Plant Hormones

Plant Hormones

    • Hormones are substances produced in very small amounts in one part of the plant and transported to another part where they cause a response. Plants produce a number of hormones that control various aspects of growth, such as stem elongation; dormancy of buds and seeds; flowering; fruit set, growth, and ripening; and the response to light and gravity. While pruning, it is useful to consider the activity of the general types of hormones, promoters (gibberellins and cytokinins) and inhibitors (auxins and abscisic acid). Promoters generally cause bud growth, cell division and elongation, and stem growth. Inhibitors are usually associated with dormancy and inhibit shoot development from seeds and buds and may be involved in flower-bud induction. It is often the ratio of promoters and inhibitors, rather than their absolute concentrations, that determines how a plant will grow. The production of plant hormones is usually controlled by environmental conditions such as temperature or day length. Vegetative growth is usually associated with low ratios of inhibitors to promoters and dormancy is usually associated with high ratios of inhibitors to promoters.
    • Dormancy is a condition characterized by temporary growth cessation and suppressed metabolism. During the winter trees appear not to be growing, but the tissues are alive, there is metabolic activity, and cells are slowly expanding and differentiating. By early October all the flower parts (petals, stigmas, anthers, etc.) can be seen in a flower bud and vegetative buds contain leaves. During the winter these various tissues continue to enlarge and differentiate. Given favorable growth conditions, some buds will develop into shoots or flowers, but others may remain dormant. By understanding the factors influencing bud dormancy we often can influence certain aspects of tree growth. Buds of deciduous trees go through several stages of dormancy. Results from dormancy research are confusing because plant physiologists have used different terminology to describe the stages of dormancy. Plant physiologists currently describe dormancy in four stages.
    • Para-dormancy occurs in the mid to late summer when buds do not grow because inhibitors produced in the leaves and terminal buds inhibit bud growth. Para-dormancy can often be overcome by removing leaves (leaf stripping) along a section of a shoot so the axillary buds develop into shoots. Nurserymen often use this technique to produce trees with lateral branches (feathered trees). Using heading cuts to remove the terminal portion of a shoot will allow several axillary buds just below the cut to develop into shoots. Sometimes an application of growth promoters (gibberellins and/or cytokinins) will induce bud growth.
    • Sometimes axillary buds do not become dormant and develop into shoots within a few days of being formed. Such shoots are referred to as sylleptic shoots and are fairly common on vigorously growing peach trees, but are rarely produced on apple trees (Fig. 6).

    Sylleptic-shoot growth

    Fig. 6. Sylleptic-shoot growth on peaches during the growing season (left) and during the winter (right). Arrows indicate sylleptic shoots.
    • Ectodormancy occurs in the early fall, before defoliation, when plants do not grow because the environmental conditions are not conducive for growth. Growth will resume if the plants are exposed to suitable temperatures and day lengths.
    • Endodormancy occurs during the winter because there are high levels of inhibitors (abscisic acid) within the buds. During this phase of dormancy the trees will not grow even under ideal growing conditions. The concentration of inhibitors declines as buds are exposed to chilling temperatures. Temperatures near 45°F are ideal for chilling, but temperatures between 35° and 55° F will provide some chilling. The chilling requirement to satisfy dormancy for most varieties of apples and peaches grown in Virginia is about 1,000 and 800 hours, respectively. When the chilling requirement is satisfied, the level of inhibitors within the bud is low enough that growth may commence when environmental conditions are appropriate for growth. Avoid planting varieties with chilling requirements less than 800 hours because such varieties usually bloom early and are susceptible to frost.
    • Eco-dormancy occurs in the late winter, usually by mid January, after the chilling requirement has been satisfied. At this time the trees do not grow because conditions are unsuitable for growth. Growth will commence when trees are exposed to warm temperatures.
    • Apical dominance is a type of para-dormancy, where axillary bud growth is inhibited in the apical meristematic zone. Axillary buds on fruit trees typically remain dormant for a prolonged period while the main shoot continues to grow. Apical dominance has been studied for more than 80 years, and the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood, but it seems to be controlled by the relative concentrations of inhibitors and promoters. Growth of axillary buds is inhibited by high concentrations of auxin produced by the terminal bud. Auxin moves down the shoot, from cell to cell by gravity, so concentrations are highest near the shoot tip. Promoters are produced in the roots and are transported upward in the tree. Growth of axillary buds may occur at the base of shoots where concentrations of inhibitors are relatively low and concentrations of promoters are relatively high.
    • You can overcome apical dominance by removing the shoot tip, which is the source of auxin (Fig. 7). The three or four buds immediately below a heading cut usually develop into shoots. Pinching annual plants to induce branching is a form of heading. Another way to overcome apical dominance is to notch buds. Notching involves cutting through the bark to hard wood, with a knife or hacksaw blade at about bloom time, just above a bud. The cut interrupts the downward flow of inhibitors, but not the upward flow of promoters, and releases the bud from dormancy. On vigorous upright one-year-old shoots, notching often successfully overcomes dormancy in about 70 percent of the buds. Sometimes apical dominance can be overcome by spraying shoots with promoters (gibberellins and/or cytokinins) just before bloom time.

    Overcome Apical dominance

    Fig. 7. One way to overcome apical dominance and inducing branching where we want branching is to head the shoot (A). If the shoot is not headed, the top several buds will develop into shoots (B). If the shoot is headed, several buds below the heading cut will develop into shoots (C).

Last modified: Wednesday, 13 June 2012, 7:03 AM