High crop load and low temperature delay the onset of bud initiation in apple.
The reproductive cycle of apple (Malus × domestica Borkh.) starts with the induction of floral development, however, first morphological changes within the bud appear during the following period of bud initiation. This study identifies the onset and duration of bud initiation in the apple cultivars 'Fuji' and 'Gala', characterized by biennial and non-biennial bearing behaviour, respectively, and describes the effect of crop load and heat accumulation on the temporal pattern of floral development. The onset of flower bud initiation in heavy cropping 'Gala' trees was delayed for 20 days compared to trees with no crop load, but the rate of initiation was not affected by crop load. Bud initiation on heavy cropping 'Fuji' trees was minor, whereas trees with no crop load started initiating buds 19 days earlier than those of 'Gala' despite the same cropping status and growing degree hours in a given year. The onset of bud initiation in 'Fuji' 'off' trees was 5 and 20 days after summer solstice, respectively, in two consecutive growing seasons, suggesting that this process is driven by heat accumulation rather than by daylength. The results indicate, that the genetic make-up of the cultivar determines the onset of bud initiation. This can be delayed by increasing crop loads and low temperatures at the beginning of the flower formation process.