In a warm, sunny spot, apricots such as ‘Flavorcot’ should fruit well
Apricots (Prunus armeniaca) are sun-lovers, so grow them in a warm site where they can soak up the rays and ripen their sweet, juicy fruits. They are grown in a similar way to peaches and nectarines (which are close relatives), fruiting best when trained against a sunny wall. They can also be grown as free-standing trees, either in the ground or in a container. Most apricots need regular attention across the growing season, including watering, feeding and pruning, along with protection for their flowers and fruit. But these attractive small trees should then reward you with blossom in early spring, followed by a sweet, juicy apricots in summer.
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There are several varieties to choose from, ripening at different times from mid- to late summer. Some offer a more reliable or more abundant crop, or larger, sweeter fruits, in various shades of yellow, orange and red. Some are more suited to cooler locations, while others need a particularly warm site. There are also dwarf varieties, such as ‘Garden Aprigold’, that are ideal in pots. All apricot varieties are self-fertile, so you only need one tree for a good crop.
Apricots are naturally vigorous trees, so are usually grafted onto a rootstock to limit their size. The main rootstock choices are:
- ‘Torinel’ – semi-dwarfing, tolerant of poor soil, free-standing trees can reach 3–3.5m (10–11ft) tall
- ‘Krymsk 86’ – semi-vigorous, tolerant of heavy, damp soil, free-standing trees up to 3.5–4m (11–13ft) tall
- ‘St Julian A’ – semi-vigorous, widely used, suitable for most soils, free-standing trees up to 4.5–5m (15–16ft) tall
Training apricot trees as fans will keep them more compact – up to 2m (6½ft) tall and 4m (13ft) wide – and they will naturally stay smaller if grown in a pot.
If you visit any of the RHS gardens, you’ll find many fruit trees grown in various ways, including apricots, so you can easily compare different varieties and pick up useful growing tips.
What and where to buy
Apricot trees are sold either bare-root (without soil) or in pots. Bare-root trees are often cheaper, but are only available from late autumn to early spring, usually from specialist suppliers. Potted trees are sold all year round and more widely available.
As apricot trees crop best when grown as a fan, you may prefer to buy a partially trained two- or three-year-old fan, rather than a younger tree that you need to train from scratch. Pre-trained trees are more expensive and usually only available from specialist fruit nurseries.
While it is possible to grow your own apricot tree from the stone of a shop-bought fruit, it may not be suitable for the UK climate. If you want an apricot tree that will fruit reliably in the UK, it’s worth investing in a good quality grafted tree, of a suitable variety, from a reputable UK supplier.
Apricot trees are best planted against a south-, south-west or west-facing wall or fence, where they can be fan trained, soaking up maximum heat and sun. As they flower early in spring, choose a site that isn’t prone to heavy or late frosts, which can damage the blossom and reduce cropping. See our guide to positioning fruit trees. Dwarf varieties, often sold as patio fruit trees, crop well in pots, but are best overwintered in an unheated greenhouse.
In milder regions and/or very warm, sheltered, sunny locations, apricots may also crop successfully as free-standing trees. In very cold regions, they’re best grown in an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel.
Apricots like deep, fertile, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil that is ideally slightly acid to neutral. Avoid planting in poorly drained soil, which can cause the roots to rot. Apricot trees struggle in light or shallow soil, so improve it by digging in lots of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
The best time to plant an apricot tree is while it’s dormant, from November to March – autumn is ideal, as the soil is still warm and damp. See our planting guides below for full details.
Planting against a wall
To help ripen the fruit, apricot trees are best trained against a sunny wall, but the soil at the base of walls is often poor and dry, so it’s important to prepare it particularly well. Dig lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost into the whole area, then plant the tree at least 30cm (1ft) away from the wall, angled slightly towards it.
Fan-trained apricots can eventually reach a width of 3.5–5m (11–16ft), so make sure there is plenty of room on either side.
Planting in a container
Apricot trees can be grown in large pots, at least 45cm (18in) across, filled with peat-free soil-based compost such as peat-free John Innes No. 3. They will need regular watering and feeding, and usually annual pruning to keep them compact. Alternatively, choose a dwarf apricot variety, such as ‘Garden Aprigold’, which will naturally form a small tree up to 1.5m (5ft) tall that needs little or no pruning. See our guides below for planting and growing advice.
Most apricot trees, especially those in containers, need regular watering, feeding and annual pruning. As apricots are grown in a similar way to peaches, see our video guide to growing peaches for useful advice that applies to apricots too.
- Newly planted trees – water regularly for at least the first spring and summer, until well settled in
- Fan-trained trees – may require additional watering, as the wall or fence often reduces the amount of rainfall they receive
- Trees in pots – water generously throughout the growing season, as containers dry out quickly, especially in warm weather, and rainfall isn’t usually sufficient
- Established free-standing trees – usually only need watering during dry spells when the fruits are starting to swell, to prevent them being shed
- Apricots in a greenhouse – water regularly, up to daily in summer
With trees in containers, make sure the water can drain out easily, especially in winter, as the roots will rot in cold, soggy compost. Also, raise the container onto ‘pot feet’ or bricks to keep the drainage holes clear and avoid waterlogging.
In March or early April, mulch around the root area with a 5cm (2in) layer of well-rotted manure, to retain moisture in the soil. This will help to avoid drought stress, especially in early to mid-summer when the fruits are swelling.
In late winter, feed apricot trees with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or fish, blood and bone, to boost fruiting – scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around the base of the tree.
Give trees in pots a high potassium liquid feed every couple of weeks through spring and summer. Also, repot every few years in spring, into a slightly larger container, once their roots fill the current container. Use peat-free, loam-based compost.
Protecting blossom from frost
It’s important to protect apricot blossom from frost, otherwise you may not get any fruit. So if frost is forecast during flowering, cover the tree overnight with an old bedsheet or hessian, supported on bamboo canes so it doesn’t touch the flowers. Uncover the tree during the day to let in sunlight and pollinating insects. Alternatively, apricot trees in pots can be moved into a greenhouse, porch or other sheltered spot during flowering, and should be pollinated by hand (see below).
Protecting the blossom is only really practical with fan-trained or potted trees, so only grow apricots as free-standing trees in warm locations where spring frosts are unlikely.
Improving your crop
Fruit thinning isn’t usually required, except if your tree produces a particularly large number of fruitlets. In this case, removing some of them will help the rest to develop well. When the fruitlets reach cherry size, in late spring, thin out pairs and clusters so that those left are spaced 5–8cm (2–3in) apart. Cut unwanted fruitlets in half with secateurs – they will then drop off with no damage to the shoot. Start with any mis-shapen fruitlets and those growing in an awkward or shaded position, such as near the wall on a fan-trained tree.
Before the fruits start to colour up, they will need protection from birds and squirrels, usually with netting supported on a wooden frame or canes. Move potted plants into a greenhouse or other enclosed space. Apricot trees can also be grown in a fruit cage.
Apricots are usually propagated by grafting or budding – both quite skilled techniques but well worth a try. Trees can be grown from apricot stones too, but their fruit may not be the same as those of the parent tree, although they may still make worthwhile plants. Apricot trees grown from seeds or cuttings will be much larger trees than those grafted onto a rootstock, and are likely to be slower to start fruiting.
Pruning and Training
Selecting young branches of an apricot tree for training as a fan
Apricot trees are usually trained as a fan against a sunny wall or fence, to improve fruiting and ripening – they are too vigorous to be trained as cordons or espaliers. Fans have a short trunk topped with a flat fan of radiating branches, making an attractive feature. They are also useful if space is limited, as they take up little ground space and can be kept to just 1.8m (6ft) tall (the height of a fence panel) and 3.5–5m (11–16ft) wide. This makes them easier to hand-pollinate and harvest than free-standing trees, and easier to protect from frost and birds. However, they do need careful pruning and training – see our guides below.
Apricots are ready to pick from late July to August – ripe fruits are soft and come away easily from the tree. Handle them carefully, as they bruise easily. Ripening fruits usually need protection from birds and squirrels.
Apricots are best eaten straight away, and can only be stored for a few days. Alternatively they can be dried or made into preserves.
To fruit well in the UK, apricot trees need a warm, sheltered location and lots of sunshine. Potential fruiting problems include:
Lack of fruit – may be due to frost during flowering and/or poor pollination, so protect blossom from frost and cold winds, and hand-pollinate with a small paintbrush as apricots flower early in spring when there are few insects on the wing. Also see our guide to improving fruit production
Failure to ripen – may be due to cool weather and lack of sun. Training trees against a sunny wall will help to ripen the fruits. In colder regions, consider growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel
Loss of ripening fruit – protect fruit from birds and squirrels by covering trees with netting before the fruits start to colour up. Alternatively, grow trees in a fruit cage or move potted trees indoors once the fruits start to swell
Damaged fruits and leaves – may be caused by winter moth caterpillars
Apricots can be affected by several diseases (see below), but on the bright side, peach leaf curl (which can affect apricot relatives) is seldom a problem.
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