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. And they’re not the tender treasures you may imagine – many modern cultivars have been bred to crop reliably in cooler climates. They can be grown as trees or bushes, or trained as a fan against a wall. There are also compact varieties for a pot on the patio.
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Watering and feeding
Water newly planted trees frequently in their first spring and summer, and before the onset of any 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.
In March and early April, mulch around the root area with a 5cm (2in) layer of well-rotted manure, to help retain moisture in the soil. This will help to prevent drought stress, especially in early to mid-summer when the fruit is swelling.
Protect the blossom from frost by covering trees over night with horticultural fleece or clear polythene supported by bamboo canes. But make sure the covering doesn’t touch the flowers, and remove it during the day to let in sunlight and pollinating insects.
Covering is only really practical with fan-trained or containerised trees.
Apricots are self-fertile, but they flower very early in spring when few pollinating insects are around, so hand-pollination is usually needed to ensure a good crop. Trees grown under cover must be hand-pollinated.
Carry out hand-pollination for several days, ideally around noon in dry, sunny weather, using a soft artist’s paintbrush or a cotton-wool bud. Lightly mist the tree with water to ensure the pollen sticks, but allow plenty of time for the flowers to dry out before dark.
Apricots generally don’t 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 any mis-shapen fruits or those growing towards the wall first. Then 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).
When to prune
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, while established trees are pruned in summer.
Apricots fruit at the base of one-year-old shoots, and on two-year-old and older wood.
There are three commonly used methods for training apricots: as a fan, bush tree or pyramid tree. They each need pruning in different ways.
When growing fans, erect straining wires 22.5cm (9in) apart, then tie in young branches to canes attached to the wires. Apricot fans can eventually reach 3.5–5m (11–16ft) wide and 2–2.5m (6½–8ft) high.
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. Then tie in new shoots as they develop.
Fan-trained trees need regular pruning twice a year in early summer and after fruiting.
For full details, see initial pruning of fan-trained trees and established pruning of fans.
Open-centred bush tree
Bush-trained apricot trees don’t require as precise pruning as apples and pears. However, young trees still require initial training, and mature trees benefit from thinning of old wood.
In the 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.
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.
In the third spring, continue developing a well-spaced framework as described above.
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 or diseased material and strong vertical growth. If the branches are still crowded, then further thinning can be done.
See our plum pruning profile.
Pruning overgrown or neglected trees
Heavy pruning is best avoided, as larger pruning cuts often don’t 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. If this happens, the shoots need to be thinned in summer to leave just one or two.
Apricots are generally propagated by grafting or budding. Named cultivars will not come true from seed, but seedlings may still 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.
Buying an apricot tree
Apricots (including compact cultivars) are usually grafted onto rootstocks to limit their size, but truly dwarfing rootstocks are not available. The main rootstocks choices are:
‘Torinel’: semi-dwarfing, with improved tolerance to unfavourable soil conditions, for a tree 3–3.5m (10–11ft) tall
‘Krymsk 86’: semi-vigorous, more tolerant of heavier, wet soils, for a tree 3.5–4m (11–13ft) tall
‘St Julian A’: semi-vigorous, widely used and tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, for a tree 4.5–5m (15–16ft) tall
There are also several apricot varieties to choose from, which form the upper part of the tree. Look in particular for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
Where to plant
Although fully hardy, apricots flower early, so the blossom is vulnerable to frost. They are therefore best planted against a warm, sheltered, south-, south-west or west-facing wall, which also helps to ensure fruit ripening. In milder regions and/or a warm, very sheltered, sunny spot, apricots can be grown as free-standing (pyramid) trees or bush trees, with a clear stem of 75cm (2½ft), if you choose an appropriate cultivar.
In colder areas, they are best grown under cover in an unheated greenhouse, either trained as a fan in a greenhouse border or in a large container.
Apricots flourish in deep, fertile, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil, ideally slightly alkaline. They will struggle in poor, shallow soil. On light, sandy soil, incorporate organic matter such as garden compost or well-rotted manure into the planting area to improve moisture retention.
If you’re considering growing an apricot as a fan, bear in mind that it will need a wall space of 3.5–5m (11–16ft) wide and 2–2.5m (6½–8ft) high.
Compact varieties can be grown in large containers in a very warm, sunny spot, but are best overwintered in an unheated greenhouse.
How to plant
Plant apricots during the dormant season, from November to March – autumn is ideal as the soil is still warm.
Dwarf varieties can be planted in large containers, at least 45cm (18in) wide, filled with soil-based John Innes No. 3 compost.
For full planting details, see our guide to planting trees and shrubs.
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.
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 dried or made into preserves.
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