As a fruit tree the Apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca) gives us delicious fruit to eat, and, as a flowering ornamental, it gives us a sensual feast for the eyes and the nose.
People who grow Apricot Trees, however, are often dismayed to find out that most climates in North America do not support fruiting on the trees. Unless you live in an area where your temperatures are stable all year round, this will likely be the case. Apricot blooms are very susceptible to spring frosts. The good news is that the trees are stunning in their own right—you might just have to make peace with the fact that your apricots will have to continue to be store-bought.
Introducing this delicate Asian native into your landscape design is an excellent way to extend the bloom time of a garden and add some visual interest by playing with shape and negative space.
In early April, the apricot tree blooms when other plants are still emerging and have yet to sprout new leaves. The early blooms on bare branches against a naked landscape showcase the dainty flowers and allow them to have the spotlight until other plants bloom or a later frost comes along and causes the sensitive blooms to drop from their branches.
An important note regarding apricots and the genus Prunus is that not all apricots are created equal. The Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), which is sometimes just referred to as an “apricot,” is an entirely different species. The flower is similar, but they are different. The Japanese apricot blooms much earlier.
|Botanical Name||Prunus armeniaca|
|Common Name||Apricot Tree|
|Mature Size||20-30 ft. tall and wide.|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||average, medium moisture, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to Slightly Alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Late April|
|Flower Color||white or pink|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA 5-8|
Apricot Tree Care
Planting the tree in a warmer area or closer to a building in full sun will help maintain the flowers longer, especially through frosts. Also, it is possible to look for one of the many cold-tolerant cultivars available. There are hundreds of cultivars of Prunus armeniaca available in the nursery trade.
Whether it is being grown as an ornamental or for fruit, Prunus armeniaca is somewhat high maintenance with fussy soil and water needs. The benefits, though, are a gorgeous tree in your landscape and, if you are lucky enough, delicious fresh apricots.
For best fruit and flower production, ensure that the apricot tree is planted in an area that receives full sun.
Apricot trees perform best in loamy, well-draining, organically rich soils. They thrive in neutral or slightly alkaline soil, and it would be beneficial to test the soil’s pH before planting to see if amendments are needed.
Full-grown trees will need supplemental water to keep the soil moist. The apricot tree is not drought tolerant. Supplemental watering will ensure good production of blooms and fruit in the warmer zones. Drip, sprinkler, or other watering methods can be used to saturate the tree’s soil at least weekly.
Temperature and Humidity
Site selection is vital for frost management as Apricots bloom early in the spring. Plant apricots in elevated areas where there is good airflow and avoid low spots. When the temperature drops, warm air rises, and cold air settles on lower elevations. The area can become a microclimate and can create an artificial frost zone. Otherwise, the apricot tree can survive in Zones 5-8 and thrives and fruits in areas where winter and spring temperatures do not fluctuate considerably.
Fertilize your apricot trees in early spring before new growth begins, applying the fertilizer along the tree’s drip line. Using a low Nitrogen fertilizer is ideal for these trees.
Is the Apricot Toxic?
The apricot’s toxicity varies depending on the plant part and the amount consumed. The fruit of the apricot is, of course, not toxic and is edible. The pit and the leaves of the apricot contain hydrogen cyanide in relatively small amounts. These are toxic when consumed in large quantities and are extremely bitter and taste like almond.
If you find the ideal location for your apricot tree which allows for fruit production, it is time to harvest when the fruit shows a beautiful blush but is still firm to the touch. Fruits should be handled gently and removed from the tree with the stem intact. Ripe apricots are best eaten fresh or cooked in any number of ways. They are better canned than frozen raw which toughens the skin, so if freezing is desired, peel the fruit first.
Pest and Disease Controls
Apricots are generally resistant to many of the pests and diseases that affect their cousins, peaches and nectarines. The biggest impediment to a viable apricot crop is frost. Good sanitation in the orchard, appropriate fertilizing and watering may be all the additional care needed once the tree has established and blooms have survived the frost free date in your zone.
Apricot Tree Varieties
One of the benefits of cultivating so many variants of the species is that it has allowed growers to breed for form and shape alongside hardiness and fruiting.
There are cultivars available such as Prunus armeniaca ‘Homedale’ STARK SWEETHEART and Prunus armeniaca ‘Wilson’s Delicious’ that are dwarf cultivars grafted on dwarf rootstock. These allow a landscape designer or homeowner to plant the tree in a much smaller setting.