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Apricot Tree Growing Tips For Sweet Success

Among fruit trees, the apricot tree is one of the easiest to grow. With patience and good care, you’ll have access to juicy fruit in spring and summer. It starts as a little tree, and quickly branches into a lovely arching structure with sweet-smelling blooms after a few years. 

Apricots are great stone fruits for a home orchard. One is great for your very own apricot tree guild too. You might think you live outside the range of apricot tree growing, but you might be surprised. Several varieties have cold hardiness built-in. 

It will take a few years for a baby apricot to set fruit, but you’ll eat fresh if you hang in there. You may find you have plenty of baby trees to give to friends at that point too! When it comes to fruit trees, apricot is prolific. That means apricot tree growing can be easy. 

So let’s discuss how to grow apricot trees!

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Quick Care Guide

Apricot tree
Fill your kitchen with sweet summer fruit by growing an apricot tree. Source: Tilly Sfortunato
Common Name(s)Apricot, Armenian plum
Scientific NamePrunus armeniaca
Days to Harvest100 to 120 days from flowering
LightFull sun
Water1 inch per week
SoilLoamy, well-drained
FertilizerLight nitrogen before fruiting phase
PestsCrown borer, twig borer, spider mites, earwigs, aphids
DiseasesShothole, gummosis, perennial canker, powdery mildew

All About The Apricot Tree

Apricots in bloom
Springtime brings a wealth of beautiful flowers to your apricot tree. Source: La Mary Anne

Prunus armeniaca, commonly called the apricot or Armenian plum, is believed to have originated in Central Asia. Genetic studies point to Central and East Asia, where it escaped into the wild. It was originally domesticated in Armenia during the Copper Age around the 5th millennia BC. It made its way around the world via trade routes and wars between nations. Today, it’s known and loved everywhere. 

The apricot is small, topping out between 26 and 36 feet, with a trunk up to 16 inches in diameter. The branches form a spreading canopy and are covered with finely serrated, pointed leaves 1 to 3 inches long. After a couple of years of growth, apricot trees flower in early spring. The blooms are small (1 to 2 inches), self-pollinating, white to pink, and five-petaled. 

After the flowers bloom, self-pollinate, and die away, the flower core remains and develops into a stone fruit, or drupe in early summer. The flesh of the apricot fruit surrounds a dimpled, striped pit that sprouts easily in well-draining soil. Apricots themselves range from orange to rosy pink in color. Their skin is either smooth or velvety. It takes about 3 to 4 months for mature fruit to form. The flesh is consumed in many forms.

Today, California produces about 95% of the apricots sold commercially in the United States. It’s no wonder they’re such a successful crop, as they’ve been around for 4000 years. Apricot trees, closely related to peach trees, produce for up to 25 years. So why not incorporate a generous apricot tree in your garden?

Types of Apricot

The Patterson apricot tree comes from Patterson, California, where a great deal of apricot production takes place. It was first cultivated in 1960 by Fred Anderson, who also cultivated the nectarine. The fruit of this apricot is large and is great for a garden without tons of space for an apricot orchard. The first fruits are best for fresh eating, whereas the late-harvest fruits are great when canned.

The Perfection apricot tree is great for gardeners in colder USDA hardiness zones. The large, firm fruit is freestone, meaning that the flesh separates from the seed easily. Another benefit to this apricot, aside from its cold-hardiness, is its ability to resist pests and disease. The fruits are best when harvested early, and these trees can be maintained at 6 feet tall. 

The Blenheim or Royal Blenheim apricot tree is great for a garden with room for a large variety that sets large fruits that smell like honeysuckle. They’re named for the first place they were cultivated: Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England. The lovely white to pink blossoms almost smother the tree in spring, making it a lovely species to plant for aesthetic appeal. 

The Montrose apricot is a freestone, cold-hardy variety that originated in Montrose, California. This red-blushed fruit is sweet and tasty, but difficult to ship. Therefore, this is a great tree for a garden that needs a touch of rarity. 

Planting

It’s possible to plant apricot trees from stones extracted from the fruit. We’ll cover that in the Propagation section. Here, we’ll discuss how to plant a seedling or young grafted tree. Start by choosing and locating the variety of tree you’d like to plant. Select an area in your garden that has loamy, well-draining soil and is sunny. Plant fruit trees in late winter, or early spring while they’re still dormant. If you’re planting more than one tree, give each enough room for the other to grow. At least 20 feet between trees is standard. 

Dig a hole just large enough for the root ball to fit, and create a small cone of soil in the center of the hole to help the roots spread outward and downward. If you’re planting a young grafted tree, make sure the graft faces north, out of the searing sunlight. Return the soil to the hole and add water, pushing the soil down as you go, eliminating air pockets. Then fill in the empty spaces. 

Create a small berm around the edge of the planting area so water can pool and funnel to the roots. Then, spread a thin layer of compost and mulch on top, leaving a few inches of space between the mulch pile and the tree trunk. You can use a tree trunk protector if desired. Affix the tree to two very sturdy stakes at each side of the tree, using loops of wire threaded through a piece of garden hose. The soft hose segments will protect the trunk from the wire, and the stakes keep the sapling tree upright in strong winds.

Unless you’re growing a dwarf variety, plant your tree in the ground. Dwarf apricot trees can be planted in large clay planters at least 20 inches wide and a couple of feet deep. Use the same methods indicated above.

Care

Blenheim apricots
Blenheim apricots are a common cultivar. Source: Ian E. Abbott

Now that you’ve planted your apricot tree, let’s discuss the ways you can care for it. Apricot trees are very prolific and can produce a lot of flavorful fruits. 

Sun and Temperature

Apricot trees need a lot of sunlight – at least 6 to 8 hours per day. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 8, but some cold-hardy varieties survive in zone 4. Ideal temperatures for apricot trees are between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They can survive sudden cold snaps at maturity, and do best when they have 600 to 900 hours with temperatures between 45 and 32 degrees. Young, unestablished trees will die in 0 degrees. Protect your tree with a frost blanket in a snap freeze. Provide adequate water and mulch to keep apricot trees cool in high heat. You may notice your trees experiencing fruit and blossom drop in late summer when highs are in the triple-digits. 

Water and Humidity

Your apricot tree needs regular watering at one inch per week. The top 8 to 10 inches of soil should remain moist throughout the growth period. Water weekly in the morning via drip irrigation or soaker hoses placed in a ring around the base of the trees. In higher heat, water every couple of days. In dormancy, decrease watering to once every few weeks. Water more often when the trees are flowering and fruiting. Do not add water in rainy spring and summer seasons. 

Soil

Apricot trees do best when they are planted in loamy, well-drained soil. No specific type of soil is needed, but poor soils that don’t drain well just won’t cut it. Add agricultural sand if the soil is full of clay, or if it’s compacted. The optimal pH range for apricot trees is between 6.5 and 8.0. You can amend the soil with a little bit of compost in the planting process, but it’s not necessary. 

Fertilizing

Fertilize your tree at the end of winter and in late summer. Use a high nitrogen fertilizer after the first two years of growth to help produce healthy, lush leaves. After the first four years of growth, your apricot tree will appreciate a powdered fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Apply the powder at a rate of 1 cup per inch of diameter of the trunk. Then water it in well. 

Pruning

Prune your apricot tree in late fall through winter, before the spring growing season begins to increase air circulation. Remove any damaged branches. Then move to eliminate branches that grow toward the trunk, instead of away. If the bottom layer wilts, thin small portions of the canopy to allow the light through to the bottom. Prune off any branches that are over 6 years old, and those that no longer bear fruit. Inspect fruit that is bunched together and thin damaged ones to give others more resources to develop. If you notice your apricot dropping leaves in fall, don’t worry! That’s normal for a deciduous tree. If the fruit is not ripening adequately, thin them before the fall and place them in a paper bag to ripen. 

Propagation

You can propagate and get an apricot tree growing three different ways: by seed, by cutting, and by graft. Apricots are commonly grafted to other stone fruit trees, like plums, peaches, and cherries. After pollination and fruiting, unattended apricots fall to the ground, allowing the pit to germinate. Dig up the pit and place it in a planter with loamy, well-draining soil. Keep it in the sun and out of the intense heat and cold. Now you have baby trees! Apricot also propagates via healthy branch cuttings. Select a 6 to 9 inch cutting of a thin branch at planting time. Remove the leaves and dip the cutting in a rooting hormone. Then place it in a planter with appropriate soil. Do a bud graft to propagate apricots. Prune a bud before it begins blooming in late winter. Place the branch section of the bud snip underneath a section of the bark and wrap them. The graft should take about two weeks. 

Harvesting and Storing

Apricots sun drying
Once harvested, apricots can be sun-dried for later storage. Source: Ian E. Abbott

We’ve talked about pruning, propagating, and providing your apricots with well-drained soil. Now let’s discuss how to acquire those juicy delicious fruits. 

Harvesting

Apricots produce fruit in early spring. You’ll know the fruits are ready to harvest when they are yellow to reddish in color, and yield slightly when gently squeezed. Simply harvest the fruits from the tree by hand, or use a pole to reach high-up fruits. The harvest usually occurs in late spring to early summer. If there are any apricots with white spots or abrasions of any kind, remove them to allow the tree to focus on healthy produce. Before consuming the apricots, wash them gently in lukewarm water. Note that early varieties that are early bloomers can produce in early spring. Most apricots are ready in early July, though. 

Storing

Store apricots in a single layer, in a tepid dry area with good air circulation. Consume them within 3 weeks, and avoid storing them with vegetables that emit ethylene. This causes them to go bad. If you’re going to store them in the refrigerator, do so at a temperature of 32 degrees. Apricots keep in the freezer in a plastic bag for up to 1 year. Dehydrated apricots keep in an airtight container for 6 months, stored in a cool, dry cabinet. Can apricots in water and keep them for 2 years. Combine your apricots with a peach to make a jam. Jams keep for 1 year.

Troubleshooting

Apricot orchard in winter
Apricot trees at a heritage orchard in Sunnyvale, CA. Source: Ian E. Abbott

Although apricots propagate easily, they have a host of issues you could run into. Let’s discuss those. 

Growing Problems

A late frost could quickly kill a young sapling if it does not receive adequate protection in the form of a sheet or frost cloth. Another late frost issue that affects mature apricots is damage to new growth. Begin pruning in spring to remove dead or cold-damaged branches. If you don’t treat cold damage by pruning, it can create risks for disease.

If your apricot tree stays in an area that is too hot, the flowers will drop and pollination will slow, reducing your yield. The only way to remediate this is to water more and provide shade. An umbrella placed above the flowers can help shield the light and keep flowers blooming.

When your apricot doesn’t bloom, it may need a little bit of added fertilizer to set off the bloom period. Additionally, when planted in an area with compacted soil heavy with compost, your apricot can weaken and be more susceptible to disease.

One thing to look out for when it comes to apricots is how easily the pit will germinate below the canopy after it drops. Take care to remove germinated pits as they sprout leaves and give them away. In fact, it’s safest overall to remove any fallen fruit to reduce the risk of pests being drawn to it; save those pits and germinate them later if you’d like!

Pests

Crown borer, sometimes called twig borer, is an insect that attacks the root crown and twigs of apricots. This pest is the larvae of the clearwing moth. Crown borers consume the base of the trunk and leave frass behind that looks like sawdust. They also chew on the limbs of apricots. Beneficial nematodes can eliminate overwintered larvae. Spinosad or pyrethrin applied in spray form after flowering (to reduce damage to pollinators) every ten days keeps these borers away. 

Spider mites are small insects that feed on the sap of apricot leaves. They weave tight, mite-infested webs in late stages and can defoliate a plant in a short amount of time. Use a strong spray of water to knock them off your plant, and spray horticultural oil or insecticidal soap once every 7 to 10 days to reduce their numbers.

Earwigs love apricots so much, they climb out of the earth to eat them! They leave little black dots of frass around the area where they feed. Spinosad is effective, but what’s more effective is removing fallen fruit when it drops, as this will reduce the frequency of earwig attacks.

Aphids hang out in fruit trees and consume the sap of leaves at will. In addition, they produce a sticky secretion called honeydew that can attract other insects. Remove them with a strong water stream. Insecticides can be applied as well every 7 to 10 days. Neem oil is a great way to keep them at bay. 

Diseases

Shothole is a fungal disease caused by Wilsonomyces carpophylus. It creates purplish spotting on new shoots, leaves, and flower buds. If left unchecked, it can sporulate to the later developed fruit and cause fungal lesions. It’s best to treat this prior to winter rains during the tree’s dormant season. A copper fungicidal spray or bordeaux mixture is effective. Do not apply sulfur fungicides to apricots. If your winter treatment was successful, you will have reduced incidence of shothole, but prune off obviously-infected material in the spring when sighted.

If you see orangish sap oozing from the bark of your apricot, you’ve got gummosis. It comes from a number of different sources, but the symptoms are a sign of infection. Perennial canker caused by extensive gummosis comes in the form of flaking bark, orange ooze, and necrotic lower-level bark tissue. Because this is such a problem among stonefruits, the best course for control lies with your local agricultural extension office. To prevent gummosis, do not prune during wet weather, as pruning injury is the most common source of infection of the tree. Sterilize your tools between cuts. Apply white tree wrap or a mix of 50% latex paint with 50% water to the trunk of your tree to prevent winter sunscald. Wood-boring insects can exacerbate the problem, so control of these will help too.  

Apricots are susceptible to powdery mildew, which presents as a light white dusting on leaves. To reduce the incidence of powdery mildew or other spotting diseases, apply horticultural or dormant oil in November, December, and February while the apricot is dormant. If it appears again when your apricot leafs out, neem oil or copper fungicide can be used to treat it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Apricot blossom
Apricot blossoms are a beautiful start to the gardening season. Source: John Freshney

Q: Where do apricot trees grow best?

A: USDA zones 5 through 9. Some varieties grow in zone 4 too. 

Q: Do you need 2 apricot trees to produce fruit?

A: You do not! They are self-pollinating plants. 

Q: How big does an apricot tree grow?

A: This plant grows to 36 feet tall. Some of these plants are dwarf varieties and top out at 6 feet. 

Q: Do apricot trees grow fast?

A: Indeed. This is a fast-growing plant. You’ll typically begin to have good fruiting in the third or fourth year.


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