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Orchard Management

Consider these factors in order to produce quality fruit consistently.


ruit size, colour and consistent good production levels are what each apple grower needs to aim for. So what are the production and management factors that lead to the best value in any particular market year?

These decisions start long before you see the fruit on the tree. In year one of a production cycle, shoot growth occurs, so there is a good number of new shoots emerging from the previous year’s tips or leaf buds below a pruning cut. These shoots can also start from a bourse or a bud associated with a fruit spur. The angle of the previous year’s shoots matters. The pruner needs to select shoots that have an angle between flat and 45 degrees. Shoots in this position will then be calm enough or low enough in vigour to develop fruit buds the following year. Sometimes fruit buds will develop in year two of the shoot development and definitely in year three.

What you do to

encourage modest upward shoots to flat growth of shoots is critical. You must remove sharp-angled branches and up-growing shoots.

By Peter Waterman Key decisions must be made early

well as losses to the air.

It is not available to any large degree until midway through the next growing season when shoot growth and leaves can provide the pull to encourage uptake by the roots. Light sandy, gravelly

soils make the losses even greater. The impact on soil pH can be huge, thus changing nutrient availability in the soil as well as influencing the dynamics of the microbes in the soil that are important for soil health and for nutrient uptake by the tree roots. I am not saying ground

applications should not be done, but they should be done in light of the knowledge of soil type, soil pH in the tree row and nutrient status through leaf and fruit analysis. It may be far better to apply calcium nitrate, which does not acidify the soil and can be applied in the spring as a ground application or through fertigation in your drip system.

Balance of shoot growth and fruit load, coupled with intensity of pruning, fertilizer use and water management, determine how much shoot and what type of growth the tree develops.

A calculated and well-timed ground application of fertilizer needs to be accompanied by a strong fall and spring foliar fertilizer program.

It should seem obvious that heavy pruning and excessive fertilizer use (usually with ground applied N – ammonia or urea type) and light crop are going to result in larger, greener and softer fruit. This fruit is also likely to be low in calcium, develop bitter pit on the tree or in storage plus other storage complications. Fall ground-applied nitrogen in any form is more subject to losses through leaching through the soil as

When applying any fertilizer to the tree row or to just around the tree you need to be aware of the area and amounts you are applying. It is very easy to apply excessive amounts on a per-acre basis if you are not careful. Acidifying the soil will negatively affect tree health gradually, by changing the balance of nutrient uptake. A soil that is just barely acidic, with a pH of 6 to 6.5, is a great zone to try and

maintain soil pH or is a goal to strive for to ensure best uptake of many essential nutrients.

A calculated and well-timed ground application of fertilizer needs to be accompanied by a strong fall and spring foliar fertilizer program. Fall nitrogen in particular, as well as boron, is absorbed by leaves and surrounding bud tissue and is stored ready for use by the emerging flower buds in early spring through to the growing fruitlet.

Many of these practices can be British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2013 17

calculated and quantified, and have to be combined with all the other management decisions. Many of them, such as water management, can be anticipated and measured. Water management is a huge factor in production. Moisture levels can and should be measured in some manner – through careful observation of tree behavior, irrigation scheduling (which can be incredibly useful if done properly), other soil moisture measuring methods, such as moisture blocks, irrometers, or digging and checking soil feel by hand at different depths and complimenting all of these approaches with tree observations. There are a great many factors that are involved in developing high- quality fruit every year. The process is ongoing, and for any fruit in any given year, starts at least several years before fruit is harvested. — Retired grower and horticulturist Peter Waterman can be reached at

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