The range for growing apricots (Prunus armeniaca) is limited. While most grow well in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, they are fussy about their growth requirements. North Carolina falls in USDA zones 6b and 8a, but possesses little of the ideal climate for optimum apricot growth. Apricots bloom very early, but average last frost dates in North Carolina fall well into mid-spring. Apricots prefer more temperate, drier climates, while summers in North Carolina are often hot and humid. Careful selection of apricot varieties is key to successfully growing them in North Carolina.
One problem with growing apricots in North Carolina is the level of humidity the region experiences. When growing in these situations, apricots are prone to a number of fungal diseases and may become stressed enough that they don't produce fruit. Areas like Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte, on average, have high morning humidity but much of it dissipates by late afternoon. Areas like Cape Hatteras remain fairly humid all day. In these areas, select varieties that are disease-resistant.
Apricots bloom early in the season. Certain varieties begin blooming as early as February. The average last frost date for most areas of North Carolina is April 1, with the exception of Wilmington, with an average last frost date of March 21. Areas around Asheville, Durham and Winston-Salem have average late frost dates even later in the season, on about April 11. Frosts will kill the flowers that produce the fruits. Some gardeners intent on growing apricots in such regions cover the blooming tree with a blanket and place a warm light beneath it to protect blooms. Choosing late-blooming varieties increases the chance of success.
Apricots are delicate and prone to heat damage. Apricots growing under extreme heat conditions are subject to pit burn, a condition that causes the fruits to soften and turn brown around the pits. This often occurs in areas that reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit for several days in a row. Areas around Fayetteville may have as many as 120 days over 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and a number of areas average 90 days of such heat. Asheville, however, rarely sees temperatures higher than 86 degrees, and areas around Greensboro average one to two months at that heat level. Select varieties resistant to pit burn for areas with higher heat.
In light of the humidity, heat and late frost dates found in North Carolina, growing apricots is a challenge. Certain apricots are resistant to damage caused by these environments but seldom is one variety resistant to all three. For example, some varieties, such as "Harglow" and "Harcot," both hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, are disease-resistant and bloom late, while "Brittany Gold," hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9, flowers midseason and has proven more resistant to heat damage. Selecting the right apricot will give you a better chance at success.