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Sylleptic branching in winter-headed apple (Malus × domestica) trees: accession-dependent responses and their relationships with other tree architectural characteristics

Stijn Vanderzande, Niek Hias, Daniel Edge-Garza, Evelyne Costes, Mark W. Davey, Johan Keulemans
Tree genetics & genomes 2016 v.12 no.5 pp. 87
Malus domestica, apical dominance, apples, branches, branching, cultivars, genetic background, growth traits, heading, orchards, statistical models, trees
Well-feathered apple trees are essential for commercial orchards to optimize yields. However, most cultivars do not form these sylleptic branches readily in commercial nurseries due to high apical dominance. Several treatments exist to promote their formation in the nurseries, one of which is heading. However, not all cultivars are expected to react similarly to these treatments. We studied the branching response of 155 genotypes following heading and its relation to other architectural traits as a function of the cultivar’s genetic background. Trees were grown for two consecutive years after grafting in a nursery, and the main axes were headed in the winter following growth in year 1. After heading, a single shoot was retained when growth resumed in the second year. Plant architectural traits such as growth of the main shoot, internode length, sylleptic branching, etc. were measured before and after heading and were statistically compared using a mixed model. This model showed the effect of heading for all architectural traits studied. In addition significant genotype and genotype × treatment interactions were found. In general, genotypes that showed a more vigorous growth during the first year also reacted more vigorously to heading. Accounting for the genetic substructure of this collection, no clear distinction in tree response could be found except in a small group of individuals that belonged to an F1 mapping population. This study shows that heading is not favorable for all genotypes to promote sufficient sylleptic branching and that other methods are needed to promote branching in these accessions.