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Growing apricots in the UK, top ten tips

Early Moorpark

Early Moorpark

It is a great delight to grow apricots and look after apricot trees. It is a very amenable type of fruit and fairly easy to grow. Here I provide some tips from practical experience.

1. An apricot tree has to be on a South facing wall and the planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes, number 3, soil-based tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not subject to a leak in the gutter above it.

2. Fix large-size shelf brackets onto the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. You can use this to fasten the double layer of fleece each year as soon as the first flower begins to open. At that moment, cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow off the fleece at any time. It has to stay in position until the middle of May. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, so that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to fungal diseases such as “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.

3. The tree loves organic matter around its base, but not touching the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, to keep grass and weeds away from around the trunk area.

4. Never let the tree struggle for moisture.

5. Thin the young fruitlets when the size of a large pea and space them to at least 4 to 6 inches apart.

6. It will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length. Shorter is possible but more summer pruning is necessary. NEVER prune the tree during the winter months but always when there is a full canopy of leaves. Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August and flavour has developed well.

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/flickr.com

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/flickr.com

7. One has to be aware of the fact that over-cropping of apricots can lead to having too much crop in one year and not enough in the next year. This applies particularly to the 1 year old wood of well-grown healthy trees. If there is an abundance of blossom on this wood, then this wood needs to be cut back before the blossom has a chance to set fruit.

8. When the size of the best young fruits has reached around 10mm in fruit size, then it is the right time to seriously reduce the number of fruits. Bring back bunches of fruitlets to singles and space the fruits 6 to 8 inches apart. Always retain the largest fruits.

9. Continue to foliar feed the tree and water the tree during the summer months. A shortage of moisture during the summer will affect the quality of the fruit buds the following year.

10. If any summer pruning needs to be done later during the summer months, remove surplus strongly-growing laterals. Do not cut out any new shoots which have closed down early. These usually carry the best fruit buds for the following year and therefore should be retained.

The most important thing: remember that the tree blossoms very early, usually in March or early April, and that if blossom is exposed to temperatures of -1 degrees Celsius or colder, it will be killed, and no fruit will be formed. That’s why protection with garden fleece is essential during spring frosts as described above.

We can supply apricot varieties suitable for growing in the UK. Click here to go to the tree varieties page, where you can use the web form provided to ask for any additional information you may require with regard to your order.

Apricot Fan Training

Here are the instructions for fan training an apricot tree:

February/March
Start with 2 side branches
Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth. (March)
Promote strong growth. (Water, nutrients, warmth).
Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound to prevent bacterial canker infection.

Late September
Select 2 shoots on either side.
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut back the original side branches and the extra 4, by about a third of their length.
Continue to feed well (slow release fertilizer, Osmacote or the equivalent).

February/March of the following year
Select the final 2 branches.
Carry out the same procedure as in the previous year.
After cropping (August), cut out the wood that carried a crop. Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Develop fruit spurs.
Apricot crops best on younger wood, but it does crop on the older spurs.
Never prune plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarine during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This to avoid disease build-up.

Espalier training of apricots

Follow instructions and recommendations as published here.

Peach leaf curl disease

Peach leaf curl disease (Taphrina deformans) is the main issue you have to be aware of with peach, nectarine and apricot growing. I f you follow my guidelines you will have no trouble with this fungal disease.

Apricot has the same trouble, but in a milder form. However, if you cover your peach tree or your apricot tree with a double layer of garden fleece from late January until the middle of May, every year, or bring the potted tree indoors during the winter months, the disease cannot develop.

Peach leaf curl

Peach leaf curl, photo courtesy of Scot Nelson/flickr.com

The fungus Taphrina deformans attacks the tree species of peach, nectarine and apricot.

The symptoms are the development of large reddish blisters on the leaves. The tree is seriously weakened as photosynthesis by the leaves is seriously affected.

Eventually the tree is starved to death as it is no longer able to make essential carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Leaves tend to fall prematurely and growth comes to a full standstill.

The fungus attacks the tree from early February until the middle of May. After May the fungus is no longer producing spores and therefore cannot cause new infections.

How to avoid peach leaf curl disease

There are various options for controllilng this fungus. Some varieties are more resistant than others. However this is no help if you already have to cope with this problem.

Actions to be taken immediately are the complete removal of leaves affected. This applies to the fallen leaves as well as the affected leaves that still attached to the tree. Make sure the leaves are all collected up, put in a plastic bag and then put in the non-recycling bin. Make sure the tree is well watered and does not stand in a carpet of weeds and grass. Apply a full watering can of water once or twice a week, particularly during the summer months. Mulch the tree with well rotted farmyard manure. The area to be mulched must be of a minimum size of one square yard.

Never let the tree go short of water! By late January cover the tree with a double layer of garden fleece. Fasten the fleece securely. Make sure the wind cannot affect it or lift it off. Keep your eye on the tree and if a tear develops in the fleece after particularly bad weather, repair the damage properly. This fleece needs to stay in position until the second week of May. After that time, carefully remove the fleece.

Never prune the tree during the autumn and winter months when the leaves have fallen. It is at that time that new infections occur very quickly. Prune during the middle of May or during late August, making sure the old wood is removed to make room for new shoots to form. This is essential as the fruits of peach and nectarine are formed on one year wood only. Seal the pruning cuts with “Prune and Seal”, a compound available from your garden centre. The foliage of a well pruned tree dries up quickly, with less chance of new infections.

If it is not possible to cover the peach tree, to avoid the disease you can spray with copper during the first week of February and repeat the spray 14 days later. Follow the instructions on the packet in detail. Garden centres stock it. At leaf fall in late November put on another spray of copper.

Peach leaf curl disease is spread by rain droplets. The fungus over-winters and is hidden in crevices of the bark and between the bud scales. Therefore consider planting a peach tree in a 15 to 18 inch diameter pot. By the end of January, wheel the potted peach tree into a cold shed or a cold green house or a cold poly tunnel. In that way no fleece is needed as the tree is sheltered from the winter rains. By the middle of May it is safe to take the pot outdoors again. Then position the tree in a warm sunny place and water it weekly or twice a week when very warm weather is occurring. Never let the tree go short of water as it will surely die.

Feed the tree monthly with a suitable foliar feed , obtainable from garden centres.

Which are the best fruit trees for the UK?

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Which type of tree fruit carries the least risk and is successful on most soils in the UK? Undoubtedly this is apple. Choice of variety is important, as normally it is colder in the north of England. Temperature during blossom time is of great importance in order to secure a good fruit set. Also in the northerly counties the type of pollinator will have to be chosen carefully. If you would like to plant some fruit trees, in any particular area of the UK, then we are happy to advise which varieties need to be in the Orchard Pack.

A second question of importance is this; which type of fruit is more able to cope with areas of high rain fall? Plums and pears, provided the soil is not too acid, usually do well in the higher rainfall areas. Pears in particular are very sensitive to droughty conditions and thin soils. Cherries love deep soils. Greengages need the right companion in order to crop well. Cherries and greengages are more suited to central and southern counties. This does not apply to Morello cherries as these trees flower later.

What about peaches, nectarines and apricots? These fruits have a much higher demand of warmth and hours of sunshine during the growing season. However, if grown on the right rootstock and placed against a wall facing south, with sufficient t.l.c. and regular watering during dry and warm periods, during the summer months, the net result often is excellent. Click here to see a list of varieties available to purchase.

Frame for fleece on an espalier tree

Apricot growing in the UK

Early Moorpark

Early Moorpark

We have a fine Apricot in our garden, and we have achieved excellent results. Here is a summary of what we have learned over the years.

It’s easy to grow. It has to be on a South-facing wall; it will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length (this length can be shorter, but in this case, more summer pruning is necessary.) The planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not exposed to a leak in the a gutter.

It’s important to provide thermal protection for the tree from mid February to the end of May. Fix large-size shelf brackets to the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. Use this to fasten a double layer of fleece each year around the second week of February. Cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow it off at any time. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, sp that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this is necessary because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.

While the tree loves organic matter around its base, it’s important to keep it away from the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, in order to keep grass and weeds at bay. Never let the tree struggle for moisture, and thin the young fruitlets when the size of a large pea, spacing them to at least 4 to 5 inches apart. Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August. At this stage, flavour will have developed well.

An apricot should never be pruned during the winter months, but always when there is a full canopy of leaves.

 

 

Tree development:

February/March of the first year:
Start with 2 side branches. Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth (March). Promote strong growth by ensuring that there is sufficient water, nutrients and warmth (using the fleece as detailed above). Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound. This protects against bacterial canker.

Late September of the first year:
Select 2 shoots on either side. Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles. Cut the original side branches and the extra 4, back by about a third of their length. Continue to feed well (slow release fertiliser, Osmacote or the equivalent).

February/March of the second year:
Select the final 2 branches, and carry out the same procedure as in the first year.

From then onwards:
After cropping, cut out the wood that carried a crop (i.e. in August). Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Apricot crops best on younger wood. Never prune apricots during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This helps to avoid disease from developing. The same applies to plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarines.

Thinning:

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/flickr.com

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/flickr.com

It is important to remember that apricots tend to over-crop, and this leads to having too much crop one year and not enough the year after. To prevent this, you should observe the 1-year old wood of fully-grown healthy trees. If there is an abundance of blossom on this wood, then this wood needs to be cut back before the blossom has a chance to set fruit.

Secondly, once the size of the best young fruits has reached around 10mm, it is the right time to seriously reduce the number of fruits. Bring back bunches of fruitlets to singles and space the fruits 6 to 8 inches apart. Always retain the largest fruits. Continue to foliar feed the tree, and water the tree during the summer months. A shortage of moisture during the summer will affect the quality of the fruit buds the following year. If any summer pruning needs to be done later during the summer months, remove strong-growing surplus laterals. Do not cut out any new shoots which have closed down early. These usually carry the best fruit buds for the following year and therefore should be retained.

We can supply apricot varieties suitable for growing in the UK. Click here to go to the tree varieties page, where you can use the web form provided to ask for any additional information you may require with regard to your order.

Growing apricots in the UK – 2012 experience

Apricot, espalier-trained

Apricot, espalier-trained. The trellis in front of the tree is not for training, but just for fastening the fleece when required

This growing season has not been easy at all for many types of fruit to produce a good crop. Believe it or not one crop, with us, was outstanding, taking in consideration fruit size and flavour. It was the Moorpark apricot. The variety is as old as the hills, has been around and grown for hundreds of years and yet it came up with the most delicious fruits. The espalier trained tree, grown on a South to South Eastern positioned wall, flowered quite early, during March of this year. We covered it up with a double layer of garden fleece, to stop the frosts killing the flowers and took the fleece off when the bumble bees wanted to visit the blossoms. This created a good fruit set. From then on it was a question of watering the tree during the very few occurring dry spells of this season. By the end of May we thinned the fruit to a spacing of approx. 5 inches apart and that was it. No pests or diseases to deal with and it grew on producing those fabulous fruits by the middle of August. Apple, pear or plum, none of them came up with a similar quality crop.

Having thought about it quite a lot, it must have been the fact that apricots tend to flower so early and set fruit early gave them such a good start. There were good warm days when the apricot was in flower. This was not the case when the plums and apples were in blossom. So this proves the point that a factor which was thought of as a disadvantage, the very early flowering, this year turned out to be an advantage. The moral of this story is, early flowering of almonds, apricots, peaches and nectarines is no problem. Always of course we make sure that when they begin to blossom the trees are covered at night with a double layer of garden fleece when the weatherman tells us a night frost is expected.

Click here to visit our main website’s varieties page, scroll down to find the Apricot varieties available

Mirabelle de Nancy plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots

The Mirabelle de Nancy plum, peaches, nectarines and apricots are coming close to the pink bud stage. If the trees are outside and not under cover, they should be covered using a double layer of garden fleece, to stop the frost destroying the blossom buds/flowers. When it is a nice sunny day and the flowers have opened, don’t forget to uncover the trees for pollination to take place unhindered.

If, when in blossom, there are no insects about, use a soft brush to gently stroke the blossoms to trigger the various natural hormones/growth processes, which will hopefully lead to fruitset.

Do not carry out any form of pruning on these trees at this time of the year, as it may result in an infection of “peach leaf curl,” a fungal disease. If you had trouble with this disease last year, make sure no old leaves are still underneath the trees, as these will produce the spores which may initiate another infection. If you can stop the leaves from becoming damp or wet, that will further reduce the chances of infection.

Just leave a comment if you need more information on these topics!