Surprised by lack of apple clusters

mrsg47(7)May 6, 2014

I was really surprised yesterday. Took a walk through my small orchard. All three of my eight year old apple trees decided not to have apples this year. My Pristine has four clusters only; the Enterprise has about 20 clusters and Jonagold has about 10. What is going on. I have always thinned my apples to one per cluster and have removed many blossoms. These trees have finally just started to give me apples to put up and give a way and this year I am getting so little fruit. I never over stressed the trees by leaving on too much fruit. My Mott's Pink is fine and is in third leaf with about 30 clusters of flowers. My five other apples are too young to fruit or keep the fruit. What is most surprising to me is the 'Pristine' apple which produced dutifully and well these past three years in row, so I am really surprise to see four lonely cluster on the well grown nine foot tall tree. Whats up? The cold winter? I have not changed anything in their maintentance since they went in eight years ago. Help me understand. Mrs. G

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daemon2525(5)

It's kinda early to tell but I think that I'm going to have a lot less fruit this year. I think some of the young trees that had many fruits last year are going to have none.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:18PM
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alan haigh

Trees can stress on seasons with too many cloudy, rainy days, I think, and not draw enough energy for a good flower set. I think you said that was your weather last year.

Apple trees on my property that get a lot of afternoon shade have hardly any flowers this year, also, besides my reliable Jonagold. I don't thin as much as FN but I didn't carry more than what would be a normal commercial crop last season, and I thinned early. Commercial growers get dawn to dusk sun though.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:19PM
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mrsg47(7)

Hman you are right and remember. Actually we have only had three days in the 60's since last Nov. It has been rainy, windy and overcast. Even though it looks like spring it surely doesn't feel like it. Still in the 50's and windy, as of today!. On the other hand my 'Belle of Georgia' white peach is loaded with huge pink blossoms, so I am hoping I will see my first 'white' peaches this year. The only thing I could figure out is that is was the weather. It has been very gloomy here for months. Not our usual sunny, spring. Even my new brand new 'Ananas Reinette' has one cluster. The clusters too are very green and still very tight. Only apricots and peaches are in bloom here. This is very annoying. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:30PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mrs G:

Clouds in winter don't matter it's during the growing season that can affect fruit set.

The fruit numbers you recite don't sound like much for trees that old. Without a picture it's hard to judge tree size vs crop load.

I'm of the opinion that apples go biennial mainly because you left too much fruit. That's what the tree is telling you. Sure some varieties are much more prone to that than others. You may have to live with biennial on those. On the others the tree is saying thin more and earlier if you want fruit from me every year.

The only thing I've had go biennial that I can remember is my Bosc pear. I was amazed how little fruit it took to totally knock out return bloom. And since I've only had one set big enough to thin in 11 yrs, I'm still learning.

By the way I thin my apples to about one fruit per 3 clusters. Maybe if you did that you'd have more clusters to choose from the following yr. My apples are always covered in bloom.

This year with a light bloom you shouldn't have to thin aggressively. It's the next year if you have a good bloom that you need to bear down and not get greedy.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Tue, May 6, 14 at 15:44

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:51PM
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mrsg47(7)

Fruitnut, I hear you loud and clear. Herein lies the rub. Last year I thinned to only 22 apples on the entire tree. I removed clusters as well for the past three years. Geesh. I learn something new every year and am glad that I do. I will remove more clusters on my newer trees. I received this am. a great bit of info from the Univ. of RI. They sent me a site from the Cornell apple growing site showing the caliper of apple tree (five years or younger) and how many apples you should leave on the tree per year. I tried to cut and paste the site here. But GardenWeb rejected the message. I'll take pictures over the weekend. Many thanks! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 3:52PM
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johnthecook

Last year I had two Macoun on my tree because the year before I got greedy and left on too many. I learned later on that Macoun does go biennial if not thinned. I even had two of my Liberty which are crazy croppers give me fewer than usual last year because I think I didn't thin enough. This year all of my apple trees are loaded except my Winesap which I think just takes longer to give up its fruit. I live on the coast in Massachusetts Cape Cod. Not sure if our weather is the same.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 4:47PM
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mamuang_gw

Mrs. G,

I may be even more surprised by my apple trees. Neither the William's Pride or Honey Crisp have any flowers this year.

On WP, I blamed my thinning. I thought I thinned well last year but obviously not enough so the tree must go biennial to teach me a lesson.

Honey Crisp is frustrating. Last year, it flowered for the first time so I kept 7 apples. This is from a 10 ft tall, at least 7 years old tree. I know HC is prone to be biennial but to do that for bearing 7 apples last year, good grief!!!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 5:35PM
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mrsg47(7)

Mamuang. . . no kidding. My husband thought I was nuts by pinching off flower clusters and small fruit. Boy I guess it just wasn't enough. After 7 or so years, you'd think you could keep 22 apples a year. Oh well, I've learned my lesson! Does this apply to stone fruit as well? Peaches yes, but plums? Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 6:16PM
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ltilton

None of my trees but the pears have more than a few blossoms. Including trees that didn't fruit much last year and trees that bore abundantly.

It's got to be something climatic.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 7:14PM
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mamuang_gw

Don't know if plums need thinning or not. This is the 3 rd year of my Shiro and Satsuma. Shiro are covered with flowers, Satsuma not as many. Hope they cross pollinate well.

My peaches suffered the most re. weather-related. Autumn Star 60-70% flower buds were dead. PF 1 had about 50% loss, Pf 24 C suffered the least, around 20%.

The best tree in my yard is Korean giant. It has produced well every year including this year. It came out of the cold weather covered with flowers. The second best is PF 24 C peach. The third best is Harrow Sweet Euro pear. This little tree produced in 2 nd year. I thought my greed of letting it fruit would stunt it. nope. It produces more flowers this year.

If you love pear, I strongly recommend it. Produce fast, cold hardy, tasty fruit, disease-resistant (so far). what not to love?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 7:40PM
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mrsg47(7)

Thinking back on it, I've never thinned my plums. They do go through June 'drop' which basically seem to be a self-editing process. (thinning out). I Have so few apples to thin. Can I leave one apple per cluster on my 'Pristine' that only has four clusters this year, or should I just remove all four? I will definitely thin my abundance of peaches as I cannot go another summer without peaches. John, I was just on the Cape last weekend and you're about where we are with weather. I'm only an hour and fifteen minutes north of you. Thanks all for your help, as always. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 8:28PM
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fruitmaven.WIz5(5)

Mamuang, I'm glad to hear such high praise of Harrow Sweet, I have one coming from Grandpas Orchard soon.

My backyard apple trees don't have a ton of flowers either, but they're fairly young. Last year was a bumper crop at the community orchard, I'll have to go check their trees out.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:34PM
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ltilton

I've thinned the Japanese plums, never the prune plums. They drop like a hailstorm on their own.

Of course thinning is going to be the least of my problems this year.

This post was edited by ltilton on Tue, May 6, 14 at 21:40

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:39PM
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2ajsmama

Biennial bearing may have something to do with it, but an orchard owner in town was telling me a few months ago that she expected to lose all her peaches and most of her apples this year due to repeated bouts of below-zero temps. I forget now what 10% of bud kill she said for each X degrees below zero, but this was a tough winter. I haven't been out to check our trees - just glad the blueberries seem (?) to be OK, though we're expecting frost tonight so I may have to revise that.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:48PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I don't think Rhode Island should have problems with too much cold for apples.

I have also had years of few apples, last year was one. My main orchard lacks enough sun hours and I don't thin early enough so I doubt I will be able to avoid biennial bearing. This year is an "on" year for me, I should be out thinning now. I could live with the biennial business if it were spread out evenly between the years, but the trees seem to get synched up somehow.

The stone fruits rarely go biennial. I did have an odd thing on my Moniqui apricot, it set a ton of blossoms but dropped them all. This was after a big crop last year. Also I have a somewhat lighter crop on my Spring Satin which usually way oversets -- it basically thinned itself early this year. Peaches can also produce less fruit after an overloaded year, but there still is a good amount as opposed to the near nothing on apples.

Scott

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 10:37PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

Ajsmama, what a difference the coast makes- we're forecast to only go down to 42 tonight (and I'm 5 miles inland). I've already started planting the garden, so hopefully we don't have any more frosts.

Mrs G, my 4 largest apple trees seem to have OK return bloom. They aren't bursting with flowers, but they have enough that I'll still need to thin plenty of entire clusters. They are all 4th leaf trees, which produced 30-50 apples each last year, 3rd leaf, at which point, they were 1.2-1.6" caliper. At the bottom of this Cornell paper, it suggests 3-5 apples per square centimeter of trunk cross sectional area. By that measure, I was generally in the range. I erred on the slightly aggressive side for one of the trees, a Goldrush, which seems to have taken it OK.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:19PM
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mrsg47(7)

Scott I think the syncing happens by treating the trees the same way. Boy, you wait for years to get an apple or three. Then you get sixty apples and have to remove all but thirty. It seems criminal to have to thin so severely. But there it is. Love my trees! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:57PM
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alan haigh

Mrs. G, I was talking about last growing season's weather. I thought you were caught in a rain line for much of last year.

One thing that makes growing fruit so addictive is the unpredictability of it. In 25 years of growing fruit in the northeast, last year was the first almost perfect season. Great set, great weather and almost no squirrels. Almost everyone was ecstatic about their wonderful fruit that I work with. I can't expect another season like that in my life time unless I move back to CA.

On the subject of annual cropping, the one thing I haven't tinkered with is leaf analysis and focusing on micro nutrients. Cornell recommends a couple of sprays besides calcium of certain micros as a matter of course, even without the benefit of analysis.

The one nutrient that could affect yield without obvious other symptoms appears to be boron. A soil application at least every three years is needed in many soils and I routinely give orchards I manage a small quantity of it. Easy to damage trees with too much so if you are running blind be very conservative with it.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:50AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Mrs. G,

Hopefully your trees will still produce a few more clusters this season. It seems like this season the bloom is really spread out here. I don't know if it was the cold winter, or the up and down spring weather. We are running quite a bit ahead of you here in KS, and I still have a few late blooming apple flowers visible.

Agree w/ comments about Harrow Sweet. Very precocious and a heavy producer. Very good fruit quality if not over-cropped.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 8:59AM
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2ajsmama

This past winter was so brutal everywhere, I thought that might be a problem for Mrs. G. How cold did it get there (you're on Aquidneck Island somewhere, right?)?

Yeah, Bob, it was 40 at 6AM (I was awake earlier but didn't want to get up) so didn't get as cold as they said. Have to pot up tomatoes, no time to walk out to orchard, but as I was driving DD to school (missed the bus) I saw someone's apple tree just starting to leaf out, and Granby is a little warmer than our microclimate up the hill.

The blueberries we planted in 2012 (Patriot, Bluecrop and Legacy) are just starting to leaf out, the wild highbush blueberries have flower buds, but the lowbush right next to our cultivated ones have open flowers already! Seem to have done well overnight. DH covered the lettuce seedlings with burlap and they're OK (probably would have been OK without). Raspberries are in leaf, TC blackberries are starting.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 9:48AM
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mrsg47(7)

Yes, am on Aquidneck Island and it is far warmer here than where you are (ajsmama). We get last minute cold snaps end of April, beginning of May. H-man,haven't thought about my leaves and sprays for them. I am sure the nutrients in my soil are not the best. What was an orchard planted with lawn is now an orchard with 'ground ivy'. Impossible to remove without 'roundup'. I have to be very careful of my trees. Olpea, I am taking a photo of one of my peach trees in bloom. I've never seen such huge blossoms before. I know the 'Belle of Georgia' is an ok peach, but is sure is a beauty to me. I hope my pruning is all right. You can let me know, I hope! The really good news is that for the first time in 8 years my 'Montmorency' sour cherry is loaded with flower blossoms and will need to be netted, as the birds take most of them. All of my currant bushes are going wild. I have never seen so many blossoms. Jam anyone? Thank you all for your comments, suggestions and great advice as usual! It is all appreciated. Thank you, Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 10:32AM
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thapranksta

I've had some fruit issues myself but I'm still diagnosing the problem to see if it was error on my part, the trees themselves, or weather.

Off topic but it was brought up in this post...does the Harrow Sweet pear need a pollinator?

Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 12:15PM
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mamuang_gw

I think it does but any pear (Asian or Euro) can do the job. I think even flowering pear like Bradford would do.

I have two Euro pears, Blake's Pride and HS. Last year, BP did not have any bloom, HS bloomed. I have other Asian pears near by. HS set fruit without any issue (no fruit drops, fruit abort, etc).

FYI. I got Blake's Pride for its disease-resistance quality. Turned out, it is not even as disease-resistance as HS.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 12:35PM
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ltilton

OK, I have two apples with blossoms - very sparse clusters of blossoms. These are mature trees that have borne well in the past. I'm thinking I just won't thin these, let a couple of fruits develop in a cluster, if they're so inclined.

Any reason not to do this?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:21PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

With very spare blossoms there's no need to do much thinning. Just do enough so nothing breaks. It's next year if the bloom is very heavy, as it usually is in the on year, that you need to thin heavily. That's about the only way to break out of the biennial cycle.

I guess you could do a heavy pruning in the on year. Something to avoid overloading the tree with fruit.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:58PM
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ltilton

This isn't biennial, this is something more drastic. But the Gala in particular is a reliable tree, and I hope for it to be back to normal next year. If next year is anyway normal.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 9:23PM
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mrsg47(7)

My total Enterprise apples last year were seven. Had 12 Jonagold. I don't think my problem is thinning. The trees are seven to eight years old. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:43AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mrs G:

If it isn't thinning, is there any chance it's pruning? Are you pruning off the fruiting spurs? Apples should yield well in your climate.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 12:23PM
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mamuang_gw

My William's Pride problem is definitely a thinning issue.

My Honey Crisp problem could be caused by a few factors. I strongly suspect that one of the factors is pruning. I have much to learn about pruning apple trees.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 12:41PM
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ltilton

I think Mrs G's trees are still pretty young.

Mine, otoh, I'm convinced it's somehow a climate thing.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 1:17PM
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alan haigh

Mrs. G, what are your rootstocks?

My customers are always complaining about how long it takes for many varieties of apples to come into STEADY bearing, even though they buy bearing age apple trees from me- mostly on 111.

It is usually another 3 years before the trees really settle into reliable fruiting even though trees are 5 years old when I install them. This is especially true of sites that are cut off from early and late sun.

Varieties such as Goldrush, Zestar and Arkansas Black give the early cropping on free standing rootstocks, but in the northeast, most types take a while.

That's one reason peaches and Jap plums are really good for my business.

Once again, the further south you go, the longer your growing season the earlier your trees will mature and even mature trees will crop more reliably, or at least try to crop.

There is still a certain amount of mystery to this. My Williams Pride and Jonagold trees have few blossoms this year for reasons I cannot explain. My timing and amount of thinning was consistent with previous years and this is the first time in about 5 they haven't set well. Maybe it was the size of the fruit last year, though.

There are always such surprises in other orchards I manage so I guarantee you, it is not at all entirely about how much you thin.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 2:28PM
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mrsg47(7)

Thanks again all; H-man my Pristine is on M26, as is Jonagold and Enterprise. Weird isn't it? Mrs. G PS. the Jonagold and Pristined are loaded with fruiting spurs but that have just turned into clusters of leaves this year. Amazing. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:43PM
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mrsg47(7)

Hi Hman, please see the post above. It tells you about all of my rootstock. Will attach more photos tomorrow. Took pictures today! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 7:38PM
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alan haigh

I grow almost nothing on M26 so can't speak with authority about it, but obviously your trees are more than adequately mature.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 8:10PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Maybe sunlight and growing season length are paramount. I planted Fuji here on M26 and G16. Pushed them hard the first leaf to the tune of about 4-5ft growth. They yielded ~20 apples per tree in 2nd leaf and bloomed profusely every year thereafter.

On the other hand I haven't even been able to get my trees on MM111 to grow much less bear. The difference is I'm now growing in black weed barrier. Fuji were in grass so somewhat cooler.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 8:20PM
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