Home grown apricots are delicious, packed with juice and delicate flavours - eaten straight from the tree they are tastier than anything bought in a shop. They are not the tender treasures you may imagine - many modern cultivars have been bred to crop reliably in cooler climates. They can be grown as fans, bushes or pyramid trees - there are even dwarf varieties for a pot on the patio.
Jobs to do now
- Prune young plants and mature trees
- Thin heavy crops
- Protect fruit from birds
Month by month
Cover apricot trees with horticultural fleece, or clear polythene supported by bamboo canes, to protect the blossom from frost. The fleece or polythene must not touch the flowers. Remove this during the day to allow sunlight and pollinating insects to reach the plant.
Hand-pollination increases yields, over several days - ideally around noon on a dry, sunny day - using a soft artist's brush or a cotton wool bud. Lightly mist the tree with water to ensure that the pollen sticks but so the flowers dry out before dark.
Heavy crops should be thinned to about 8-10.5cm (3-4in) apart when the fruits are the size of hazelnuts. Start by removing mis-shapen fruit and those growing towards the wall.
Water newly-planted trees frequently as they establish in their first spring and summer, and before the onset of drought, when mature trees may need watering too. This is particularly important when the fruit starts to swell.
In late winter, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around trees growing in bare soil, and two and a half around those growing in grass.
Mulch around the rooting area with a 5cm (2in) layer of well-rotted manure, in March and early April.
Apricots are grafted, usually onto the rootstock ‘St Julien A’ or ‘Torinel’ – both are semi vigorous; fan-trained apricots reach up to 4m x 2m (13ft x 6.5ft).
When growing fans, erect straining wires 22.5cm (9in) apart, tie in young branches to canes attached to the wires.
Training fan apricots is the same as for a fan-trained peach. To form an apricot fan, cut back the central leader of a feathered tree to two side branches low down on the main stem; these will form the ribs of the fan. Tie in new shoots as they develop.
Training bush apricots is the same as for bush-trained plums, but growth begins in early February.
Apricots bear fruit on shoots made the previous summer and on short spurs from the older wood.
Only prune in spring or from the end of July to the end of August or in spring when the sap is rising.
Pruning mature bush apricots is the same as for pruning sweet cherries.
Although fully hardy, apricots flower early and are vunerable to frost, so therefore are best grown on a warm, sheltered, south-facing wall, or freestanding in milder climates, choosing an appropriate cultivar.
Apricots flourish on deep, moisture retentive, well-drained, ideally slightly alkaline soils and struggle in poor, shallow soils.
Dig in one bucketful of well-rotted organic material before planting. Plant during the dormant season from November to March. Autumn is ideal as the soil is still warm.
Leaves develop a silvery sheen, cut branches reveal red staining.
Prune from the end of June until the end of August or in early spring. Keep pruning cuts to a minimum, pruning regularly so cut surfaces are small.
This serious disease of stone fruit causes sunken, dead areas of bark often accompanied by a gummy ooze. It can kill off entire branches.
Where possible, carry out all pruning in July or August when tissues are most resistant. This is also the best time to prune in order to minimise the risk of silver leaf disease. Cut out all cankered areas, pruning back to healthy wood and paint promptly with a wound paint to protect the wound from re-infection. Burn or landfill the prunings.
Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite
Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.
They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use biological control in the greenhouse.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Apricots are ready to pick from late July to August – ripe fruits are soft and detach easily from the tree. Pick and handle them carefully, to avoid bruising.
Apricots are best eaten straight away, and can only be stored for a few days. Alternatively they can be be dried or made into preserves.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.