How to Care for Apricot Trees
Latin name: Prunus armeniaca
Hardiness: Fully hardy, but susceptible to frost damage in spring
Height and spread: Variable - dependant on rootstock
While soft fruit trees can be a little more challenging to grow than harder fruits like apple and pears, modern apricot varieties have been specially bred with the home grower in mind. Varieties are now self-fertile, and designed to grow in cooler climates, so with a little care, your apricot tree has every chance of producing a fantastic crop.
For a larger garden, the Flavourcot apricot tree is a fantastic choice, well regarded for its resilience and reliability. If space is more limited, why not try the Dwarf Aprigold apricot tree? Suitable for pot growing, this tree will reach a maximum of 2m/6ft, but produces truly exquisite golden fruits.
On receiving your apricot tree, it is important that you remove it from the outer packaging immediately and store it in a suitable place until you are ready to plant. In winter, we advise a shed or garage to prevent frost damage. Plant your tree when it has gone into dormancy and the roots are not growing. Either October/November or late February/March as the ground can become frozen solid in intervening months.
Choosing where to plant your tree is of vital importance, as apricot trees need plenty of sun to ripen fruit and are also susceptible to frost damage. A south facing wall would be idea, as the wall would retain and radiate warmth throughout the year, but if that is not possible, any location with at least six solid hours of full sunshine in summer will work. Your apricot tree will do best if planted into deep, well draining, loamy soil. If necessary, dig some organic compost into the planting hole.
An hour before planting your apricot tree, water the pot thoroughly. Remove the tree from its container and gently tease out the roots. Prune any that are damaged or broken. Dig a hole roughly three times the width of the trees roots, but no deeper, then plant the tree with the bud union at ground level. Back fill any gaps with a soil and compost mix. Use a supporting stake to anchor the tree until the root system is strong enough to support the tree unaided.
If you are growing a dwarfing apricot tree, it will grow quite happily in a pot - perfect for smaller gardens or patios. Pot grown apricot trees will require repotting into a larger container in the first 12 months, then every two - three years until it reaches its full height. Look out for the following signs that your apricot tree is ready for a new home:
- Does the tree look less healthy than it used to?
- Does it seem to dry out quicker?
- Are there roots growing out of the holes in the bottom of the pots?
- Have the apricot tree been in the same pot for three years or more?
Remember to always choose deep pots with drainage holes! Try to repot in the winter months to minimise the risk of damaging the roots.
Some tips for repotting
- The soil in the apricot tree pot should be slightly moist - water thoroughly an hour before repotting to achieve this.
- Loosen the soil around the edge of the pot and pull the tree out by the base of the main stem.
- If you are moving your apricot tree to a bigger pot, add some extra soil into the bottom of the pot before you insert the plant.
- Fill in with a mix of soil and compost.
- Water the plant thoroughly and keep it well watered for several weeks.
Once the tree is fully grown, it will be too big for repotting, but you will still need to replace 30-50% of the compost every other year so the tree does not exhaust its supply of nutrients.
Feeding your apricot tree will help it to gain all the nutrients it needs to fruit. February is an ideal time, and we would advise using a potassium rich granular fertiliser according to packet instructions, as these are potassium rich.
Mulching is the term used for the layer of organic material that is placed on top of the soil around your plants every year. It has a whole host of benefits, including keeping the soil moist and nutrient rich throughout summer and discouraging weeds. The best time to do this is in March/April.
First, prepare the ground by removing debris and weeds and water the surface of the soil if it is dry. Apply a thin layer of well rotted manure or good garden compost all around the tree - we suggest using John Innes No. 3.
We advise you to water your tree regularly until the plant is established. Once this point is passed, the plant will only require watering in times of drought, or in very hot periods of spring and summer. Make sure you always water the roots, and avoid getting water on the leaves of the plant, as this encourages disease.
When fruit trees are grown in containers, they will have more restricted access to water than those growing in the garden, so will need watering with greater regularity. As a rule of thumb stick your finger into the first inch of topsoil and if it feels medium dry, water immediately.
Like all stone fruit, apricots should be pruned in the spring, as they are susceptible to bacterial cankers that infect pruning wounds that don't heal quickly. As fruit will only form on year old wood, your tree will not need pruning at all in its first year, except to remove dead or damaged branches. In following years, you can begin training your apricot tree - we prefer a bush shape as it is a lovely natural shape but still designed to improve productivity.
First, remove any branches that are growing towards the centre of the tree instead of pointing outwards, as these will not get enough sunlight to produce fruit. Then remove any branches that are dead, diseased or dying.
Lastly, cut back all but the main branches and leave six or so buds on each stem. Once your tree has reached its full height, or a height you are happy with, you can also cut the main branches back by about a third, which will ensure your tree doesn't grow much taller. After four years, prune away some of the oldest branches to make way for newer wood. Rub out any buds or suckers that form on the stem or rootstock of the tree.
Fruit and Flowers
Apricot trees are very early flowering, and can respond to any sustained rise in temperature by bursting into full bloom. These early blossoms are very susceptible to late frosts, which will mean little fruit. Protect the blossoms with a horticultural fleece at night, ensuring that it does not touch the tree blossoms. Uncover the tree in the daytimes so it gets plenty of light.
After a couple of years fruit should appear in summer. At this point, it might be an idea to invest in a fruit cage or fruit netting to deter birds.
You may need to thin the fruit (which should be done when the fruits are about the size of a 20p coin). Any fruit that looks misshapen or bad should be the first to go. After that any cluster with more than three or four apricots should be thinned. This will allow remaining fruit to grow to a larger size. The fruit should be ripe by July/August and is ready for picking. Only pick fruit that is fully ripe, and preserve by making into jams and chutneys, or drying.
Your apricot tree will go into dormancy over winter and lose all its leaves - this is normal! Although modern apricot varieties are hardy, they may need some protection from extreme temperatures and frosts with horticultural fleece.