Planning the crop
Apricots don’t like acid soil: improve alkalinity by spreading 60g lime per square metre in late autumn or winter each year, or dig in mushroom compost or poultry manure. If the soil is heavy, put a layer of rubble at the bottom of the planting hole.
Varieties– Moorpark, Trevatt, Story, Hunter and Riverbrite are the most reliable – all are excellent for drying. Moorpark, Blenheim, Earlicot, Supergold and Katy are very good for fresh eating.
Choose two- or three-year-old trees, which should produce fruit in their fourth year. Plant bare-rooted trees from late autumn to early spring and containerised trees all year round if weather and soil conditions are suitable. Apricots are usually self-pollinating. Despite this, it is best to plant two different varieties that will flower at the same time.
Training– Apricots are pruned like other stone fruits but are more vulnerable to bacterial canker and other diseases that enter via pruning wounds. So they are pruned in late winter to early spring or some time after harvesting (commonly in February), when wounds will heal over as rapidly as possible. Prune back new growth (it is a lighter colour) by a third. Cut out any long vertical branches and any old non-productive spurs. Apricots bear fruit on spurs, the ripened wood that bears for up to four years. Without regular pruning, new wood is not forced into growth and production suffers in later years. Pruning of apricots aims to balance stimulating the growth of new wood with retaining fruit-producing ripe wood. By pruning apricots in February, sufficient new growth is produced during autumn and hardened off over winter to ensure the following season’s crop while minimising disease attack.
Feeding and watering– To promote growth after pruning, feed the trees with poultry manure, but keep it away from the trunk. This manure’s high pH helps meet apricots’ preference for neutral to alkaline soil. Fertilise again in spring. Using compost as a mulch should provide adequate nutrition. But if the foliage looks pale, supplement with a pelleted slow-release organic fertiliser. Water the tree deeply and regularly to help promote a burst of new growth before the weather cools. Conserve water by applying a mulch of compost in spring.
Protecting the crop– Apricots tolerate temperatures below 0°C and are hardier than peaches. But they flower early, and late spring frosts can damage the blossom and greatly reduce fruit yield. Plant the trees on an open site away from any frost hollow. If a protective frost cover is used at night, remember to remove it each morning to allow for bee pollination. It is possible to crosspollinate flowers with a small brush. Apricots can set too much fruit. When some varieties do this, they may then drop their entire crop to conserve energy. To prevent this happening, the fruit crop is usually thinned. You can do this after the first natural fruit drop, while fruits are still small and green. Leave 5–10 cm between fruit. Those that remain will mature to a good size.
Pests and diseases
The most significant disease problem is bacterial canker. Brown rot, peach leaf curl and gummosis, or oozing sap, may also occur. The most common pests are scale, codling moth, borers, fruit fly, aphids, scale insects and ants.
Harvesting and storing
A tree’s fruits ripen unevenly over three weeks. Leave them on the tree to develop their full colour, flavour and ripe texture. When picked fully ripe, they come away from the tree easily. Handle gently to prevent bruising. In districts with reliably hot, dry summers, preserve excess fruit by sun-drying. Cut fruit in half and lay out in the sun, covered with netting to deter flies, until dark and dried.