Apricot trees can produce an abundance of delicious, sweet fruits earlier than many other fruit trees. They can survive relatively cold winters and like warm, dry summers. There are many different types to suit different climates and plot sizes, but how do you take care of an apricot tree? Let’s find out.
What You'll Learn Today
- How Do You Take Care of An Apricot Tree?
- How Much Space Does an Apricot Tree Need?
- How Much Water Does an Apricot Tree Need?
- Does An Apricot Tree Need a Pollinator?
- Does An Apricot Tree Need Full Sun?
- How Do You Protect Apricot Trees from Squirrels and Birds?
- How Do You Protect Apricot Trees from Insect Pests and Diseases?
How Do You Take Care of An Apricot Tree?
If you plant an apricot tree from a pit, as a sapling, or are lucky enough to already have one in your yard, then you’ll need to know how to take good care of it, especially if you want to maximize its fruit yield.
It normally takes around three to four years from planting for an apricot tree to start bearing fruit. So, here’s what you need to know to get a bountiful harvest.
To help improve the health and growth rate of your young apricot tree, it may require feeding. Mature fruit trees don’t generally need any fertilizer added.
To determine if your young tree does require fertilizer, check its annual growth. It should grow 8 to 15 inches per year. Less than this indicates you can apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in early spring before the fruit starts to set.
The quantity of fertilizer required is generally dependent on how long the tree has been planted – more information can be found here.
If your apricot tree is surrounded by a lawn that is regularly fertilized, then you won’t need to add additional fertilizer to the tree.
It can be more beneficial to use a low nitrogen feed, as too much nitrogen encourages excessive leaf growth, reducing fruit production. If this is a problem, you can plant a cover crop around the fruit tree to take up the excess nitrogen.
To fertilize your tree effectively, add special fruit tree spikes around the base of your tree. These can usually be found in your local garden store or online and provide the root system with a gradual and continuous supply of essential nutrients over a long period.
Alternatively, you can dress around the tree’s base with a slow-release fertilizer formula. This usually comes in the form of granules, but be aware that it may be toxic to pets and could be harmful if eaten by children.
It is necessary to remove any diseased or dead branches from your apricot tree to keep it healthy. You also want to cut out any wood that no longer produces fruit or is more than six years old. This should be done in early spring, just before the new growing season begins.
You can also thin out the branches at this time to allow more sunlight to reach the lower parts of the tree. This helps to stop it from sending up new vertical branches to reach the light that can make harvesting fruit difficult and spoil the tree’s appearance.
Thinning out the branches also helps increase air circulation, which is beneficial in the prevention of mold and mildew.
Soft fruit trees like apricots, plums, and peaches are often affected by fungal diseases such as brown rot and bacterial canker.
Brown rot is treated with a fungicide spray, or you can buy special cultivars of apricot trees that are naturally resistant.
Canker is caused by too much water in the soil, so ensure that the area you choose to plant your tree has free-draining ground.
Aphids and peach twig borers are two common pests. Aphids can be controlled using a spray applied to the tree where the insect’s cluster.
Using strong chemical sprays will do the job, but, if like me, you’d rather not ingest these types of pesticides, you can opt for a more natural alternative. For an effective natural spray, I found this recipe you can make yourself at home.
Twig borers can be controlled by applying insecticide before the apricot flowers bloom in early spring and then immediately after the flower petals fall before the fruit starts to grow. You’ll find a range of natural ones at garden stores.
Young trees can easily be destroyed by a strong wind. While your sapling is still growing, it’s a good idea to stake it to help avoid wind damage. This handy video shows you all the dos and don’ts of staking young trees:
When your apricot tree is well established and producing bountiful amounts of fruit, it can be beneficial to thin the excess fruits out. This helps the remaining apricots grow fully and avoids the spread of pests or diseases.
To thin out your fruits, leave the larger ones in place and remove the smaller ones, so there is room for the remaining ones to develop.
When it comes time to harvest your apricots in summer, check if the fruit is ripe by giving it a careful twist. If it drops off its stalk easily, then it’s ripe. Any that don’t come away without effort should be left a little longer.
Fruit left to ripen on the tree is sweeter and juicier than if you pick them before they are fully ripe.
How Much Space Does an Apricot Tree Need?
There are many different cultivars of apricot trees to choose from and they grow in a range of sizes.
Standard trees grow to around 20 or 30 feet in height and will need to have a clear space of between 20 to 25 feet around them to prevent crowding.
Dwarf apricot varieties are more suited to smaller spaces as they grow to around 12 or 15 feet in height and need 12 to 15 feet of space around them.
How Much Water Does an Apricot Tree Need?
When young, your apricot tree will have greater water demands than when it matures. This is because a young tree hasn’t grown any deep roots to reach water-locked deep underground.
When you first plant your young tree, you’ll need to keep the soil around it slightly moist. This can be aided by adding a layer of mulch to the tree’s base, which holds in moisture while still allowing for air circulation.
The roots like to be slightly damp but not wet, as this can cause bacterial canker. The amount of water required will depend on the soil type and weather conditions, as the soil is quickly dried out by sunlight or wind. Less water will be needed after rain.
Using a dripline is an excellent way to water trees. It prevents you from doing it by hand, and because it waters slowly, gives a better result.
Soil should be in a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5.
Does An Apricot Tree Need a Pollinator?
You won’t usually require a pollinator for apricot trees. That said, having other trees within a 300-yard range will provide the opportunity for cross-pollination which can have a very positive effect on fruit yield.
Ideally, you can plant two different cultivars in close proximity, to provide optimum cross-pollination and help increase the amount of fruit produced by each tree.
One reason apricot trees produce low fruit yields is that they are the first fruit trees to bloom. If early spring has been particularly cold, wet, or windy, then pollinating insects don’t get to the blossoms to pollinate them.
To address this issue, some people hand pollinate using a soft brush by dabbing pollen from one flower to another.
Under the right conditions, a mature, standard size tree produces around 150 to 200 pounds of apricots a year, while mature dwarf varieties give between 50 and 100 pounds.
Does An Apricot Tree Need Full Sun?
Always try to plant an apricot tree in full sun, as it will be more productive. The fruit needs sun to ripen.
- Climate & Zones – Apricots thrive in a Mediterranean climate where summers are long, warm, and dry, and winters are short and cold. In the United States, this means that apricot trees do best in Zones 5 through 9, and specific cultivars may be better suited to your area. See our article on “What is the Sweetest Apricot Tree” to discover more.
- Frost & Heat – Although they can withstand summers that reach over 100°F, they cannot survive temperatures below 0°F. Late spring frosts are also problematic, as they often kill the delicate flowers, particularly in non-frost hardy varieties.
- Dormancy – Where winters are warm, it may not get cold enough for the tree to become dormant. Different cultivars of Apricot trees require between 300 and 900 continual hours where the temperature drops to between 32°F and 45°F per year.
Check how many hours your variety needs to ensure they are suitable for your area when purchasing.
- Training – If you live in a region with cool summers, you can plant your apricot tree against a south-facing wall and train the branches along wires in a fan pattern. This will help the tree stay warmer and produce more fruit.
How Do You Protect Apricot Trees from Squirrels and Birds?
It may be beneficial to net young trees to prevent birds from eating the fruits in summer or the buds in winter.
As trees become well-grown and mature, unless you have a severe problem with birds, it won’t usually be necessary to net them. Other deterrents such as bird scarers can be employed instead.
Squirrels can be a real nuisance in some areas. Many varieties of squirrels, when large enough in number, cause damage to fruit trees. They chew on buds and even on the bark. This is bad for the tree as it invites disease.
Unfortunately, squirrels are very clever little animals and seem to find a way around almost any obstacle put in their path! This means squirrel proofing your fruit trees requires some careful planning, as you’ll need to be as cunning as they are.
It’s often better to employ multiple methods to deter squirrels rather than relying on just one. These can include:
- Fake predators – such as toy snakes or owls. It may seem strange, but these do actually work.
- Motion sensor water jets – will detect when a squirrel, cat, or other rodent is near and spray a jet of water to scare it off.
- Squirrel baffles – that prevent the squirrel from being able to climb up the trunk. These are often pieces of sheet metal or a cone-shaped disk fitted around the trunk of the tree.
- Traps – can catch squirrels, but then you have the problem of how to get rid of them.
- Nets – will help to some extent, but squirrels often chew through them.
- Careful pruning – keeping the distance from your fruit tree to more than 10 meters.
- Other food sources – can provide squirrels with their own dedicated feed area where you can offer them their own fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Poison – always a last resort. Poison is not humane, and it also isn’t species-specific, so if another animal such as a pet dog or cat eats it, it will also kill them. Children are another concern!
You can scare off squirrels by using fake predators such as realistic toy snakes or owls with moving heads. The key to success with such an approach is to move your fake predators regularly, so the squirrels don’t become accustomed to them always being in the same place.
Water jets that work off motion sensors are another way to deter them, at least for a while. These also work for unwanted cats and other rodents coming into your garden.
There is no doubt that squirrels are incredible climbers and leapers, so if there’s a way for them to climb or jump from a roof into the branches of your tree or just go directly from one tree to the next, then they will.
You will need to ensure there is nothing within 10 feet of your tree that the squirrels can use as a springboard to jump from.
You can prevent them from climbing directly up the trunk of your trees by installing a squirrel baffle. These can either be purchased or made simply at home. You can find some ideas on how to do this here – under “Preventing Conflicts.”
Capturing squirrels is not a good idea, they potentially harbor diseases that may be dangerous to people if you’re bitten.
If you do catch one alive, then you’ll need to relocate it, and this in itself can cause a host of problems, as you will see in the link to preventing conflicts above.
Other squirrel deterrents include streamers that flap about in the wind or the regular application of capsaicin oil to the trunk and limbs of the tree.
How Do You Protect Apricot Trees from Insect Pests and Diseases?
We have already touched upon some of the more common pests and diseases suffered by apricot trees, but there are others you should also look out for. These include:
Oriental fruit moth larvae – these tunnel into fruit and shoots but can be controlled with summer oil to kill the eggs and larva.
Codling Moth larvae – can be detected by the appearance of small holes in the leaves, surrounded by black excrement. These can be controlled with the use of pheromone traps in late spring. The traps attract the male moths and stop them from mating.
Peachtree Borer Larvae – as their name suggests, will bore through the outer bark and then tunnel in the inner bark, which prevents the tree’s proper flow of nutrients and water. These can be killed by using a wire stuck through the entry hole.
I have also successfully used a paste made from raw diatomaceous earth pasted onto the tree over the holes.
Spider Mites – are responsible for causing the leaves to get a patchy discoloration. Summer oil will smother the mites.
Scale – are small insects with a hard shell and are oval in shape. They feed on the branches of the tree. You can get rid of them by using dormant oil sprayed onto the tree in winter, or summer oil in the summer months.
Bacterial Canker – we have touched on earlier. It can be recognized by the orangy oozing resin that leaks from infected wood. The best treatment for this condition is to cut away all infected branches and safely burn them (where permitted) or put them in your trash.
Brown Rot – causes blossom and leaves to turn brown and produces mold patches on fruit. It is a fungal disease and can be addressed by using lime-sulfur when the buds are turning green in early spring. When the tree is in blossom, treat it again, particularly in wet or humid weather.
Leaf Spot – is another bacterial ailment that produces holes or dark spots in the leaves. To prevent further spread, remove and get rid of the diseased leaves. The following year, to prevent the problem from recurring, spray the buds with lime sulfur. This is especially important when the weather is wet or humid and should be done every couple of weeks.
Dieback – causes the new young shoots to wilt and die. It is a fungal disease, and any affected areas should be cut off and disposed of.
Shothole – is another fungal disease that produces small red-brown spots on the leaves. These spots rot in the center and fall out, leaving the shot-hole appearance. Treat by using copper spray after removing infected leaves.
To find out more about how particular types of horticultural oils can protect against pests, this article from the University of Nevada is quite informative.
If you have the right conditions to grow apricot trees, they make a very pleasant tree to have, due to their early spring blossom and tasty fruit.
There is a good range of varieties available, and you will likely find one that is suited to your area’s climate.
The advantage of the dwarf varieties is that they are ideal for smaller spaces and still give a good amount of fruit.
Care of your apricot tree is much like any other type of fruit tree, and usually, they only need your attention a few times a year.
To read more about apricot trees, we have additional articles available on our website, along with many other farm and animal topics.