It is a great delight to grow apricots and look after apricot trees. It is a very amenable type of fruit and fairly easy to grow. Here I provide some tips from practical experience.
1. An apricot tree has to be on a South facing wall and the planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes, number 3, soil-based tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not subject to a leak in the gutter above it.
2. Fix large-size shelf brackets onto the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. You can use this to fasten the double layer of fleece each year as soon as the first flower begins to open. At that moment, cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow off the fleece at any time. It has to stay in position until the middle of May. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, so that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to fungal diseases such as “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.
3. The tree loves organic matter around its base, but not touching the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, to keep grass and weeds away from around the trunk area.
4. Never let the tree struggle for moisture.
5. Thin the young fruitlets when the size of a large pea and space them to at least 4 to 6 inches apart.
6. It will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length. Shorter is possible but more summer pruning is necessary. NEVER prune the tree during the winter months but always when there is a full canopy of leaves. Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August and flavour has developed well.
Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/flickr.com
7. One has to be aware of the fact that over-cropping 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
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.
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Apricot Fan Training
Here are the instructions for fan training an apricot tree:
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 to prevent bacterial canker infection.
Select 2 shoots on either side.
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut back the original side branches and the extra 4, by about a third of their length.
Continue to feed well (slow release fertilizer, Osmacote or the equivalent).
February/March of the following year
Select the final 2 branches.
Carry out the same procedure as in the previous year.
After cropping (August), cut out the wood that carried a crop. Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Develop fruit spurs.
Apricot crops best on younger wood, but it does crop on the older spurs.
Never prune plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarine during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This to avoid disease build-up.
Espalier training of apricots
Follow instructions and recommendations as published here.