Growing apricots in the UK
Apricots used to be very difficult to grow in Britain unless they were planted right up against a south-facing wall to protect the early blossom from frosts. However, Canadian plant breeders have produced cold-tolerant varieties capable of fruiting in cooler conditions. Three are generally available in Britain and they all end in 'cot' – 'Tomcot', 'Flavorcot' and 'Goldcot', and it is now even possible to buy British-grown apricots in some supermarkets.
When to plant
It’s best to plant bareroot apricots trees from late autumn to March.
Where to plant
Your apricot tree will still need a sheltered, warm position to encourage blossom and nectar flow. A sloping site is ideal for fruit because the frost tends to slide down to the lowest point. They succeed in well-drained, open ground on good soil.
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How to plant
Before planting your apricot tree prepare the soil well and incorporate lots of organic matter when planting.
Stake and secure with a tree tie as you plant, angling it at 45 degrees to avoid damaging the roots.
Water well in the first growing season.
Be prepared to cover your tree when it’s in flower if frost is forecast. A fleece blanket is ideal.
All apricots flower early, often in late-February, when pollinating insects are in short supply. It’s a really good idea to pollinate the fruit by tickling the flowers to spread the pollen around. A rabbit’s tail was the traditional tool, but a soft paintbrush also works. Go from one flower to the next.
When to pick
Fruit forms on short spurs that are two to three years old, so give your apricot tree at least four to five years to produce lots of fruiting wood. Thin clusters of apricots down to doubles.
Try this recipe for apricot and honey tart
When to prune an apricot tree
It’s traditional to prune all stone fruits in summer because most suffer from bacterial canker and silver leaf diseas. The theory is that the running sap seals the cut quickly and keeps diseases out.
However, apricots are much less prone to disease than other stone fruit so they can be pruned in winter or summer. It’s easier to see the shape of fruit trees in winter.
Fan-trained and cordon trees of all types should be pruned in late-summer because the flow of sap is slowing, so subsequent regrowth is slower. Cut back side shoots to the main framework. Do not prune fan-trained apricot trees in winter, although you can remove dead, diseased and dying wood.
How to prune
All pruning of stone fruit is minimal. Cut out the diseased, dead and dying wood and remove any inward-facing growth. You should be aiming for a goblet-shaped tree with an open middle - this will allow the sun and air in. The fruit will ripen better because it’s formed on the outer edges and the flow of air through the branches will prevent disease.
Once you’ve created six to eight main branches the side shoots (or laterals) should be left to fruit. Afterwards cut twenty per cent of the side shoots right back to the stem to promote new growth.
Leading branches should be tipped back by up to a third. This stimulates the tree to branch out sideways. This style of pruning is commonplace with most fruit.
The best apricot varieties for the UK
All are self-fertile so you only need one - but do spread the pollen around with a soft paintbrush.
Produces a very heavy crop of large crimson flushed fruits which are ripe for picking from around the middle of July. Can be grafted on to Tounel rootstock, which is the latest rootstock for growing apricots. The approximate tree height when mature is 10 feet (3m).
This new apricot crops earlier in the tree's life and produces heavier, excellent flavoured fruits. The approximate tree height when mature is 10 feet (3m).
This variety is recommended for cooler, wetter climates. It’s hardy, vigorous and resistant to leaf-spot, producing good crops of medium to large freestone golden-yellow fruit which will keep in the fridge for several weeks.
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