Sweet, flavorful apricots, warm from the sun, freshly plucked from the tree, are one of life’s perfect moments. In my opinion, they rank right up there with their cousins, peaches and nectarines, as foods that define summer.
Apricots (Prunus armeniaca) are also related to cherries, plums, prunes, and almonds. If you look at the pits, you will see the similarities; they are all stone fruits. While dwarf varieties can be grown in large containers, apricots prefer being planted in the ground, in a sunny location. Plant an apricot tree and you will be treated to lovely spring blossoms and delicious summer fruit. The trunk will, over time, develop a striking gnarled look, too.
How to plant an apricot tree
Unlike apples, pears, and other members of the rose family, apricots grown from seed have a higher chance of being similar to the parent plant. While there are no guarantees, you can take the pit from an apricot, cover it with an inch of soil, keep it watered and in a sunny location to start your homegrown apricot tree. For faster results, bare root stock can be used. Apricot bare root stock should be planted in January or early February, here in the Bay Area. Apricots prefer well-drained soil, but they can tolerate some clay. Before placing your apricot rootstock, be sure to amend the site with lots of compost, to help it get a healthy start. Also, if you have heavy clay, be sure to score the edges of the planting hole. Smooth clay is an impenetrable barrier to young roots.
How to select an apricot tree
When selecting rootstock, be sure to match the variety with your microclimate. Chilling hours vary by species, as does disease and pest resistance. If your tree does not accumulate enough chill hours, you won't get any fruit. Most apricots are self-fertile, so it is usually not necessary to have more than one tree. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office for the best varieties for your area. The following varieties are good choices for San Jose, California:
Apricot tree care
Each fall, before the rains begin, prune away 20% of last year’s growth, along with any dead, diseased, or poorly placed branches. This will allow more light to reach interior branches, stimulate new spur development, and improve the overall health of the tree. [Spurs are flower-bearing buds]. Spray for pest and disease control in winter and again in spring. Feed mature apricot trees 1 to 2 pounds of urea just before spring irrigation is begun and water it in thoroughly. Young trees should be given the same amount of urea, but spread it out in quarters over a 4 month period. As fruits reach 1/2 inch in diameter, they should be thinned to one fruit every 4 to 6 inches, for the best size and flavor. This also reduces the likelihood of pests and diseases.
Begin irrigating in spring by watering every 2 or 3 weeks to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. This is one of those times where guessing isn’t good enough. I use my soil sampler, but you can use a trowel to gently dig down to the appropriate depth. If the soil isn’t moist, you need to figure out where the water is going and redirect it. Many times, hydrophobic soil will push water away. Watering more slowly can avoid this problem.
Apricot pests and diseases
Peach twig borers, Fuller rose beetles, San Jose scale, mites, and aphids are common apricot pests. Apricot is susceptible to Eutypa dieback, so pruning should only be done during summer, unlike other trees which are pruned during winter dormancy. Autumn and winter sprays of dormant oil, fixed copper, or Bordeaux mixture, as well as the use of sticky barriers, can help protect your apricot tree against other pests and diseases, such as brown rot, bacterial canker, shot hole disease, and crown gall. Despite these fungal diseases, do not use sulfur on apricots.
A little space in your yard or on a balcony is all that is needed to start growing fresh apricots - give it a try!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!