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April 2008
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Growing apricot trees

Apricot trees are versatile, graceful and beautiful. The foliage is attractive, and they make nice shade trees throughout the summer months. And, in the fall, as the tree prepares for the winter months, they have nice color. Apricot trees can be a lovely centerpiece in a yard: their blossoms are white or pink; their foliage is bronze in the spring, deep green in the summer, and yellow in the fall. In addition to complementing the landscape, most people grow apricot trees for their fruit, which is also versatile. It can be eaten fresh, dried for storage, made into wonderful preserves or thrown at unsuspecting targets.
Young apricot trees are likely to make excessive growth, especially trees from 2 to 5years of age. Trees making excessive growth do not mature early in the fall and are, therefore, more subject to injury from low temperatures in November and early winter. Mature apricot trees are hardier than young trees. Apricots are vigorous, fully winter-hardy trees that will eventually reach 2.5-3m (8-10ft). It is recommended that trees are grown as open bushes, as this method requires little pruning. Plant bare-root trees from autumn through to early spring, ideally in a free-draining soil. Apricots enjoy chalk but will not tolerate wet clay soils. It is best not to grow them in containers as they like a good root run.
Apricot trees are sensitive to climatic conditions and require the best possible growing sites to remain healthy and regularly productive. Apricots bloom earlier in the spring than other fruit trees and have only a limited tolerance of high summer heat. While the tree is fairly hardy (some varieties withstand winter lows down to -20° F), it can bloom too early–if you get a warm spell in late February or early March. In areas that have late frosts, you can choose some of the newer varieties developed in the North that bloom later and produce well in harsh climates. Thus, when choosing a variety, select one recommended for your zone and climate that will flower after the last spring frost in your area and that will live through your winter.
The soil must be well drained and preferably of a sandy type. Poor subsoils of any kind will result in the death or poor growth of many trees. Avoid heavy soils for apricots as such soils are likely to be poorly drained. Select a well grown one or two year old tree from the nursery. Two year old trees should have at least four of five well-spaced branches, with a good root system. The usual practice is to plant early in the spring, but planting can be completed in the fall when weather conditions are good and the soil is moist.
To plant your apricot tree dig a hole they same size as the container or a little bigger than the root spread. Ad some compost to the shoveled soil. Remove the apricot tree from the container and prune any long roots. Prune the apricot branches back so you have just two 7-inch long side branches spaced about 7 inches apart and one central stem. Place the apricot tree in the hole and spread out the apricot roots. Fill in the hole with the soil, compost mixture and add water.
Apricot trees prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. If fertilizer is needed, as indicated by yellow-green leaves, then 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer should be applied in the second year. Granular fertilizer should be scattered beneath the branches of the tree. An additional 1/4 pound should be applied for every year of age of the tree in early spring, before growth starts.

Winter protection:
If the temperature falls to below freezing, then will need to do additional protection. The southwest side of the trunk can become very warm on sunny days in late fall and winter. Night temperature frequently drops to well below freezing. This alternative freezing and thawing often injures the bark and wood. This permits wood-destroying fungi to gain entrance, and a large canker is likely to develop. Paint the trunk with a latex-based, white paint.
Fill any holes that develop in the soil at the base of the trunk. Make certain that the soil level adjacent to the trunk is slightly higher so that water will drain away from the tree. Water collecting in depressions near the trunk will form ice in late fall or winter. This ice may girdle the tree, causing death or serious injury.

Growing apricot from seed:
Apricot stones need to be stratified before they will germinate. This means taking the apricot stone directly from a ripe apricot, soaking it for 24 hours, then wrapping in damp paper towel then plastic (or in a bag of damp, sterilized sand, as is done in the nursery industry), and placing this into the refrigerator at about 4 deg. C for a period of four weeks (this cold storage would be four months for peaches and plums). This replicates what would occur in nature: The damp seed from the fruit would fall onto the wet ground and go through a cold, damp winter, which act to break the dormancy the stone retains when taken from the fruit. When conditions warm up again (when you take the stone from the refrigerator) and sow it into potting mix at about 20-25 deg. C, it will then be ready to germinate. Germination, however, could take some time as the hard seed coat makes the process of germination rather slow.

Because apricot trees tend to form too dense a canopy, open-center training is usually recommended. On mature trees, prune out dead, diseased, and broken branches, as well as any that cross through the tree’s center or crowd major limbs. Remove older, unproductive branches, cutting back to new branches. Because of the threat of silver leaf, pruning should be avoided during winter months when this fungus produces most of its spores. Pruning should therefore be carried out in summer, but not during wet weather, as this is the time bacterial canker will attack fresh wounds, and in severe cases plants can die.

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