How to Care for an Apricot Tree
Apricot trees produce some of the most versatile fruits. Eat the sweet golden globes right off the tree, make jam or dry them for future use. Proper watering, timely pruning and the thinning of immature fruit are great ways to ensure maximum harvest from your tree and keep it healthy.
Apricots (Prunus armeniaca), suited to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, are members of the Rosaceae family. Common varieties include the 'Wilson Delicious," the 'Zaiglo' Stark Golden Glo and the 'Homedale' Stark Sweetheart.
All three prefer full sun and planting in a sheltered location in moderately moist soil. A good spot is on the south side of a home on slightly sloping ground to assure good drainage. The flowers bloom in April, which can make it challenging to grow apricots in areas that are subject to late frosts. All three varieties grow to between 8 and 10 feet tall with a spread of 8 to 10 feet. These apricots are self-fruiting. Even if you have a solitary tree, it will bear fruit.
Watering Your Apricot
Apricots need a consistent source of water during the growing season to maximize fruit yield. The current crop will have larger, more succulent fruits and the moisture will help strengthen the buds for the next year's yield.
- For mature trees, water every 10 to 14 days if there's been no rain. Let it soak into the soil but don't let the water pool around the tree trunk because it can cause root rot. Trees just getting established need more frequent watering, particularly during the first year.
- If your area gets lots of moisture during winter and spring, you may only have to water the mature apricot three to four times from summer into fall.
Pruning Your Apricot
Pruning apricots not only maintains the tree's shape, it maximizes fruit yield. Spurs first develop on year-old branches and they produce fruit for up to four years. Cutting away older wood encourages new branch growth, and new spurs.
- Wait until the fruit has fallen, usually by late August, before pruning. This timing also allows the cuts to heal before the winter season. Allow at least six weeks between pruning and the usual start of the rainy season in your area.
- Dead or diseased branches should be trimmed away, especially those that droop down from the main stem in the tree's center. By keeping the crown thinned, more sunlight reaches the remaining branches, improving photosynthesis, the process by which plants manufacture their food. The extra sugars produced by photosynthesis help make the fruit sweeter.
Maximizing the Harvest
Since apricots flower so early, usually in April, there's always the danger of a late frost damaging your crop. Some people try to minimize the damage by covering the trees with blankets or even a frame covered with burlap, sometimes with the addition of a heat source.
Another way to maximize the harvest is to thin out the fruit. The flowers grow in clusters and if every one produces an apricot, there's not enough room for the maturing fruits. If there is no frost damage, it's up to the grower to pull off some of the immature fruits so the remaining apricots grow larger and sweeter. Late May is the best time to thin in most climates.
In mild climates, apricots ripen in July. In cooler areas, fruits should be ready by August. Not all fruits on the tree ripen at the same time. Ripe apricots are an orange-yellow hue, are a bit soft to the touch, and have a sweet scent.
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus armeniaca 'Wilson Delicious'
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus armeniaca 'Zaiglo' STARK GOLDEN GLO
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus armeniaca 'Homedale' STARK SWEETHEART
- National Gardening Associations: Care for Apricots
- Utah State University: Apricot, The Versatile Fruit
- University of California, Davis, UCIPM: Pruning