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HIGH DENSITY APPLE ORCHARD MANAGEMENT

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By: Rafiya Mushtaq

Apple is the oldest and also commercially the most important temperate fruit which is the fourth among the most widely produced fruits in the world. High density plantation refers to planting of increased number of plants per unit area of land at close spacing, which is achieved by using suitable scion varieties grafted on dwarfing rootstocks. The concept of high density plantation dates back to 18th century and since past few years, this concept has grown extensively in our state.

Orchardists in Kashmir are showing keen interest in setting up high density orchards with both government and non-government organizations providing necessary information and new schemes initiated by the government organizations. But it must be noted that setting up high density apple orchard requires orchard management practices that are quite different from the commercial orchard practices.

The introduction of high-density apple orchards may well be one of the most important changes in apple production practices. These orchards are capable of producing early and sustained yields of quality fruit. High-density orchards will provide for an efficient operation with optimum utilization of the available labor force. Besides, the advantage of high density plantings is that the orchard space can be rapidly filled, fruited, and then maintained by utilizing the early bearing and size controlling characteristics of certain stock scion combinations.

High-density orchards should not be considered as a work-free system of producing fruits. The successful management of apple trees in any high-density planting system depends on maintaining a balance between vegetative growth and fruiting. If the vigor of plant remains too low excessive fruiting occurs which results in reduced fruit size and biennial bearing and hence makes orchard less profitable. If the vegetative growth is high or excessive, then flowering and fruiting is reduced. For high yield and, in particular, high fruit quality, the orchard system needs to combine both high light interception and good light distribution within the tree canopy.

The control of tree vigour is therefore an essential key component ofany successful production system. Hence, for obtaining high yield and good quality produce, several variables need to be taken into consideration. Tree density is an essential factor that determines the yield of an orchard. Therefore tree densities should be considered on the basis of rootstock and the variety used. For weak and moderate growing cultivars, less in-row spacing is suggested compared to the vigorous varieties.

High density orchard requires trees propagated on dwarfing rootstocks. Rootstocks play a keen role in establishment of a successful high density orchard. Several factors, are therefore to be considered while choosing a rootstock like location, soil type, irrigation availability, scion type etc. To maximize the production of a high density orchard, it is also necessary to modify the training system and training and pruning techniques from traditional methods.To improve light penetration into the tree, the canopy can be trained into a thin layer which, with a suitable wire trellis, can be inclined at different angles to the vertical. Since trees will be bearing fruit early, a permanent tree support system is also required.

Tree training for high density orchards begins at planting. Precocity can be enhanced by using well-feathered trees in preference to unfeathered whips. The advantages of a well-feathered tree are two-fold – earlier cropping and easier tree training in the first two years in the orchard. The planting of well-feathered trees, therefore, has a major influence on the economics of high density planting systems. Such systems would be expected to give their first crop in the second year in the orchard. Feathered trees will also increase early fruit production. Support systems provide anchorage for the trees, aid in controlling tree vigor, facilitate ease of management of the orchard, and help provide good light exposure to fruit and foliage. The support system must be designed to last the life of the orchard. Many different types of support systems have been used in high density orchards. There are also commercially available tree stakes that may be used to support individual trees without a wire trellis. It is further recommended to install trickle (drip) irrigation soon after planting with high density orchards that use feathered trees to prevent water stress and maximize tree growth.High yield and high fruit quality can be achieved with a high-density orchard when the orchard has good light distribution throughout the tree canopy, proper balance between vegetative growth and fruiting, adequate training and pruning, as well as proper irrigation and fertilization methods.

The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar (PM fellow) SKUAST-Kashmir and can be mailed at rafiazargar.25@gmail.com

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