How to grow and care for an apricot tree

Apricots ripening on the tree. Getty Images

Apricot trees produce delicious fruit in summer and growing your own means the fruit can be enjoyed when sweet and meltingly ripe, unlike shop-bought fruit which must be harvested early to be transported while firm. Apricot trees can be grown successfully outside in warmer parts of the UK, notably the south-east of England. Elsewhere, because the beautiful pink blossom is borne in early spring and is therefore liable to frost damage, only grow apricots in a large pot and keep it under cover for the colder months. When planted in the right conditions, an apricot tree should start producing fruit within two or three years and should live for decades.

Only one tree is needed to produce fruit as apricots are self-fertile, bearing male and female flowers on the same tree. Generally, apricot trees are relatively high maintenance because the blossom usually needs protecting from frost in late winter, then in summer the fruit needs protection from birds and wasps in order to ripen fully on the tree, which gives the best flavour and texture.

Apricot tree size and rootstocks

Apricot trees vary considerably in size from as little as 1.2m in height up to 5m, according to the type of rootstock they are grafted on to.

Grow an apricot either as a free-standing bushy tree or train as a fan against a wall. Ready-grown fan trained trees are available to buy, though are expensive.

How to grow an apricot tree

Grow apricots in fertile soil in a sunny, sheltered site in the ground or grow compact varieties in a large pot. Water and feed in spring, hand-pollinate the flowers if growing under cover, and thin out overcrowded or misshapen fruits when small. Protect the ripening fruit from birds and wasps using fine mesh, then harvest in summer, when the fruit easily detaches from the tree.


Where to plant an apricot tree

To fruit successfully, apricots need a period of winter cold, a warm dry spring and a hot summer, so it’s important to give them the conditions they need. In warmer, drier regions of the UK you can grow apricot trees outdoors, preferably in a sunny, sheltered spot such as in front of a wall. Avoid low-lying sites (known as ‘frost pockets’) where cold air gathers. Apricot tree leaves are deciduous so when siting, bear in mind the tree will be bare over winter.

In colder areas or less favourable sites, choose a compact or dwarf apricot tree to grow in a large pot and keep in a greenhouse or conservatory.

Soil for growing apricot trees needs to be fertile, rich in organic matter and free draining. Neutral to alkaline soil is best for apricots, with a pH of 6.5 to 8.


How to plant an apricot tree

Firming soil around a newly planted tree
Firming soil around a newly planted tree

Planting during the dormant season is best for trees to establish, although container grown trees may be planted at any time of year if kept regularly watered for the rest of the growing season.

In the ground, dig a planting hole sufficiently wide for the roots to be spread out. Ensure the top of the root ball is at soil level by placing a cane across the top of the planting hole. Backfill the soil around the roots, firm in well, water in, and mulch the soil surface with compost or chipped bark to improve moisture retention and discourage weed growth. Stake the tree with a short stake angled at 45 degrees and secured to the trunk using a tree tie.

To plant a compact-growing apricot tree in a pot, choose a large container (minimum 45cm high and wide) and made of a heavy material – this helps prevent the top-heavy plant from toppling over. Plant using a soil-based potting compost mixed with a quarter by volume of coarse grit or perlite.


How to care for an apricot tree

Fixing a supporting stake around an apricot tree
Fixing a supporting stake around an apricot tree

Watering

During the first full growing season, keep the tree watered during dry spells, watering thoroughly once every few days which encourages deep roots to develop. Keep the ground around the base clear of grass and weeds for at least a one-metre circle to avoid competition for water and nutrients.

Water regularly during dry spells in spring and early summer, particularly where trees grow against walls where the soil is likely to be drier and is often sheltered from much of the rainfall.

Pot-grown apricots must be watered regularly throughout their lives. Ensure surplus water drains away freely by standing the pot on gravel or raising just off the ground.

Feeding

Annually, in late winter, feed an apricot tree with a general fertilizer which is high in potassium (potash).

Pollination

Pollination of outdoor-growing trees is done by bees which are attracted to the nectar-rich flowers. Under cover, apricot blossom is less likely to be visited by insects so hand pollination is safest to ensure fruit set, using a small paint brush to transfer pollen from one bloom to another.

Fruit thinning

When an apricot tree starts to produce a heavy crop of fruits, thin them once they reach the size of a marble. First take out any poorly shaped fruits, then thin the remainder so they are spaced around 8cm apart.

Flower and fruit protection

During flowering, protect outdoor-growing apricots with frost fleece overnight, removing during the day for insects to access flowers.

As fruits start to ripen, the crop entices wasps and birds. Protect with fine mesh so the fruit ripens fully on the tree.

How and when to prune an apricot tree

Pruning an apricot tree. Getty Images
Pruning an apricot tree. Getty Images

Once established, only fan-trained apricot trees need regular pruning to maintain their shape and keep growth close to the wall. Bush trees only need pruning to remove dead, damaged, and overcrowded growth. Apricot trees mostly fruit on two and three-year-old wood. Prune apricot trees in late spring.


Pests and diseases of apricots

Apricot diseases include bacterial canker, silver leaf, blossom wilt, and brown rot. These can largely be prevented bt growing your apricot tree in the right site and soil, and pruning in either spring or summer. If disease occurs, prune off and dispose of the infected shoots.


Advice on buying apricot trees

Apricot trees are mostly sold during November-March whilst dormant although container grown trees are sold all year, when available. Bare rooted trees are grown in nursery fields and can only be transplanted whilst dormant, which is why the planting season is limited to the winter period

Where to buy apricot trees

Apricot varieties to grow

The best apricot trees for the UK are those which have been bred for cooler climates, such as ‘Flavorcot’™ and Tomcot.

Apricot ‘Flavorcot’™ has sweet, well-flavoured fruit that ripens in August. Height x Spread: 2.5m x 2.5m

‘Tomcot’ bears very large fruit of good flavour, in late July. H x S: 4m x 3m

‘Sibley’s Patio Apricot Flavourcot’ and ‘Sibley’s Patio Apricot Tomcot’ are produced using special grafting techniques so the tree remains dwarf, at around 1.2-1.8m high. H x S: 1.2m x 1.2m

‘Moorpark’ is an old variety originally introduced in the 17th century that bears very large, well flavoured fruit in late August. Still widely grown today, although it is prone to diseases. H x S: 4m x 2.5m

‘Golden Glow’ is a British-bred variety that copes well with damper conditions, bearing good crops of fruit in early August. H x S: 3.5m x 2.5m

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Composting

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