I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love apricots. Plums are plentiful and peaches are nice, but apricots are really special. They top most sun-ripened summer fruit wish lists. Unlike other stone fruit, apricot trees are long lived. An apricot tree will start producing after 4 years and can be productive for a good 30 to 40 years. So if you are contemplating putting in an apricot tree, do your homework to ensure you get the right variety for your climate and the right root stock for you soil.
Apricot trees available to the home gardener are usually grafted onto either peach or plum root stocks. Plum root stocks produce a more vigorous tree, especially in heavy soils. I planted 4 different varieties of apricots in our orchard, one of them was grafted on plum root stock and it has done very well, the other three varieties on golden queen peach root stock languished for several years in our heavy clay, putting on very little growth, and no fruit, before I finally pulled them out.
Most apricots also do better with a good cold winter; what is known as “winter chilling” helps the trees productivity. If you live in a warmer part of the country, look out for varieties that need less winter chilling such as Sundrop, Katycot, Trevatt, Garden Annie or Royal Rosa. Apricots are largely self fertile so you only need to plant one. Sundrop is the exception and prefers the company of Trevatt to set really good crops of fruit.
Apricots are one of the first trees in the orchard to blossom and in some parts of the country, pollination can be affected by a late frost or cold snap while the apricots are in blossom. Try and select a sunny, airy spot for your tree. Good airflow around your apricot will lessen the risk of frost damage to the blossom and also fungal diseases and brown rot on the fruit.
Apricots like an open centered, multi-leader tree. When you prune, keep the tree nice and open so that plenty of sunlight gets in to ripen the fruit. The less vigorous branches tend to produce more fruit. Any vigorous branches going straight up should be removed and you should aim to take about 30% of the tree out each year. Late summer pruning after harvest is also a good way of reducing the vigour of the tree. Pruning back to downward facing buds also reduces the vigour. You’re aiming to have a mixture of old wood with new growth coming on, as apricots fruit on second year wood.
If you do have room for more than one apricot tree, you can choose different varieties to make sure you have apricots throughout the height of summer. If you have room for two trees, choose and mid and late variety as the apricots that ripen after Christmas always seem to have better flavour. Aside from pruning, apricot trees do benefit from a spray of copper in late winter to kill off any fungal disease.
Early Varieties – Dec/Jan
- Royal Rosa (low chill)
- Katy Cot (low chill)
- Sundrop (low chill) (partially self fertile but best with Trevatt as a pollinator)
Mid Season Varieties – Jan/early Feb
Late Season Varieties – Late Feb
When your tree starts producing more apricots than you can scoff fresh, you will be looking for some ways to preserve the excess. Here are a few of our favourite ways to store them for use throughout the year.
Apricots don’t really need a lot of accompaniment, but if I had to choose one thing to partner them with it would be cream. This great recipe for apricot ice cream from Homegrown Kitchen is fantastic made with real cream, or coconut cream.
My second favourite way to preserve the excess crop is to dry them. Drying your own apricots couldn’t be easier and gives you a fantastic store cupboard ingredient for use in cookies, cheesecakes, muesli, desserts and even chicken casseroles. Homemade dried apricots don’t contain the sulphur used in commercially dried apricots and they store very well in a glass jar with a screw lid. I am just under two months away from my next harvest and I am still happily using dried apricots from last season. To dry apricots, pick fruit that is ripe but still slightly firm. Pour boiling water briefly over the whole fruit in a colander to wash and soften the skin. Drain well, halve, stone and place in the dehydrator until the fruit is no longer squidgy between your fingers. If you don’t dry them properly they will go mouldy in the jars. They are not as soft as commercially dried apricots but you can re-hydrate them before use.
Another great thing to do with apricots is use them in your favourite plum sauce recipe instead of plums. The resulting spicy apricot sauce makes a mean glaze for pork ribs or grilled chicken. My sister gave me this idea and it is a total winner.
A final sweet treat is dried apricots steeped in a syrup made from a sweet wine, like autumn muscat or a sweet Riesling, with a little vanilla pod. A jar of these in the fridge is handy for serving with a good vanilla ice cream. So what are you waiting for, plant an apricot tree next winter.
And to prove how long-lived apricot trees are – look at this 60 year + tree on a Motueka hop farm. So big it is being picked by hydra-ladder.