Apricots are a popular stone-fruit, useful for eating fresh and cooking.
How to choose Apricot trees
Apricots trees belong to the species Prunus armeniaca, and originate from central Asia, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Most commercial production takes place in Turkey, southern Europe, and California.
Apricots have excellent nutritional and medicinal properties, and contain more concentrations of beneficial compounds than most other fruit. They are one of the best natural sources of Vitamin A.
Apricot trees are easy to grow in warm climates but can be a more challenging in the temperate climates of northern Europe. The main problem is not winter cold - all Apricots are very hardy - but inconsistent and variable weather, especially in late autumn and early spring, and too much rain. Apricot trees prefer a simple regime of cold dry winters (with at least 500-700 hours below 5 degrees centigrade) and hot dry sunny summers. They do not like either the cold of winter or the heat of summer to be interrupted, and mild weather in late autumn or cold weather in late spring can be a challenge for them.
The other main challenge is frost injury to the blossom, because apricots flower very early in the spring, before there are many pollinating insects about. Keen gardeners will also use frost fleeces on nights when frost is forecast, to avoid frost damage to the blossom. It also helps to choose a sloping site where cold air can drain downhill away from the tree.
The main disease of apricot trees is bacterial canker. This disease is favoured by mild wet weather over the autumn and winter, and trees are especially susceptible if the late autumn weather is too warm. You can reduce the risk of infection by making sure the planting area is well-drained. Sites where standing water can accumulate over winter should be avoided. In addition, try to keep the rain off them, particularly over the autumn and winter (this helps prevent bacterial canker infections).
Apricots are among the earliest fruit trees to flower. The apricot blossom season lasts for about 3-4 weeks, starting in late February. The flowering periods of most varieties overlap to a greater or lesser extent, with only the very earliest (e.g. Flavorcot) and very latest (e.g. Bergeron) not likely to overlap. There is a gap of several weeks between the blossom finishing and the new leaves starting to emerge.
All apricots are self-fertile, and you only need to plant one tree to get a crop. However planting two trees (each of a different variety) will often produce heavier crops, as well as spreading the risk of frost damage.
Keep pruning to a minimum, and where it is necessary to prune, only do so in late spring when thinning the fruitlets, or just after picking.
Like plums, apricots may sometimes over-crop, particularly if the spring weather has been good. If this happens then be sure to thin the fruitlets - the ones that remain will be bigger and more flavoursome as a result. Tree-ripened home-grown apricots have a rich fruity flavour that is far better than shop-bought examples.
Apricots will readily inter-breed with plums and cherries, and a number of new hybrid or inter-specific apricots have been developed.