A healthy apricot tree will provide abundant sweet and delicious fruit for many years. Even old apricot trees can often be revived to become productive once more, provided the trunk is healthy. Saving a dying apricot tree requires you to first deduce why the tree is dying. Often you will be able to rescue it, although it may take a few years for it to fully recover.
What You'll Learn Today
- Why Is My Apricot Tree Dying?
- Why Has My Apricot Tree Died?
- How Can I Save My Dying Apricot Tree?
- What Is The Life Expectancy Of An Apricot Tree?
- Why Are There No Leaves On My Apricot Tree?
- Can You Cut Back Apricots?
Why Is My Apricot Tree Dying?
There are a host of reasons why your apricot tree might be dying, including:
- Water stress
- Nutrient deficiency
- Herbicide uptake
- Excessive pruning
- Old age
Insufficient moisture in the soil means that your tree isn’t able to access enough water to keep it healthy. If this continues for long enough, eventually the tree will die.
Like us, trees need the right amount of moisture. Too little or too much is harmful and potentially fatal.
Less common than water stress caused by insufficient soil moisture is that caused by too much. Excessive water around the tree’s roots can literally suffocate it.
A lot depends on the type of soil you have. In dry climates, if your soil is very sandy, then it doesn’t hold onto water well and any moisture will quickly drain away from the tree’s roots.
A clay soil has the opposite problem. In wet weather the water cannot filter freely away from the tree’s roots and this lack of drainage, or porosity as it is called, can lead to the roots standing in water for long periods.
If the tree doesn’t die from hypoxia, then it is equally as likely to die from root rot or a fungal disease caused by the excessive amount of moisture.
If you live in a clay soil area, you may be lucky to have a thick layer of topsoil full of organic matter that has built up over many years. Be careful that this isn’t disturbed during landscaping, as it is of great value to your plants and trees.
A soil rich in organic matter has the best qualities, being free draining while being able to hold onto moisture better than sand. It is also porous so lets the roots breathe.
Although clay soils are great at holding water they don’t allow for enough aeration. Soil can be amended by adding organic matter, but this is far harder if your soil is clay, as a very large area and depth will require large amounts of organic matter to be added.
This is because if you only add organic matter in the hole you plant your tree, that same hole will act like a swimming pool when it rains, filling with water and suffocating the roots, as the moisture cannot escape through the outlying clay.
Sandy soils don’t need as much amendment as clay ones and this can be done just around the root zone of your tree planting area, rather than over a much larger one.
Compacted or impervious soil
Soils that have become compacted can be another issue, as again, their ability to hold air is decreased along with their drainage.
Another thing to be aware of when choosing a location for your tree, is to keep it away from places with impervious surfaces, such as tarmac driveways, as these act as a barrier to water and air.
Similarly natural hardpans that are below the surface of the topsoil can also cause issues.
The root systems cannot reach down low enough into the soil causing the tree to be easily blown down in high winds or to stand in too much water during wet periods, or not being able to reach underground water reserves in dry times.
Hardpans must be well broken up if your tree’s roots are to florish, the problem is you may not be aware that a hardpan exists before planting your tree.
Signs of water stress include wilting leaves and branches, reduced growth rates, deformities, leaf discoloration and eventually death.
In hot climates where apricots are usually grown, irrigation management is of great importance. This will need to be adjusted frequently to reflect the weather conditions. More water when hot, less when not, although high winds can also dry soil rapidly.
Using layers of mulch around your apricot trees can help hold moisture in during hot weather and insulate the roots from the cold during the winter.
It also acts as a weed suppressant, and if you use organic matter to mulch, then it will break down slowly over time and provide nutrients to the tree.
Moisture levels below the soil can be difficult to judge. A handy moisture gauge can be a useful tool to acquire. Simply stick the metal probe into the soil around the tree, and you will get a reading showing the soil’s moisture content.
There are various reasons why your apricot tree could become nutrient deficient.
Newly planted trees may be planted in soil that has been stripped of its topsoil, particularly where a lot of landscaping has been done or around new buildings.
Soil structure can affect the nutrients held by the soil. Sandy soils are easily leached of nutrients by rainwater, even when they are regularly added to the soil.
Three of the most common deficiencies are Nitrogen – essential for growth, Manganese – which is needed for photosynthesis, and Iron – which is used in the manufacture of chlorophyll and is also essential for photosynthesis.
This is exhibited by a yellowing of the leaves, known as “Chlorosis.” Premature loss of the leaves and small fruit are all symptoms.
Deep root fertilization is the fastest remedy with nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizers. Periodic application of slow-release fertilizer will help prevent the problem from recurring.
This is identified by the appearance of yellow leaves with green veins through them. Fruits are often undersized, and the tree’s foliage will appear limp.
High-pH soils do not contain available manganese, so pH levels will require addressing before fertilizers can have an effect. To lower soil pH, add elemental sulfur, sulfuric acid, or aluminum sulfate.
Although leaf yellowing is also a sign of Iron deficiency, the yellowing will not be uniform on all tree leaves. Dark veins will also remain on the leaves.
It is not uncommon for a single tree branch to show the symptoms while the remaining branches appear unaffected.
Foliar sprays, soil surface fertilizer applications, or deep root injections can address the problem. But as with manganese deficiency, the soil pH must be adjusted to neutral levels before treatments will be truly effective.
This is something often seen where there are new buildings in the surrounding area, and lime mortar has contaminated the soil, raising the pH.
Other nutrient deficiencies can also affect tree health, growth, and fruiting, so a broad spectrum, slow-release fertilizer should be used periodically (early spring and early summer) to prevent problems.
Soil testing for pH is also advisable so that this can be adjusted promptly.
There are various reasons to use herbicide around fruit trees – mainly to decrease unwanted plant growth and keep everything looking neat and tidy.
The problem with chemical herbicides is that they are washed through the soil and can then be taken up by the tree’s roots. Overspray can also drift onto the tree’s leaves and be absorbed.
This can be a disaster for your tree and, if severe enough, will kill a part or even all of it.
On top of this, do you really want to eat fruits contaminated with herbicides?
You can also find that your tree is dying even though you haven’t used any herbicides yourself; the question is, has your neighbor used some and accidentally contaminated your tree?
The best way to avoid herbicide uptake is not to use chemical herbicides and instead use other methods such as mulching, regular mowing, and pulling weeds.
If your tree has already been affected, you can try removing the damaged boughs, but sadly this may not be completely effective.
Like us, trees can suffer from many diseases. The most common to attack apricot trees include “Phytophthora,” which is a fungus that strikes the trees’ roots; another is Euypta die back, also a fungal disease.
The removal of affected branches at least a foot from all signs of the canker should be performed after fruit harvest. The removed parts should then be burned to prevent further spread.
Sometimes less can be more when it comes to pruning. If your apricot tree has become wild and you decide to give it a really good haircut, be careful how much you remove.
Cutting off branches that are more than a couple of inches in diameter can cause problems, as the tree won’t be able to heal the wound. This is then a potential site for disease to enter.
If you do need to cut off larger limbs, ensure you seal them with a pruning sealer to stop pathogens from entering through the wound.
Taking off too much of the tree will also put it into shock and can severely affect its productivity or even kill it.
Ideally, you should only prune around 20% of the last year’s growth of the tree and not 20% or more of the entire tree canopy. 30% may be tolerated in younger trees.
If more than this is needed, try to do it over several seasons, as this will be less harmful.
Just like us, trees have a finite lifespan. Eventually, your apricot tree will grow too old and die.
Older trees can often be rejuvenated if they have stopped fruiting, and are given a new lease of life with careful pruning and feeding.
Why Has My Apricot Tree Died?
As we discovered above, there is a wide range of reasons why an apricot tree dies. Many problems, if caught soon enough, can be reversed, but this is not always possible.
What to check
First, check that your tree really is dead. You can do this by snapping off some of the twigs around the tree and looking to see if they are completely dry and dead or if there is any greenness to them inside.
If they are still bendy and pliable, then chances are they are still alive. But if they just snap off, they are dead.
Remember that apricots are deciduous, meaning they shed their leaves each winter and grow new ones every spring.
If your apricot tree has died, it’s a good idea to work out why this might be.
Firstly look for any signs of disease in the tree. Did the leaves have any tell-tale signs such as spots, curling up, and so on? Is there any visible fungal growth on the tree?
Use the guide above to help you understand why your tree died, so if you decide to plant a new one, you can avoid the same problem happening in the future.
How Can I Save My Dying Apricot Tree?
Depending on the problem your tree has, you may be able to save your dying apricot tree.
Use sterilized pruning shears (wiped with rubbing alcohol) to remove all dead or diseased branches well below the damaged section. These can be identified by visible cankers, flaky, discolored bark, holes, and in younger branches, wilt.
The branches should be removed as close to the trunk as possible and wiped clean with rubbing alcohol between cuts to avoid cross-infection.
Some root conditions can also be remedied, for example, in younger trees where the roots have started to ball and clump together rather than growing out and down to reach nutrients and water.
Start by carefully digging around the root ball, being careful not to damage the roots.
With sterile hand shears, cut out sections to help open the roots up so they are not so balled together.
Make the hole the tree is planted in a square shape to encourage new root growth to venture outwards and re-cover the roots completely, being careful not to leave any air gaps by packing the soil down firmly.
To establish a strong, deep root system that can sustain your tree in times of drought, it is necessary to water your young trees deeply.
You may think that providing a couple of buckets of water around the root area will do the job.
The reality is that to get the water right into the ground deeply around the roots, you must put your watering system on trickle for around 40 minutes to one hour so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil.
Water is arguably the most essential element for keeping your tree healthy or for reviving it when it is struggling.
Over time the nutrients available in the soil become diminished. In sandy and clay soils, this happens more quickly than in rich loamy ones.
If nutrient levels become too depleted, then this puts the tree under stress and can cause it to become susceptible to disease.
A dying apricot tree is definitely under stress, so feeding it will offer additional vital energy that may help it to pull through.
In an emergency, you can feed a liquid fertilizer rather than a slow-release one, as these work faster but for less time. Find one that is specifically for soft fruit trees and is nitrogen-rich.
In a natural woodland setting, this doesn’t happen so much due to the breakdown of fallen leaves, plants, and animal droppings, which keep the soil fertile.
To maintain nutrient levels and ensure your tree stays strong, healthy, and fruitful, it is advisable to feed it at least once a year. This should be done in the early spring, just before new leaves begin to appear, and again in early summer.
The best type of fertilizer to use for your tree is a slow-release organic mix designed for soft fruit trees. This can be purchased from any good garden store, and the directions given on the packaging should be followed carefully.
Mulching your tree will also help provide it with food as the mulch breaks down.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of An Apricot Tree?
Apricots can be quite long-lived, given the right growing conditions and care. On average, you can expect your tree to last for 40 to 150 years, so they are great trees to plant for future generations.
Because apricots are hardier than other soft fruit trees, they can withstand colder winters and long hot summers, so you can grow them in a wider range of places generally without a problem.
Why Are There No Leaves On My Apricot Tree?
Due to the deciduous nature of apricot trees, they drop all of their leaves during the wintertime. This is because they require a dormant period to regain their strength and be ready for the next fruiting season.
It is common for bare root apricots and other fruit trees not to leaf out in the spring after you planted them. In this video, you can see how to treat them:
If your apricot tree doesn’t start to leaf up in the spring, then the tree is suffering from some kind of stress. It will be necessary to deduce what is causing this and eliminate the problem.
Discovering what’s wrong
Start by looking at the buds along the branches. Cut a bud open and take a look inside. If it is completely brown and dead both outside and inside, then it has been dead for a while.
If the bud is brown on the inside but green on the outside, this indicates it has been damaged by cold.
Next, check the branch itself by clipping off the end and continue to clip off sections until you reach live wood.
If most or all of the branch is dead, then check other branches. If you find live wood, but all of the buds are dead, then the problem could be cold, but it may also be a root issue.
If there are no buds present on the branches at all, then the tree has most likely been affected by a fungus or other disease. In this case, you will need to cut away all the dead and diseased wood until you are left only with healthy green wood and hope that the tree will begin to bud.
In contrast to being too cold, the opposite problem also exists, where the tree did not receive sufficient chill hours over the winter.
Getting a tree to grow leaves can be very tricky, and a lot depends on why it has not developed them.
The best thing to do is to avoid the problem in the first place by providing the tree with proper care.
If the winter is particularly harsh, put a fleece on the tree to protect it and prevent bud damage.
Careful watering, feeding, and pruning will also help prevent problems from arising. Fruit trees don’t like competition for nutrients, so ensure you remove weeds and grass from around their root zone and mulch them well in winter and spring.
Unfortunately, some things are just out of your control, and you will need an expert’s guidance if you are to save the tree.
Can You Cut Back Apricots?
Apricots can be cut back hard when they are young. Old trees also benefit from good pruning, but you should do this over several years, as you must never remove more than 30% of the canopy, less if the tree is mature.
Very excessive pruning will stress the tree, and if it isn’t strong, then there is a possibility it won’t survive.
Annual pruning of dead, diseased, crossed, thin, downward-facing, and inward-growing branches should be carried out to keep the tree in good shape.
To save a dying apricot tree, you first need to diagnose what the problem is. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a simple task, requiring you to check and eliminate potential problems one at a time.
Once the cause has been identified, the next step is to illuminate it if possible. Be careful, however, not to overdo things. For instance, if your tree is showing signs of nutrient deficiency, overfeeding it will just promote other problems.
Sometimes there will be nothing you can do to save your tree. In this case, learn from any mistakes you made, or if it is a problem with the soil or environment ensure that you make necessary improvements before replacing the tree.
Just because one variety of apricot hasn’t thrived doesn’t mean a different type won’t. Do your homework to discover the best apricot trees to grow where you live.