Growing Apricots – Expert Advice
Of all the fruits, in my opinion, a freshly-gathered ripe apricot is the finest fruit of all. Inclement weather, cold winds and frost in early spring are the only deterrents to growing apricots as first class specimens and, given suitable conditions, the apricot can fruit from one end of the country to the other. In the south and up to the midlands, they can actually be grown as standards in the open garden. However, as a general guide, the shelter of a wall insures a reliable and good crop.
As a rule, experience has shown that, when growing apricots, they succeed best on west walls in southern England, south walls in the midlands and an angled south and west shelter for northern gardens. The objection to an eastern exposure is that the early morning sun reaching the flowering trees will cause failure if the blossom is even slightly frosted. They are excellent subjects for a cold greenhouse, porch or conservatory and can be very successfully grown in plastic tubs about l4 in in diameter.
Incidentally, apricots come reliably true from seed and can be grown and trained from the stones. They are generally in three forms, dwarf fan trained, tall fan trained and cordons and it is these trained forms that you are likely to buy. If you are growing apricots yourself from seed, then you can use standards for sheltered gardens. Because they have fallen so much out of favour, goodness knows why, the choice of varieties is very limited and most fruit nurseries only offer a few varieties. Moor Park is the most common and has been with us for some 200 years. It can be grown practically anywhere in the country. This has large roundish orange yellow fruits which turn brownish red on the sunny side. The flavour is superb, very juicy and rich and the tree comes into bearing early in September.
Thefor growing apricots as well as for peaches and nectarines, to which all the following cultural conditions apply just as well, should be a well-drained medium loam; avoid extremes although heavy soils can be ameliorated by adding grit and old mortar rubble. Sandy soils can be made more retentive by adding clay.
Under good conditions, fan-trained trees can cover a large area and 18 to 20 ft should be allowed, although if you have a long wall the spaces can be filled in temporarily with cordons planted 2 ft apart. Even when grown from seed they can quickly furnish a wall. The best time to plant is from the middle of September to the end of November, whilst the soil is still warm enough because, like most members of this family, they make an early start. Apricots, together with other members of the family like almonds, bloom early in the year, often in March, so even in the most favourable of districts provision should be made for the protection of the blossom. This is not as difficult as it sounds as a double thickness of ordinary fruit netting hung in front will suffice. Next time you are visiting an old walled garden you may see brackets projecting about 18 inches from the top of the wall and wonder what purpose they serve. These were used to suspend nets in front of trained fruit trees to protect the blossom from frost and later the fruit from birds.
Provision must be made for training the branches and, as with any other wall-trained tree or shrub, this is best done by affixing battens permanently to the wall and leading wires through vine eyes screwed into the battens at about 9 inch intervals. This allows air to pass up behind the trees and is essential on a south-facing wall as in summer these walls can get hot enough to cause damage. It also reduces the risk of red spider mite which loves hot dry conditions and, to a lesser degree, peach leaf curlwhich rest and overwinter on the wall.
Apricots and peaches bear their fruit on the shoots of the preceding year’s growth, also on spurs formed on older growths. However, to make sure of fruit being borne, these growths must be well ripened or only wood buds will form. As with any other bud formations the fruit buds are the roundish and plump ones whilst the growth buds are usually farther apart, smaller and pointed. This is where summercomes in because not only are the best placed shoots selected during this operation but they should be tied in to benefit from improved air circulation and exposure to the sun. Actually summer pruning is more important than winter pruning because by the winter it is too late to do anything but cut out the unwanted wood.
Pruning Apricot Trees
The first step in summer, pruning is known as disbudding and simply means the removal of superfluous shoots. Certainly breastwood and little shoots 2 or 3 inches long must be removed. (Breastwood growths are those which come out at right angles to the main fan of the tree.) If done early enough these can be removed with the finger and thumb. The operation includes the selection of the strongest shoots to form future branches and you should lay these in between the older growths. Any that you don’t want to lay in, even if they are strong, should be shortened back to about 4 inches, and this is why the job should be done when they are soft enough to pinch. I never like leaving wood that has to be cut with secateurs. Incidentally, the shoots that you do lay in should not be shortened back. Sometimes a very strong shoot almost like a cane is formed but don’t imagine this is a good thing, cut it right out close to the main branch. Space wood you wish to lay in at about 10 to 12 inch intervals. The initial training after planting is of the utmost importance to secure the frame-work of the tree.
Fan-trained trees are usually bought with about four to six growths when they have had the initial training. When planted and firmed in, take the outer growths and gradually pull them down at right angles to the trunk, that is pointing to nine o’clock and three o’clock. The next pair – one on either side – should be pulled down to within a foot of the first pair. This will leave the centre completely open to be filled up over the next three or four years. The reason for doing this is that after the branches harden and thicken it is impossible to pull them down and you will only get a fraction of the spread of the fan that is so desirable.
Setting the fruit is critical. When growing apricots, the trees should never be allowed to get dry at the roots, theshould always be protected from frost and cold winds and, if the weather is dull, cold and not many insects are moving, you may have to resort to artificial pollination. This can be done by forceful syringing with clear water or touching the blossoms with the traditional rabbit’s tail on the end of a stick.
As soon as the fruits are as big as walnuts, they need to be thinned out to 3 inches apart, and if some set in clusters, then these should be broken up by first removing the biggest fruit and then gradually thinning down to one. Clusters should be thinned out when the fruits are about the size of hazelnuts. Never do this in one operation, it is a progressive job because one may find that some of the small fruitlets will turn yellow and drop off at a touch. This is usually an indication that the roots are dry. Incidentally, the apricot stands up to drought conditions better than any other stone fruit.
Pests and Diseases
Later on as the tree gets older, or if one are trying to tidy up an old neglected tree, one may have to make big cuts. If so paint over any wound with that old, now almost forgotten, remedy Stockholm tar. This old standby has many uses from tarring discs to keep off cabbage root maggot and tarring tow or string to lay alongside carrots.
Silver leaf disease is a danger to apricots, peaches and nectarines especially if there are old trees or neglected orchards in or near the garden. It usually attacks plums, particularly Victoria, all stone fruits and sometimes apples. It is easily recognised by the silvery sheen on the foliage and later the fungus growing on the trunk. July is the deadline for rooting out and burning the diseased trees. Peach leaf curl attacks apricots as well as peaches, nectarines and almonds and it is advisable to give a precautionary spray with lime sulphur in February.
Recommended Varieties of Apricots
Hemskerk, end of July to early August. Orange-yellow, blotched red. Good flavour for eating.
Moorpark, late August to early September. Brown, orange-yellow, largish. Most widely grown variety. Growth may be strong on clay soils.
New Large Early, end of July to early August. Orange, yellow and red. Line flavour. An especially good variety for bottling.
Royal, early August. Orange-red, spotted with purple. Oval. Good variety for dessert.