time of bud burst, but the thermal time (40 × 103 GDH) did not. Newly developing cladodes may become competitive sinks for resource allocation during most of fruit growth, as indicated by the cladode's higher absolute growth rate, and the fruit had the highest growth rate during the final swell of the core, corresponding to a consistent reduction in cladode growth rate. Cladode surface area extension in the first flush ceased at the time of summer fruit harvest (20 Aug.), while cladodes continued to increase in dry weight and thickness until the end of the growing season (November), and, eventually, during winter. The growth of fruit and cladodes of the summer flush occurred simultaneously over the course of the season; the cladodes had a similar surface area and a lower (25%) dry-weight accumulation and thickness than did first flush cladodes. The proportion of annual aboveground dry matter allocated to the fruits was 35% for the spring flush and 46% for the summer flush, being similar to harvest increment values reported for other fruit crops, such as peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.]. Summer cladode pruning and fruit thinning should be accomplished early in the season to avoid resource-limited growth conditions that could reduce fruit and cladode growth potential.

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T. Caruso, P. Inglese, F. Sottile and F.P. Marra

Vegetative growth, fruit yields, and dry matter partitioning within above-ground components were assessed during three growing seasons for trees of an early ripening peach (Prunus persica L. Batsch `Flordaprince' on GF 677 rootstock) trained either to a free standing central leader (930 trees/ha) or to Y shape (1850 trees/ha). Individual trees trained to central leader gave higher fruit yield, had a significantly greater leaf area and accumulated more dry mass in above-ground components per tree than Y shape trees. The training systems did not differ in terms of yield efficiency (yield per trunk cross-sectional area) and leaf area index (LAI), but Y shape trees had a higher harvest index and fruit dry mass per ground area than central leader. Four years after planting, Y shape had 35% higher yield per hectare than central leader. The relative contribution of 1-year-old wood, shoot and leaf to the dry mass of the tree decreased with tree age. Four years after planting the dry matter partitioned to the >1-year-old wood components represented 60% of the total tree mass (excluding fruit) in both the training systems. Central leader trees had the highest relative vegetative growth rate during stage III of fruit development. Most starch depletion occurred from dormancy to pit hardening from the canopy main storage pools (>1-year-old wood), and was higher for central leader than Y shape trees. For the ease of management and the high crop efficiency, the Y shape can be successfully used for peach high density planting systems.

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P. Inglese, G. Barbera, T. La Mantia and S. Portolano

We established a cladode load and thinning time that maximized fruit and flesh size in `Gialla' cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica Mill.). Five weeks after spring flush removal, second flush flower buds were thinned to nine, six, or three per cladode; the same treatment was repeated during the early stages of fruit development. Control cladodes had a natural load of 15 fruit. Time of thinning did not affect fruit growth and ultimate weight. Fruit and flesh weight increased with thinning, but export weight was obtained only in cladodes with no more than six fruit. Heavier thinning did not result in any further increase of fruit or flesh weight. Percent flesh was not affected by thinning. Fruit characteristics, such as total soluble solids concentration and seed content did not change with thinning, but the seeds: flesh ratio decreased with thinning. Fruit on cladodes with the lowest load ripened earlier than those on more heavily yielding cladodes.

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T. Caruso, P. Inglese, M. Sidari and F. Sottile

Seasonal development of leaf area, leaf area index (LAI), dry matter, and carbohydrate content were measured from harvest 1992 to harvest 1993 in above-ground components of `Flordaprince' peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] trees grafted on GF 677 (Prunus persica × Prunus amygdalus) and MrS 2/5 (Prunus cerasifera free pollinated) rootstocks, which widely differ in vigor. Whole trees were separated into fruit, leaves, shoots, 1-year-old wood and >1-year-old wood. Sampling dates were coincident with key fruit and tree developmental stages: dormancy, fruit set, pit hardening, and fruit harvest. Rootstock modified the vegetative vigor of the tree, the seasonal partitioning of dry matter, and starch content in above-ground components. Leaf area, LAI, and total above-ground dry matter were twice as high in the most vigorous combination (`Flordaprince'/GF 677), which gave the highest yield, but had the lowest harvest index. Rootstock vigor did not affect soluble sugar concentration in any of the canopy components. Starch content was greatest during dormancy and in the oldest wood of GF 677 trees. During fruit development, starch content rapidly decreased in 1-year-old wood and perennial components; at pit hardening it was four times greater in MrS 2/5 than in GF 677 trees. The vegetative-to-fruit dry mass ratio by pit hardening was 3:1 for MrS 2/5 and 9:1 for GF 677 trees. Competition with shoot growth apparently reduced fruit growth, particularly during Stage I and Stage II, as fruit size at harvest was significantly lower (17%) in GF 677 than in MrS 2/5 trees.

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P. Inglese, T. Caruso, G. Gugliuzza and L.S. Pace

Effect of crop load on dry matter partitioning was studied on 3-year-old peach [(Prunus persica (L.) Batsch (Peach Group)] trees of the early ripening `Early May Crest' (EMC) grafted on `GF677' and Penta (Prunus domestica L.) rootstock and the late ripening `Flaminia' grafted on `GF677' rootstock [(Prunus persica × Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D. A. Webb] and grown outdoors in 230-L containers, for 2 years. Fruit thinning was carried out 10 days after fruit set to produce different crop loads. Trees were sampled destructively throughout two growing seasons and divided into above-ground and root components, for dry matter and carbohydrate analysis. At the end of the fruit development period, in the first year, total tree dry matter accumulation was related linearly to crop load even when the increase in crop load greatly decreased vegetative and root growth. Total dry matter accumulation was highest in EMC/`GF 677' at any specific crop load, and EMC trees on `GF677' allocated relatively more dry matter than EMC/`Penta' trees to vegetative and root growth, even under increasing fruit sink demand. Two consecutive years of heavy crops resulted in an inverse relationship between crop load and dry matter accumulation of trees, due to a major reduction of vegetative, root, and fruit growth. The percentage of dry matter partitioned to fruit decreased with the vigor of the rootstock, and EMC/`Penta' trees had the lowest harvest index at each specific crop load. The early ripening EMC/`GF677' trees which had twice the harvest index of `Flaminia'/`GF677' trees for any level of crop load. `Flaminia'/`GF677' trees had the largest canopy size. Starch content in the roots was lowest for cropping trees and depended on the rootstock and on the length of the fruit development period, being highest for the late ripening `Flaminia'/`GF677' trees. Individual fruit weight decreased with crop load, and the reduction of fruit size was related to rootstock and time of ripening.

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T. Caruso, P. Inglese, C. Di Vaio and L.S. Pace

Fruit thinning is the most effective tool in regulating fruit growth potential for early-ripening peach and nectarine (Prunus persica) cultivars, and the common strategy is to space fruit 25 to 30 cm (9.8 to 11.8 inches) throughout the canopy, while scarce attention to the canopy environment in which the fruit develops. It is likely that different light environments within the canopy require different thinning patterns and to test this hypothesis, an experiment was set up to evaluate various fruit thinning patterns (fruit densities) in relation to fruit location within the canopy of early-ripening `May Glo' nectarine trees trained to Y-shape. Differentiated fruit thinning resulted in higher yield efficiency due to a higher fruit number and average fruit weight. Differentiated thinning hastened fruit harvest and shortened the harvest period. Differentiated thinning reduced fruit variability within the tree in terms of size and soluble solids content, resulting in a higher crop value.