Some 5000 years ago, Apricots were cultivated in China. Eventually, they were brought along the ancient trading “Silk Route” from China to Armenia where they were cultivated for many centuries. Subsequently, it is believed that the Romans introduced Apricots to Europe.
They are not an easy crop to grow in the UK, let alone the North, but there are some new hybrids available that are claimed to be suitable for cooler, wetter climates. While it is possible to grow them outdoors against a wall in a sunny sheltered spot in the South of the UK, in the North to get a reliable crop of fruit it will almost certainly need some extra protection from glass or plastic, especially during the flowering period and then to ripen the fruit in the Autumn.
Apricots are Winter hardy and are alleged to be able to withstand temperatures as low as -30 C in ideal cold and dry conditions. In the cold and wet conditions that we get in the UK, I suspect that a maximum of -20 C would be more appropriate. They require a cold period in the Winter for proper dormancy.
The biggest problem is said to be Spring frost, which can easily kill the very early flowers and prevent fruiting. Some protection against the frosts at this time is almost certain to be necessary. This could be provided by a greenhouse or by fleece protection. Although Apricots are usually self-fertile, hand pollination with a fine brush will still be necessary as very few insects will be flying early in the year during February and March. Fruit is carried on both one year old shoots and older spurs.
They require a hot summer to ripen the fruit, and some protection to achieve this will be necessary, especially in the Autumn. It will not be easy to grow Apricots, but if you like a challenge, then these new Canadian varieties with registered trademark names, offer the chance of success. It must be said that some reports of growing these cultivars even in the South of the UK, are not very encouraging with poor cropping and Winter die-back.
Available varieties claimed to be suitable for cold, wet climates.
Apricot Delicot. Similar to Flavourcot but with a more delicate flavour. Self-fertile.
Apricot Flavourcot. Claimed to produce huge crops of large egg-sized orange / red fruits. Claimed to be late flowering and thus the flowers are not killed by the frosts. Self-fertile.
Apricot Goldcot. Claimed to produce good crops of medium to large freestone golden-yellow fruit. Self-fertile.
Apricot Lillicot. This is claimed to be a late flowering, but early fruiting variety ( 3-4 weeks before Flavourcot). Self-fertile.
Apricot Perle Cot. Claimed to be early cropping with good taste. Requires pollination partner Flavour Cot.
Apricot Tomcot. Claimed to have large fruits with a red blush on an orange background, with a sweet, aromatic flavour.
Moorpark is the traditional variety recommendation for the South of the UK.
The Apricots are usually supplied as “feathered maidens” and will take several years to start fruiting.
Assuming that your Apricots will require to be under glass or polythene for some of their growth cycle, it is necessary to consider how big they will grow, and how they will be trained. If it is intended to grow them in very large pots so that they can be moved from a protected area, such as a greenhouse or conservatory, to a sheltered spot outside, the Apricot will need to be grown on a dwarfing rootstock. ( A skateboard might come in handy to move large pots! ). Therefore remember to check very carefully which rootstock the Apricot is going to be grafted onto, before you buy. Different suppliers may use different rootstocks for the same varieties.
Rootstocks for Apricots.
St. Julien “A”. This is the usual rootstock for Apricots grown outside. A bush tree will grow to 3.5 to 4.5 m high with trees spaced at 3.5 m, while if grown as a fan trained tree, it will require a space of 3.5 m wide by 2 m high. This makes the trees far too big to move around.
Torrinel, a semi-dwarfing rootstock. This rootstock is claimed to produce a medium sized tree of 2 to 2.5 m high, which could be suitable for a small garden or pot culture.
Myrobalan. There seems to be differing opinions as to the eventual size of apricots grown on the Myrobalan rootstock, but one supplier has now quoted a height of 5 m, which is only suitable for trees in an orchard.
Suitable soils. Deep, slightly alkaline loam is most suitable. Try and avoid heavy soils, as this may encourage dieback. The trees should be staked securely for the first few years.
Watering of trees. If growing in pots, take great care to maintain a regular supply of moisture, or the trees will suffer from bud and fruit drop.
Feeding of trees. In February, about 30 g/sq m of sulphate of potash, and the same of nitro-chalk (calcium ammonium nitrate), with 70 g/sq m of superphosphate every 3 years.
Fruit thinning. This should be carried out when the fruits are hazelnut sized, removing very small and misshapen fruits first. The aim should be to leave the fruits about 8 cm apart. Make sure that you promptly remove any fruits affected by brown rot.
Pruning. Remove any old, diseased or crossing wood, and try and maintain a good open shape of tree. Do not prune during the Winter as there is a danger of infection.
Disease and pest problems.
“Apricot dieback”. There are frequent reports of leaves, shoots and branches dying back. This is thought to be usually caused by fungi or frost damage. Any such dieback should be cut out with sterilised secateurs and the cut areas painted with a protective compound.
Bacterial canker can be a problem, particularly in the early years of the tree. Infection occurs during Autumn and Winter, but the first signs appear in the Spring when gum oozing cankers appear on the branches. In all cases of such disease, the affected lengths of diseased branches should be cut out with sterilised secateurs, as soon as possible and burnt. Cut areas should be painted with a protective compound such as Arbrex. Do not prune during the Winter to avoid access to disease causing spores.
Prevention of these diseases, can be helped by spraying the trees with Bordeaux mixture or copper oxchloride (copper fungicide), in the Autumn and the Spring. Particularly in the early years, disease will be reduced by keeping the trees covered by glass or plastic.
Leaf marking and distortion, particularly where the apricot is grown under cover, could be caused by aphid and spider mite attack. If it is serious, spray with a suitable pesticide.
Apricots will be ripe for eating fresh when they are fully coloured and separate easily from the branch. They will keep for a week or two in the fridge.
They should be picked under-ripe for jams, cooking and bottling.
While I have not heard of these trees being on sale in the UK, they are also known as “interspecific” hybrids, being crosses between related but different types of fruit. An aprium is a hybrid being 75% apricot and 25% plum. Apparently, it looks and tastes like an apricot with a touch of plum flavour, and was developed Floyd Zaiger in California.