Days to germination: Not readily grown for seeds or pits
Days to harvest: About 3 years until full harvest
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Once established, water during dry weather
Soil: Well-drained soil
Container: Dwarf varieties work fine
Apricots are a fairly hardy fruit tree that can be grown successfully between zones 4 and 9, though there are some varieties that can make it in zone 3 (such as Westcot). Apricot trees will grow to about 30 feet in height, and can keep producing fruit for you and your family for up to 50 years.
You can eat apricots fresh and raw, cooked and they are one of the more popular dried fruits too. In fact, there are more dried apricots on the market than there are fresh ones. They have vitamins A and C as well as fiber for your diet.
Starting Your Tree
Most apricot trees from a nursery will be one or two years old. If it’s a two-year old seedling, it should have at least 4 solid branches on it. Anything less would mean its not thriving well.
You will want to plant your tree in a location that gets a full day’s sun, and has very well-draining soil. You should allow for about 25 feet around your tree for growth. Apricot trees are self-fertile, which means that you will get a full harvest of fruit even if you only plant one single tree.
Plant your seedling first thing in the spring. Dig a large hole, a bit bigger than the root ball on your tree and gently plant it. Fill in around the roots with compost as well as any extra soil. To keep competition to a minimum, weed around the tree for the first year or add a good layer of mulch at least 3 feet around the base of the seedling. Also water it regularly for that first year as well.
Right after planting, you should trim back your tree to encourage new growth. If it’s a one-year tree, just prune it down to a height of 3 feet. A 2-year seedling with branches should have each branch cut back by about a third and remove the central leading branch entirely. A more open-growing tree will allow more light to all the branches, which will benefit your future fruit production.
As the tree grows, you should continue a regular pruning regimen. Keep the center of the tree open, and always prune out any dead branches. Suckers or water sprouts also should be pruned off. They are easy to distinguish from regular branches because they tend to grow straight up, and are green rather than woody. You also need to cut out any branches that are growing downwards, and any that rub against another branch. These few tips should be enough to get you started with pruning basics. If you can find a demonstration at your local garden center, even better.
Once your trees start to set fruit, you should try to thin them down to maximize the final size of your apricots. More fruit isn’t necessarily better. No apricots should be closer than 2 to 3 inches to each other. Any clusters should be thinned once they start to from. Otherwise, you will have a huge number of really small fruits.
There are some varieties of apricots that are dwarf (or at least have been grafted to a dwarf rootstock) and are suitable for container growing. Good ones are Garden Annie and Stark Golden Glow. They’ll produce about a bushel of fruit each year.
Depending on the variety, you’ll need a very large container like a half barrel. Add extra stone before filling with soil to increase drainage. Water your potted tree during any dry spells or when the soil is very dry to the touch.
Pests and Diseases
Like all fruit trees, there are many potential threats to your trees. For the most part, once a tree reaches full size, it is strong enough to withstand a lot of insect damage so not all pests warrant an immediate response from you.
Peach twig borer may prefer peach trees, but it will be happy with apricots any day. The moths lay their eggs on the growing twigs of your tree, and the hatched larvae will tunnel into the branch and kill the new growth. If they hatch after the fruit has set, they can damage your new apricots as well. Aphids and earwigs can make a home in your tree as well. Treating your entire tree in the very early spring with dormant oil can help with insect pests and prevent any previously laid insect eggs from hatching.
Brown rot and blossom blight are two fungus problems that can effect apricots. If you see discolored flowers or leaves, trim them out immediately and spray your tree with fungicide. Clear away any dropped branches or leaves from around the tree to help prevent any re-infection.
Harvest and Storage
An average harvest for a mature tree is 3 to 5 bushels of fruit each year. You should start to pick your apricots when they are starting to soften on the tree, though unripe fruit can ripen in a windowsill after picking. Apricots can ripen over a period of several weeks, so more than one pass at harvesting will probably be required to get them all.
Fresh apricots can store in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, but you can keep your fruit longer if you freeze them. Cut them open to remove the pit (don’t skip this step or you will have bitter fruit), and store in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. They may brown slightly, so you should treat the fresh fruit with either lemon juice or ascorbic acid solution before you freeze them.
And of course, you can also dry apricots. Again, slice in half to remove the hard pits and dry thoroughly in a dehydrator. Drying in the sun can result in pretty tough apricots. They shouldn’t be dried to a crisp, but they should be leathery when done. Store either at room temperature (but away from the light) or in the fridge for 6 months or more.