Common Mistakes in Planting and Establishing High-Density Apple Orchards

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Our research trials have shown that the Tall Spindle apple orchard system can have significant yield in the second year if growers plant highly feathered trees. Over the first five years the yield potential in NY State with the Tall Spindle is double or triple what most growers expect. However, the successful management of apple trees in these high density planting systems depends on maintaining a balance between vegetative growth and fruiting (Figure 1). If vigor is too low, excessive fruiting results, fruit size declines, biennial bearing increases and trees fail to fill their allotted space soon enough to make the orchard profitable. If vegetative vigor is excessive, then flowering and fruiting are reduced and containment of the tree to the allotted space becomes problematic. Successfully balancing vegetative vigor and fruiting, results in ‘calm’ trees that produce heavy annual crops and require only a light annual pruning. Pruning and crop load management are the primary management tools, along with fertilization and irrigation, used to achieve a balance between vegetative growth and cropping throughout the orchards life. These management variables are affected by planting density, tree quality and tree training strategies.

Terence L. Robinson
New York State Horticultural Society