To keep an apricot tree not only healthy but productive and looking good, means it will require some pruning. The pruning process is simply removing branches that are not wanted to leave an open form that allows light to penetrate through the tree. The process of pruning begins immediately when you plant the tree. Let’s find out more about how to prune an apricot tree.
What You'll Learn Today
When Should Apricot Trees Be Pruned?
There are various reasons why an apricot tree should be pruned:
- On planting to limit the height and ensure that you can reach the fruit without too much difficulty.
- As the tree develops to keep the canopy open, ensuring sunlight can reach all the branches and maintain good airflow. This is essential to give access for pollinating insects, to ripen fruits, and to prevent fungal growth and disease.
- Pruning also encourages fruit growth and the overall productivity of the tree.
- Dead or diseased branches must be removed to maintain the health and appearance of the tree.
- You also prune to maintain the overall balanced appearance of your apricot tree.
What Month Should I Prune My Apricot Tree?
You prune apricot trees in the late winter or early spring. The exact month depends on when the new flowers start opening, as this is the right moment to prune.
You only prune your tree when it starts actively growing. This helps prevent disease from getting into the branches as the wounds you make from pruning will heal quickly.
You can also opt to give your tree a tidy up after it has fruited in summer. This can help to keep the shape and size of your tree under control and prevent it from becoming too large or unbalanced.
Summer pruning inhibits the growth of new branches and will keep your tree in check.
How Do You Prune An Apricot Tree?
Let’s take a closer look at how to prune an apricot tree.
Once you understand the structure you are aiming for, pruning apricot trees is a relatively simple task.
It can seem rather drastic to cut off the top half of your newly planted apricot tree! But there are good reasons to do just that.
As the tree grows, you want to be able to reach the branches and pick the fruits without too much effort. Beheading your tree will help you do this.
Measure from the ground up the trunk to 36 inches and cut it off cleanly at an angle just above a new bud or side branch.
Then proceed to remove any other branches that are less than 18 inches from the ground or are broken or damaged in any way.
Ensure all the branches you have left are at least 6 inches apart and grow at an open angle of at least 40 degrees to the main trunk. Remove any that are not.
Shorten the remaining branches by cutting them back to two to four inches in length, again cutting at an angle, just after a bud.
This initial pruning will pay you dividends in the years to come.
By pruning again in the second year, you can further reinforce the shape of the tree.
Look carefully at the form of the tree and remove any branches that are growing at strange angles or those which go sharply upwards or downwards and any that are damaged or broken.
Ideally, you want the branches to fan outwards openly from the trunk of the tree. Any branches you leave should be a minimum of three inches apart and be angled at least 40 degrees from the trunk.
Cut back the old branches from last year to a length of around 30 inches, again cutting just after a bud or side branch.
You should now have a good basic structure to work with in the future.
From now on, pruning should be easy. Simply remove any damage that has occurred over winter. Cut out any branches that are taller than the trunk. Prune branches that are growing at a closed angle of less than 40 degrees to the trunk or to the main branches.
If there are a lot of small branches crowding the canopy, thin them out so sunlight can access the interior parts of the tree and air will be able to freely circulate.
This video shows how to continue pruning a mature apricot tree to keep it in shape and produce an abundance of juicy apricots:
Tools For Pruning an Apricot Tree
Now you know how to prune your apricot tree, we should take a closer look at what tools you use to do the job.
Whichever tools you opt for, there are a few things that apply to them all – they must be sharp, and they must be clean.
Blunt tools won’t cut the branches of your tree; instead, they crush it, and this causes damage which aids the spread of disease.
If you cut away some diseased branches and then continue to prune healthy ones, you risk transmitting the disease into the healthy wood. Therefore clean off the blades of your tools regularly and immediately after removing diseased areas.
There are various different types of hand pruners, as you can see from this article.
For thin branches of less than ½ an inch, hand pruners will work well.
It is always worth investing in a high-quality product rather than opting for something cheap. Although the cheap ones may do the job to begin with, their inferior materials and manufacturing will mean they wear quickly and soon become broken or useless.
By spending a little more on high-quality products that stay sharp for longer and won’t simply fall apart after a few months of use, you can save yourself a lot of frustration and money on replacements.
When you buy your pruners, ensure that the grip is comfortable, and, before cutting a branch, check that it fits easily between the jaws of the device.
Loppers look similar to pruners, only they have long handles and a larger cutting head. Like pruners, they can come in different varieties, but they will be able to tackle larger branches of up to an inch or slightly more with relative ease.
The long handles give you a little extra reach, which can be very handy.
When using loppers, ensure that they cut right through the branch in a single cut. Don’t be tempted to break the branch off before finishing the full cut, as this leaves a ragged edge where disease can enter the tree.
For thicker branches that are too difficult to cut with either your pruners or lopers, you will need a pruning saw. These are necessary for larger limbs which hopefully won’t need removing too often and certainly not while your tree is still young.
Whatever you use to prune your tree, ensure that the cut made is clean and doesn’t leave any ragged edges, preventing disease.
How Do You Rejuvenate An Old Apricot Tree?
Keep in mind that although some apricot trees can live to be as much as 150 years old, they usually only have a fruiting life of around 20 to 25 years. This is to be expected, so if your apricot tree is much older than this, then no matter the amount of care and attention you lavish upon it, it is unlikely to start fruiting again.
That said, if your apricot tree is still relatively young but has simply been neglected, then there is every possibility you can get it to start producing fruit once more.
With a bit of tender loving care, you can often restore an apricot tree. The first thing you need to do is look for any problems such as signs of disease, broken branches, holes, or a rotten center.
Depending on how damaged the tree is, it can take several years to fully rejuvenate and get it to fruit again.
- Remove any dead or diseased branches, ensuring you take them back to unaffected wood. Be sure to sterilize your tools before and after doing this.
- Dispose of the dead and diseased wood carefully to prevent any pathogens from spreading to other trees.
- Prune the tree into an open shape as described earlier.
- Check the roots of the tree by digging around the base carefully using a shovel and then a trowel. You must be careful not to cause any damage to the roots while doing this.
- Thin the roots out. Any roots that are clumped together or balling need to be thinned out to encourage new, healthier root growth. Leave the main root structures in place, especially those that are spreading out evenly around the tree, and remove the most contorted ones.
- Be careful not to cut out too many roots, as this could cause more harm than good.
- Sharp, clean cuts. Just as with branches, roots must be cut away cleanly.
- Re-cover the roots carefully with the soil, being sure not to leave any air pockets. Firm the soil well down.
- Ensure the tree receives sufficient water. Make the soil around it damp, not wet.
- Add mulch to improve water retention.
- Apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer to the base of the tree in early spring, following directions given on the packaging.
Spending a little time each year to keep your apricot tree in good shape, not only keeps it healthy and looking good but ensures you get the best crop of apricots.
If apricot trees aren’t kept in shape with pruning, they quickly take on a life of their own making your job much harder to get them back in order.
To learn more about growing apricot trees and how to care for them, take a look at our other articles on the subject.