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How to Prune an Apricot Tree in California

Apricots are nearly synonymous with California, which produces 95 percent of the United States' apricot crop, according to the California Apricot Council. This small stone fruit can be cooked for jam, baked into pies and tarts or eaten fresh. Apricot trees should be pruned annually to ensure optimal tree health and to create both light and air circulation in the tree canopy, which ripens fruit and reduces fungal and bacterial disease. Prune young trees to develop shape and all trees to encourage health and new growth.

Harvest your apricots when they are ripe and hold off on pruning until you've completed your harvesting. According to the California Apricot Council, the fruits ripen from May to July throughout Northern California and May to August in Southern California.

Check your apricot tree for dead or diseased growth, which will be discolored or marred. Prune away any dead or diseased growth using pruning shears, cutting the growth off at its base. In between each cut, sanitize your pruners with a disinfectant spray.

Choose three to four limbs on your one- to three-year-old apricot tree to serve as scaffold limbs, or main fruiting branches. Good scaffold limbs will be evenly spaced around the tree and strong; avoid choosing weak limbs. Cut back scaffold limbs to a length of 24 to 30 inches.

Trim off all branches that compete with your scaffold limbs, using lopping shears. This reduces crowding, cuts down on shade and improves light and air circulation through the tree. Remove any suckers that grow off the apricot tree's trunk. At this point your tree should be trained into shape; pruning in subsequent years focuses on maintaining that shape. Wait until the next summer to continue pruning the tree.

Remove dead or diseased growth in the same manner as you did the previous year, after harvest. Remove poor growing wood, such as thin shoots (the size of a pencil), downward-growing branches and wood that crosses over other branches. Strip away vertically-growing branches since they shade the tree.

Eliminate any branches that compete with the scaffold limbs by cutting them off at their intersection with the trunk. Avoid cutting into the swollen tissue where the trunk meets the limb, called the collar.

Select one to two strong shoots on each scaffold limb and trim these back to 24 to 30 inches. Prune off any other shoots. Allow the tree to grow until the following summer.

Repeat Steps 5 through 7 each year.

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