Apricots: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

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Apricots are beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat, especially when harvested fresh off the tree. The trees can also be lovely centerpieces in a yard, with their abundant spring blossoms and attractive foliage.

About apricots
Apricots can be a challenge to grow in cold regions because the trees bloom early and the flowers are often killed by late frosts. If you garden in the north, choose late-blooming varieties. Although most apricots are self-fertile, fruit set is better when planted with one or two other varieties nearby. Trees will start bearing in the third or fourth season. Expect 3 to 4 bushels of fruit from a standard-size tree, 1 to 2 from a dwarf variety.

Choosing a site to grow apricots
Choose a site in full sun. Northern growers should put trees on the north side of a building so trees warm up as late as possible in the spring. Apricot trees do well in a wide range of well-drained soils.

Planting Instructions
Plant new trees in early spring; fall planting in mild areas can be successful if trees are dormant. Buy dormant, bare-root, 1-year-old trees, if possible.

Set bare-root trees atop a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole, and spread the roots down and away without unduly bending them. Identify original planting depth by finding color change from dark to light as you move down the trunk towards the roots. If the tree is grafted, position the inside of the curve of the graft union away from the afternoon sun.

For container-grown trees, remove the plant from its pot and eliminate circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and cutting through the roots with shears. Don't cover the top of the root-ball with backfill because it could prevent water from entering.

Space standard-size trees about 25 feet apart; plant genetic dwarfs 8 to 12 feet apart.

Ongoing Care
Where apricots are easily grown, train to an open center. For colder areas use a modified central leader. Prune bearing trees annually to encourage new fruiting spurs. When fruits are 1 inch in diameter, thin to 3 to 4 fruits per cluster to increase the size of remaining apricots and prevent over bearing one year, little the next. Apricots are subject to a number of different disease and insect pests, depending on region. Contact your cooperative extension office for information on managing pests in your area.

How to harvest apricots
Harvesting peaks in July in mild areas and in August in colder ones. The picking season is short. Pick when fruits are fully colored and skin gives slightly when pressed.

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