Petal fall approaching for many; Bloom for others

By Terence Bradshaw

As has been the general case this year with the drawn-out, cool weather, we have bloom (and p-bloom) bud stages all over the place depending on elevation, proximity to the lake, cultivar, and latitude. For growers in upland sites just entering bloom, see my posts from the past couple of weeks that have been aimed at bloom-time management. Remember, no insecticides; mow flowering weeds in the groundcover to make your trees more attractive to bees; and watch for fire blight. Keeping an eye on that very weather-specific disease can be more difficult in upland areas where NEWA stations are less prevalent. However, a look at stations in East Dorset, East Montpelier, Morrisville, and Berlin (‘Montpelier’ airport) shows EIP (potential bacterial population) below infective level all week, although a warmer-than-expected Wednesday or Thursday may change that. Overall, I wouldn’t be too concerned about fire blight for those sites, but would keep an eye on things.

Growers in warmer areas, however, may need to be concerned. Shoreham was flagged as having had an infection event yesterday, and an application of streptomycin today (like, now) to open blossoms may be prudent, especially on susceptible cultivars. Remember that blossoms are pretty much done as far as disease susceptibility is concerned once the petals fall, or 80 degree days (base 40) after they open, or 3-5 days given the weather we’ve been having.

Apple scab is the main disease to stay concerned about statewide. This is proving to be a challenging year for the disease, with infection periods occurring every week since bud break and reports of numerous tractors stuck while spraying. The good news is that we’re on the tail end of the primary apple scab infection season when the overwintering spores resulting from last year’s infections on leaf litter are close to expended. If you manage to keep covered with fungicides during that window and all infections are prevented, then apple scab season ends when those spores are gone. However, any infection in the tree canopy will lead to development and release of conidial spores which creates a secondary phase of the disease. My point is, keep protected until you know that you are scab-free and the spores are all expended. Some stations (Bennington, Cornwall, Shoreham) called for the end of primary season last Thursday, many more are indication that we’re within 1-2% of the spore load left. For those orchards, I recommend maintaining a good coat of fungicide through this week, and likely next. Depending on the material you choose, this application will cover you against powdery mildew, rust, and moldy core which can be a problem in cool, wet bloom periods. In 7-10 days, get out and do a thorough assessment of foliage for scab lesions. Pick the worst-case spots- tops of trees, that corner of the orchard where you turn and can’t get good coverage on that one last tree, the shady spot where the trees stay wet longer. Only after you know you’re clean can you let your guard down.

Speaking of letting your guard down, many of us did on the insect front going into bloom because trap counts were low for most insects across the state. We’re now seeing high numbers of European apple sawfly on traps in many orchards, and I expect a petal fall spray will be warranted against them. Pay attention when making this spray- petal fall means that all blossoms are gone, your migratory bees are pulled out, and flowering weeds attractive to wild pollinators are mowed. There are a number of materials that are effective against EAS, and all are toxic to bees to one degree or another. For organic growers, now is the time to get a good, solid coat of Surround kaolin clay onto your trees to deter plum curculio. I always preferred to apply this base layer in two coats, one at ~50 lb Surround per acre followed by another 25 lb per acre to get a good build up going into petal fall and the beginning of the real incest management season.

Thinning. This is always tricky to give advice on, and the variable conditions across the state make the job even harder. Many orchards have a larger-than-normal potential crop, and pollination should have been sufficient given the handful of good ‘bee days’ where conditions were right for bee flight and fertilization. This is a good year to consider multiple ‘light coats’ of thinners. NAA + carbaryl are a typical mix to apply at petal fall on many cultivars. For smaller-fruited cultivars, 6-BA thinners may be used instead of NAA to increase cell division and final fruit size, but they need warm sunny weather to work best. NEWA has a good model (two of them, actually) for helping to determine the potential effectiveness of thinner applications based on weather before, during, and after application.

This is the most critical time to keep your eyes open out in the orchard. Stay alert for signs of fire blight and apple scab. Check traps daily for codling moths to help determine the biofix date that you’ll use for subsequent management decisions. Keep an eye on fruit clusters for signs of thinner activity (yellowing stems, sepals that don’t close up). Get you nitrogen and other nutrients on, multiple lighter coats are better in rainy years than one big one to minimize leaching and runoff. Watch for and enjoy the sunshine. This weather can’t last forever.

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