Grow Apricots This Year

February 1, 2016

Apricots are stone fruits  (or drupes), all of which contain a single, hard, woody pit. Originally from China, even though they were long believed to have come from Armenia, hence the Latin name Prunus armeniaca. They were carried through Southwest Asia, reaching Italy around 100 BC. They had spread throughout Europe’s temperate parts, including England, long before America was discovered.

The earliest Spanish settlers brought the apricot to various regions of Mexico and seedlings were planted in the California missions in the 18th century.

Most people eat apricots canned or dried but fresh apricots right off the tree are truly delicious!

The apricot is not well adapted to the climate of the eastern United States. The name “apricot” comes from the Latin “praecoquum” meaning “early ripe”. It blooms very early in the spring and blossoms are often killed by spring frosts. Also, in warm, rainy weather the fruit tends to crack and decay. Commercial growing in the United States is confined mainly to California but also grown in Washington, Oregon and Utah. That being said, my trees do just fine in our Philadelphia area climate. They were bought as dwarf trees and are currently approaching 20 feet in height prior to annual pruning.

Don’t plant apricots near members of the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) due to the transmission of certain diseases. Also, it is a good idea to keep them away from melons and berries. Amend our normally clay soil with “Soil Perfector” or pine fines to create better drainage.

Trees should be one year old, planted early in the spring while still dormant, if possible. They are deep rooted and need to be watered really well. Don’t fertilize much, if at all. A low nitrogen, balanced fertilizer like fish emulsion is ideal after they have been in the ground their first year. All varieties need to go through a freezing period during dormancy.

The trees generally drop some fruit on their own before summer but thinning is recommended. Fruit should be thinned to about 3″ apart when they are small.

Head back the top of the trees when they reach the desired height. The trees grow wider than they do high so prune so that the branches are open, allowing air and sun to reach the inner branches of the tree.

Fruit can be harvested after three years and should be picked when ripe and can be removed with no effort. There are many varieties available. Most are self polinating but two different varieties will help in fruit production.

My trees are ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’, planted in the spring of 2010. They have produced fruit beautifully for the past three years with no maintenance other than a bit of pruning to keep them from getting too tall and wide.

Some other dwarf fruit trees that can also be planted this spring include sweet cherries, Bing cherry, nectarines, peaches, plum, pears and Asian pear. Do not forget apple trees, which are also available in dwarf varieties. Many of these dwarf trees have shallow root systems so they may require staking when young. All should be mulched year-round and heavily through the winter. The mulch not only protects the roots and crown from winter injury but also helps retain moisture and keeps weeds from competing with the tree.

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