We have had remarkable success with the apricots that we have grown in our garden orchard. Amazingly, in difficult years in which many types of fruit struggled to produce a good crop, our Moorpark apricot performed very well, taking fruit size and flavour into consideration.
The Moorpark variety is as old as the hills, has been around and grown for hundreds of years and yet it came up with the most delicious fruits. The espalier-trained tree, grown on a South to South Eastern-positioned wall, flowers quite early, often during March. We cover it with a double layer of garden fleece, to stop the frosts from killing the flowers and we take the fleece off when the bumble bees want to visit the blossoms. This creates a good fruit set.
From then on it is a question of watering the tree during dry spells.
By the end of May we thin the fruit to a spacing of approximately 5 inches apart and that is it. No pests or diseases to deal with. It produces crops of fabulous fruits that are ready by the middle of August. In some years it crops better than apple, pear or plum.
It is probably the fact that apricots tend to flower so early and set fruit early that can give them a good start in difficult seasons, particularly if there are some good warm days when the apricot is in flower.
The moral of this story is that the early flowering of almonds, apricots, peaches and nectarines is no problem. You just have to make sure that when they begin to blossom, the trees are covered at night with a double layer of garden fleece when the weatherman tells us a night frost is expected.
Growing apricots, top ten tips
Here is a summary of what we have learned about growing apricots in the UK over the years.
- Growing apricots is easy! The tree has to be on a South-facing wall; it will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length (this length can be shorter, but in this case, more summer pruning is necessary.)
- How to plant apricots. The planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not exposed to a leak in the gutter.
- Protect blossom against frost. The most important thing: remember that the tree blossoms very early, usually in March or early April, and that if blossom is exposed to temperatures of -1 degrees Celsius or colder, it will be killed, and no fruit will be formed. That’s why protection with garden fleece is essential during spring frosts as described above. This in turn is why the espalier apricot or fan apricot is such as good system – it makes it easier to cover it with fleece. You should provide thermal protection for the tree from mid February to the end of May. Fix large-size shelf brackets to the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. Use this to fasten a double layer of fleece each year around the second week of February. Cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow it off at any time. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, so that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this is necessary because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.
- Keep the trunk free from grass. While the tree loves organic matter around its base, it’s important to keep it away from the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, in order to keep grass and weeds at bay.
- Ensure that the apricot tree has enough water. Never let the tree struggle for moisture.
- Feed the tree. Continue to foliar feed the tree and water the tree during the summer months. A shortage of moisture during the summer will affect the quality of the fruit buds the following year.
- Thin the fruit. When the size of the best young fruits has reached around 10mm in fruit size, then it is the right time to seriously reduce the number of fruits. Bring back bunches of fruitlets to singles and space the fruits 6 to 8 inches apart. Always retain the largest fruits. Read more about thinning apricots.
Watch a video on thinning apricots.
- Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August. At this stage, flavour will have developed well.
- NEVER prune an apricot during the winter months, but always when there is a full canopy of leaves.
- Summer pruning. If any summer pruning needs to be done later during the summer months, remove surplus strongly-growing laterals. Do not cut out any new shoots which have closed down early. These usually carry the best fruit buds for the following year and therefore should be retained. Read more about pruning apricot trees and pruning espalier apricots.
- Avoid overcropping to prevent biennial bearing. One has to be aware of the fact that overcropping of apricots can lead to having too much crop in one year and not enough in the next year. This applies particularly to the 1 year old wood of well-grown healthy trees. If there is an abundance of blossom on this wood, then this wood needs to be cut back before the blossom has a chance to set fruit.
Apricot tree development
February/March of the first year:
Start with 2 side branches. Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth (March). Promote strong growth by ensuring that there is sufficient water, nutrients and warmth (using the fleece as detailed above). Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. This protects against bacterial canker.
Late September of the first year:
Select 2 shoots on either side. Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles. Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length. Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent).
February/March of the second year:
Select the final 2 branches, and carry out the same procedure as in the first year.
From then onwards:
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Apricot crops best on younger wood. Never prune apricots during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This helps to avoid disease from developing. The same applies to plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarines.
Fan trained apricot trees
February/March of the first year
Start with 2 side branches
Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth. (March)
Promote strong growth. (Water, nutrients, warmth).
Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. This protects against bacterial canker.
Select 2 shoots on either side
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length,
Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent).
February/March of the second year
Select the final 2 branches,
Carry out the same procedure as in the first year
From then onwards
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit.
Apricot crops best on younger wood.