Trials were conducted in 2009 and 2010 to evaluate the use of a hand-thinning gauge [Equilifruit; Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Montpelier, France] on three cultivars of apple (Malus ×domestica) trees trained to tall spindle. Hand-thinning treatments were applied after June drop to trees with supra-optimal crop loads. Three hand-thinning treatments were applied using the hand-thinning gauge: 1) thinning to ≈6 fruit/cm2 branch cross-sectional area (BCSA) (F value), 2) subtracting the delta value [Δ (an adjustment factor to increase or decrease the number of fruit per BCSA] from the F value (F − Δ), and 3) F − 2Δ. These treatments were compared with a control and a traditional hand-thinning heuristic of spacing a solitary fruit every 7 to 8 inches of branch length. Use of the hand-thinning gauge generally improved fruit weight and maintained whole tree yields when compared with the control. Hand-thinning based upon traditional fruit-spacing heuristics reduced crop density and increased final fruit weight of apple, but significant reductions in yield were observed in two of four studies when compared with the control. We find the hand-thinning gauge a useful tool in adjusting final crop load of apple.
Chemical thinning, the most common and cost-effective thinning method, is conducted during early apple fruit development over a 3- to 4-week period using multiple applications of plant growth regulators. It is critical to provide apple growers with tools to assess the efficacy of chemical thinners quickly and accurately because visible responses are not apparent for up to 2 weeks after application. The objective of this study was to build a model to predict apple fruitlet abscission following a chemical thinner application with in situ reflectance data obtained with a portable visible and near infrared (Vis/NIR) spectrophotometer. Developed models were compared with the currently available fruitlet growth model (FGM). ‘Honeycrisp’ fruitlet diameter and reflectance were measured on dates around a chemical thinner application across a 2-year period. After June drop, measured fruitlets were determined to have either persisted or abscised. Random forest, partial least squares regression, and XGBoost classification models were used to predict fruitlet abscission from reflectance data. Each classification model was developed with 2021, 2022, and combined 2021 + 2022 data. For each dataset, 5-fold cross validation was used to assess three model performance metrics: 1) overall accuracy, 2) recall, and 3) specificity. Datasets tested were either unbalanced, majority class down-sampled, or minority class up-sampled with synthetic minority oversampling technique. In both years, the FGM reliably estimated chemical thinner efficacy 9 days after application. Before this time point, the FGM had low prediction accuracy of the minority class in both years—persisting fruitlets in 2021 and abscising fruitlets in 2022. For reflectance spectroscopy, the developed random forest models that were balanced with synthetic minority over-sampling technique were found to be the best combination in predicting chemical thinner efficacy. The combined 2021 + 2022 dataset overall model accuracy ranged from 84% the day before to 93% at 9 days after thinner application. These results show that Vis/NIR is a promising tool to predict chemical thinner efficacy. This technology had high prediction accuracies over a range of fruitlet abscission potential and two growing seasons. Further development and testing of the model over cultivars, chemical thinner timings, and growing regions would facilitate commercialization of the technology.
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.
Organic apple (Malus ×domestica Borkh.) growers lack effective strategies to manage preharvest drop. For susceptible cultivars, yield losses caused by preharvest drop can exceed 30% at the beginning of harvest. To address this issue, a formulation of aminoethoxyvinylglyine (AVG) designed for organic use was developed and compared with a commercially available AVG formulation. We evaluated the effects and interactions of the AVG formulation and application number on preharvest drop and fruit maturity in 2017 and 2018. We selected 30 pairs of mature ‘Oregon Spur II Red Delicious’/‘M. 111’ trees planted at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, NC, USA. Trees were planted with spacing of 2.7 × 6.1 m, trained to a central leader, and received plant protectant sprays that adhered to local recommendations throughout the growing season. Both AVG formulations were applied at 132 mg⋅L−1 at 3 or 3 + 1 weeks before the anticipated harvest. An untreated control was also included for comparison. The experiment had six replicates and a randomized complete block design with a 2 × 2 augmented factorial treatment structure. A one-way analysis of variance was performed and single degree of freedom contrasts were used to compare treatment groups of interest. During both years, organic and conventional AVG were equally effective for reducing preharvest drop and delaying fruit softening and starch hydrolysis at harvest. During one year, increasing the number of applications of AVG reduced cumulative fruit drop, delayed fruit softening at harvest, and reduced internal ethylene concentrations. Inconsistencies in responses across years may be explained, in part, by abnormally warm temperatures observed in 2018. AVG approved for organic use appears to be a promising preharvest drop management technology with efficacy similar to that of conventional AVG.
Apple (Malus ×domestica) growers can incur significant economic losses when fruit drop before they can be harvested [preharvest fruit drop (PFD)]. In some years and cultivars, more than 30% of potential yield can be lost. Growers frequently apply plant bioregulators to reduce PFD, either via delay in maturity [aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG), 1-methylcycolpropene] or via inhibition in production of cell hydrolysis enzymes in the fruit pedicel [naphthalene acetic acid (NAA)]. Finding a physiological indicator of PFD would allow growers to assess the susceptibility of fruit to PFD. Due to its lignification, xylem is believed to be the last tissue to break down in the fruit pedicel, leading to PFD. To determine whether loss in xylem functionality can be used as an indicator of PFD potential, studies were conducted in 2020 and 2021 with ‘Red Delicious’ treated with AVG (132 µL·L−1), NAA (10 µL·L−1), and an ethylene-producing compound [ethephon (150 µL·L−1 in 2020, 200 µL·L−1 in 2021)] to generate a range of PFD potentials. Xylem functionality was assessed in the fruit cortex. Internal ethylene content (IEC), fruit maturity indices, and PFD rates were quantified weekly throughout the harvest period. Expression of genes encoding for cell hydrolysis enzymes (MdEG1 and MdPG2) was quantified to relate xylem functionality to fruit abscission mechanisms. In 2020 and 2021, AVG reduced PFD compared with the untreated control by decreasing IEC. Although ethephon did not result in higher PFD than untreated fruit, NAA reduced PFD in 2020 but not 2021. For all treatments in both years, there was a linear decrease in xylem functionality throughout the measurement period. Cumulative PFD exponentially decreased as xylem functionality neared zero and the climacteric rise in ethylene began. Concurrent with the rise in IEC and PFD was an increase in the expression of MdEG1 and MdPG2 in the fruit pedicel of the control compared with AVG-treated fruit. AVG-treated fruit lost xylem functionality at a similar rate to the untreated control but had lower expression of MdEG1 and MdPG2. These results indicate that xylem functionality is not a sole direct indicator of PFD. The concurrent increase in PFD and expression of MdEG1/MdPG2 supports previous research indicating that these two genes may serve as potential markers for PFD.
Apple (Malus ×domestica L. Borkh.) growers need tools to predict the efficacy of chemical thinners that are applied to induce fruitlet abscission to aid in crop load management decisions. Recently, reflectance spectroscopy-based models to predict fruitlet abscission rates were developed. Using spectroscopy, persisting fruitlets had lower reflectance in the red-light (∼600 nm) and near infrared (∼950 nm) regions than abscising fruitlets. The goal of this study was to better understand how reflectance models distinguished between fruitlets that ultimately persisted or abscised. Individual models for the difference and ratio of each combination of wavelengths were developed to identify key wavelengths for abscission prediction from reflectance models. Accuracy for wavelength difference and ratio models was improved for all model prediction dates when reflectance (R) from R640–675 was subtracted from or divided by R675–696. This spectra region indicates differences in chlorophyll content between persisting and abscising fruitlets. Calculation of the chlorophyll concentration index (R522–579:R640–700) from nondestructively measured spectra supported this result. Chlorophyll concentration index was higher for fruitlets that ultimately persisted than abscised fruitlets (P < 0.01) for all measurement dates –1 to 9 days after thinner (DAT) in both years, except –1 DAT in 2021 (P = 0.468). Plant water index (R950–970:R890–900) was lower for persisting than abscising fruitlets for 3 to 9 DAT in 2021 (P < 0.001) and on –1 (P < 0.01) and 9 DAT (P < 0.001) in 2022. The relationship of fruit size and plant pigment (anthocyanins or chlorophyll) content in fruitlets to reflectance spectra between persisting and abscising fruitlets was also followed. Fruitlet persistence or abscission was predicted from developed models for destructively sampled fruitlets using measured reflectance spectra. Whole-fruit chlorophyll content was numerically higher in fruitlets predicted to persist than abscise for all collection dates. Higher total chlorophyll was correlated to a larger fruit size in persisting than abscising fruitlets. This higher chlorophyll content led to a lower reflectance of red light and was a key factor in model development. These results indicate that chlorophyll and water content can distinguish physiological parameters between persisting and abscising fruitlets.
Aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG) is widely used in commercial apple (Malus ×domestica Borkh.) production to reduce preharvest fruit drop (PFD) and delay ripening for harvest management. Recently, the maximum allowable concentration of AVG was doubled (up to 264 mg⋅L−1). Reports of the relationship between the AVG concentration and fruit growth, size, and quality have been contradictory. We evaluated the relationship between the AVG concentration and PFD, fruit size, fruit quality, and expression of ethylene signaling-related and cell wall modification-related genes. Experiments were conducted in 2019 and 2020 using mature ‘Red Delicious’ in western North Carolina. The AVG treatments [0 and 132 (AVG-1x) and 264 mg⋅L−1 (AVG-2x)] were applied 3 weeks before the expected harvest. The AVG treatments reduced fruit drop and internal ethylene concentration relative to the control in both years. There was no difference in drop between AVG-1x and AVG-2x applications. Only in 2020 did AVG treatments delay fruit softening and starch hydrolysis and reduce soluble solids concentration. There were no effects on red fruit color development. Fruit size was unaffected by AVG in 2019, but it was reduced in 2020 with the AVG-2x application. AVG reduced ethylene synthesis and altered signaling, evidenced by decreased relative expression of genes related to ethylene signaling (ARGOS1, ARGOS2). AVG applications also reduced the expression of EXPA8;1, suggesting that reduced cell wall disassembly was associated with a reduction in fruit softening. These results indicate that preharvest applications of 132 mg⋅L−1 AVG effectively reduced PFD via altering ethylene evolution and signaling. Use of a higher AVG concentration was of limited benefit.
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.
Reducing apple crop load during bloom can increase fruit size and promote annual bearing when compared with crop reduction at later timings. In this study, we compared the efficacy of chemical blossom-thinning strategies on ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Gala’ apple trees. Several blossom-thinning treatments were evaluated, including 1) unthinned control (control), 2) hand-thinned (HT) at bloom, 3) liquid lime sulfur + Stylet-Oil (LS + SO), 4) ammonium thiosulfate (ATS), 5) endothall (ET), and 6) naphthaleneacetamide (NAD). Chemical treatments were applied twice during bloom, using a predictive model to determine application timings. Blossom thinner effects on pollen tube growth, fruit set, and yield responses were evaluated. LS + SO and ATS reduced the number of pollen tubes that entered the style for ‘Golden Delicious’ by 75% and 63%, respectively. ET and NAD did not affect the number of pollen tubes that entered the style. In one of 2 years, LS + SO resulted in a near-ideal crop load and increased fruit weight. ATS was effective in reducing initial fruit set in ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Gala’, but did not reduce whole-tree crop density. ET reduced crop load in all experiments but caused excessive spur leaf injury and negatively affected fruit size of ‘Gala’ but not ‘Golden Delicious’. NAD had limited efficacy on ‘Golden Delicious’ at the concentrations and application timings used in this trial. When used as the sole method of crop load management, none of the chemistries evaluated over-thinned or increased fruit injury. However, ET caused excessive thinning when evaluated as part of a commercial crop load management program on ‘Gala’. Of the products evaluated, LS + SO provided the best overall thinning response.
The use of short-duration applications of thermal energy (thermal shock; TS) as an apple blossom thinning strategy was investigated. Effects of TS temperature and timing on stigmatic receptivity, pollen tube growth in vivo, and visible leaf injury were evaluated in multiple experiments on ‘Crimson Gala’. TS treatments were applied to blossoms and spur leaves using a variable temperature heat gun. TS temperatures ≥86 °C had a strong inhibitory effect on pollen tube growth on the stigmatic surface and in the style. TS temperatures >79 °C reduced average pollen tube length to less than the average style length. Timing of TS treatment (0 or 24 hours after pollination) was not an influential factor, indicating that effective TS temperatures reduced pollen tube growth up to 24 hours after the pollination event. The onset of thermal injury to vegetative tissues occurred at similar TS temperatures that inhibited pollen tube growth in vivo. Excessive leaf injury (>33%) was observed at 95 °C, suggesting relatively narrow differences in thermal sensitivity between reproductive and vegetative tissues. Inconsistent TS temperatures and/or responses were observed in some experiments. Ambient air temperature may have influenced heat gun output temperatures and/or plant susceptibility. While results suggest some promise, additional work is required to validate and further develop this concept.