Apricots

Apricots are hardy deciduous trees producing delicious fruit, but they need shelter and warmth to protect their early flowers and ensure fruit ripening.

Fan trained apricot

Fan trained apricot

Quick facts

Common name: Apricot
Botanical name: Prunus armeniaca
Group: Fruiting deciduous tree/top fruit
Flowering time: From late winter to early-spring
Planting time: November to March
Height: 3-5m depending on rootstock
Aspect: Full sun or west-facing
Hardiness: Fully hardy, but frost may damage blossom and affect fruiting
Difficulty: Moderate

Cultivation notes

Site and soil

Apricots prefer deeper, fertile soils with pH 6.5 to 7.5 with good drainage. On light sandy soils incorporate organic matter such as garden compost or manure based soil conditioner in the planting area to improve moisture retention.

Apricots can start flowering very early in the season. To prevent blossom damage plant in a warm sheltered site. Avoid planting in frost pockets.

Tree forms

Growing apricots as fans against a sheltered south-, south-west or west-facing wall helps to reduce potential cold damage and ripen fruit. However, frost protection may still be needed to prevent flower damage. In colder areas consider growing under cover in a cold greenhouse either fan trained in the glasshouse border or grown in containers

Apricots can be grown as an open-centred bush tree with a clear stem of 75cm (2½ft) or pyramid if planted in a warm, very sheltered, sunny spot. 

There are some naturally compact cultivars that are well-suited for container cultivation. Container grown trees are best overwintered under cover such as in a cold greenhouse.

Rootstock choice

Apricots (including compact cultivars) are usually grafted onto rootstocks to limit their size, but truly dwarfing rootstocks are not available. When considering growing apricot as a fan, bear in mind that wall space of 3.5-5m (11-16ft) wide and 2-2.5m (6½-8ft) high is needed.

Torinel: semi-dwarfing, improved tolerance to unfavourable soil sol conditions, 3-3.5m (10-11ft)
Krymsk 86: semi-vigorous, more tolerant of heavier, wet soils, 3.5-4m (11-13ft)
St Julian A: semi-vigorous, widely used, tolerant of wide range of soil conditions, 4.5-5m (15-16ft)

Pollination

Apricots are self-fertile. However, they flower very early in the season when few pollinating insects are around so hand pollination with a soft paintbrush or similar is usually needed. Trees grown under cover have to be hand pollinated.

Flowers are vulnerable to frost damage so frost protection with fleece or plastic sheeting is desirable. It is more practical doing this with apricots that have been fan trained.

Planting

See our advice on tree and shrub planting for information on planting fruit trees.

Watering and feeding

Feed annually. In late winter apply of sulphate of potash at 35g per sq m (1oz per sq yd) around the base of the trees.  In early spring  feed with a general fertiliser such as Growmore or Vitax Q4 at 100g per sq m (3oz  per sq yd).
Mulch with organic matter, such as manure based soil conditioner in late winter to reduce moisture stress. Aim to prevent drought stress, especially in early to midsummer when the fruit is swelling.

Fruit thinning

Apricots generally do not need fruit thinning. However, sometimes fruit set can be exceptionally good. If thinning is required, it should be done in stages. Start thinning when the fruit reaches cherry size in late spring and remove misshapen fruits first. Later in early summer, as the fruits begin to swell, thin pairs and clusters so that those left to ripen are spaced at 5-8cm (2-3in).

Pruning and training

When to prune

Apricots fruit at the base of one-year-old shoots, and on two-year-old and older wood. Apricots (and other stone fruit) should not be pruned during winter, to minimise the risk of infection by silver leaf and bacterial canker. Pruning of young trees is carried out after bud burst in early spring; established trees are pruned in summer.

Open centre bush tree

Bush trained apricots trees do not require as precise pruning as apples and pears. However, young trees still require initial training and mature trees benefit from thinning of old wood on mature trees.

  1. First spring. Starting with a feathered maiden choose three or four well-spaced wider angle side shoots (laterals) about 75cm (2½ft) from ground level to be the main branches and shorten these by two-thirds. Prune back the central leader to just above the uppermost lateral. Remove shoots below the selected laterals.
  2. By the second spring or with a two year old tree (often offered for sale in plant centres) the main laterals should have produced their own side shoots, the strongest of which need shortening by half, pruning to an outward-facing bud to develop an open crown. Remove any weak or badly placed shoots. Bought trees may come with the replacement leader that needs to be pruned out.
  3. In the third spring continue developing a well-spaced framework as described above.
  4. In the fourth year switch to summer pruning, as for established trees. Rub out any buds developing on the lower trunk and carefully pull off suckers arising from the rootstock. Pruning is mostly limited to removing crossing, weak, diseased material and strong vertical growth. If the branches are still crowded then further thinning can be done.

Overgrown or neglected trees

Heavy pruning is best avoided, as larger pruning cuts often do not heal well.

Thinning of branches on an old, neglected apricot tree should be staged over several years in summer. Aim for a well-balanced crown, keeping the centre free from shoots to allow good light penetration. Aim to prune to a strong existing shoot that is at least one third of the diameter of the branch that you are removing rather than leaving bare branch stumps that can be prone to dieback. Alternatively remove the branch entirely.

Trees may respond to larger pruning cuts by sending up a mass of new shoots. Where this happens the shoots will need to be thinned in the summer to leave just one or two.

Fan training

Fan trained trees need regular pruning twice a year in early summer and after fruiting. See initial pruning of fan-trained trees and established pruning of fans.

Propagation

Apricots are generally propagated by grafting or budding. Named cultivars will not come true from seed, but seedlings may produce worthwhile trees. Trees grown from seed or cuttings will be much larger trees than those grafted onto a chosen rootstock, and are likely to be slower to start fruiting.

Cultivar selection

Good apricots for the garden

SoU = season of use

‘Alfred’: Orange to pink flushed skin. Less prone to canker. SoU: early August
‘Flavorcot’: Regular crops. One of the best flavoured. Good for eating fresh. SoU: late July
‘Goldcot’: Regular crops of golden-yellow fruit, good for UK climate. SoU: early August
‘Golden Glow’: Tolerates cold winters and UK climate. Fruit smaller, but well-flavoured. Suitable for wall training as well as a free-standing tree. SoU: early August
‘Moorpark’: Pale yellow fruit with orange blush, best against a warm wall. SoU: early August
‘Tomcot’: Better for UK climate, fully ripe fruit has red tinges. SoU: late July
‘Vigama’: Good for UK climate, flowers over an extended period. SoU: mid-August

Compact cultivars

Those below are well suited for container cultivation.

'Garden Aprigold': Golden yellow fruit, height about 1.5m (5ft)
‘Apricompakt’: Medium-size, orange fruit, height about 2m (6½ft)
‘Compacta’: Orange fruit, height about 2m (6½ft)

Problems

Apricots can be prone to bacterial canker, honey fungus, blossom wilt, brown rot and silver leaf. Peach leaf curl is seldom a problem.

Pests such aphids, winter moth and bird damage may be troublesome. Particularly under cover tortrix moth caterpillars and glasshouse red spider mite can be a problem. Spotted wing drosophila is becoming an increasing problem on a wide range of fruit, including stone fruit such as apricots.


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