The factors you need to consider before planting apricots in the home garden are: apricot variety and rootstock, spacing, selecting a good site, well-drained and fertile soil, planting at the right depth, training and pruning, insect pests and disease management, and harvesting. Apricots tend to bloom early in spring so the blossoms can be damaged early spring frost.The rootstocks of apricots consist of peach, plum, and apricot seedlings. Some are grafted on St. julien rootstocks.In heavier clay soils Myrobalan plum rootstocks are used. Peach roots such as Lovell and Nemaguard leads to early maturity in apricots by three days. Apricot tree spacing depends on the type of rootstock, climatic conditions, soil fertility, and pruning. The distance between one tree and the other in the row and between the rows determine the number of trees you can grow in an area. Apricot trees grow to relatively large trees. The tree requires an area with a minimum diameter of 25-square feet.
Site selection - Apricots tend to bloom early in spring so selection of a frost-free site is very important.Take soil samples from the site one year before planting, and send to soil testing laboratories (list of soil testing labs are available at local Extension office). Add well rotted manure and compost based on soil test results. Apricots perform best in well-drained fertile soils. Avoid low spots where water remains standing in root zone.Plant apricots in elevated areas where there is good air drainage and avoid low lying spots. When temperature drops, warm air rises and cold air settles on lower spots and there is higher danger of frost injury on low lying spots than elevated areas.Windbreaks may not be necessary in urban areas where there are several building in the neighborhood but in the rural areas windbreaks are necessary.
Planting– Purchase disease-free 1-year-old tree from reputable nursery, 4-6 ft tall with good root system. Smaller tree with good root system will transplant much better than large tree. When you get the tree protect it from injury or drying out. Soak the roots in water before planting. If planting has to be delayed, you can either wrap the roots in plastic along with sawdust or newspaper and store in the refrigerator at 40 0F (no ripening fruits in refrigerator) or "heel-in" the trees by digging a shallow trench, place tree roots in it, cover roots with soil or sawdust, and water the tree thoroughly. The heeled-in tree can be kept for several weeks before planting.Plant the tree in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Dig a whole twice the diameter of the root system and 2-ft deep. Loosen the soil in the walls of the hole. Place some loose soil back into the hole. Spread the roots on loose soil. Continue putting more soil around the roots and firming to eliminate air pockets. Fill remainder of the hole with loose soil. Water the plant very well to eliminate air pockets and to provide good contact between the soil and roots. Mature trees need adequate soil moisture for good production. You can use drip, sprinkler or other irrigation methods to apply water to the root zones oftrees.
Trainining and pruning -Apricots need to be trained on central leader system. Do not let the top of the tree overgrow and shade the lower branches. Headapricot trees at planting time to 30 inches tall, and retain all the shoots that arise the first summer. During the first dormant season pruning, head 3 or 4 topmost vigorous shoots to encourage growth of more branches. Branch spreading can be done when possible based on recommendations from the nurseries. Apricots produce most of their fruits laterally on 2 years or older wood. Apricot spurs are not productive after 3 years. Mature apricot tree require minimum pruning. Thinning of branches and heading back of shoots should be done when necessary. Spread branches with narrow crotch angles. Apricot fruits areneed tobe thinned to 2-3 inches apart on shoots.
Fertilizer application – Apricots need to be fertilized in early spring before growth begins. Apricots need less nitrogen fertilizer compared to peaches. The fertilizer isapplied along the drip line of the tree.
Weed control - Control weeds and grasses around young apricot trees to avoid competition, and minimize damage from pine, and meadow voles, and other rodents. Keep all weeds away from the drip line. Be careful when controlling weeds by cultivation not to injure roots of the tree, and don't use weed mowing equipment that can injure the trunk of the tree. Control weeds by using mulch but remember to remove mulch away (1-ft radius) from the trunk, and place rodent guards around the base of the tree.
Varieties are selected based on fruit characteristics, bloom time, uses, and pollen compatibility. The nurseries provide information on varieties and pollen compatibility. Some apricot varieties such as Earli-Orange, Superb, and Wilson are self-fruitful but cross-pollination with other cultivars is still helpful for good fruit set. Apricot cultivars:
Additional pests and problems that may affect this plant:The major apricot pests are fruit tree leaf rollers, and peach tree borer, and brown rot is one of the major diseases. Good sanitation practices are necessary to control pest problems. Cut all dead or diseased wood; remove dried apricots from trees, and clear leaves and fallen debris away from trees. Disinfect pruning tools with a 10% solution of household bleach before and after use and between trees. Use a multipurpose fungicide and insecticide spray labeled for apples. Horticultural oil should be sprayed onapricot trees at the first sign of green growth in the spring to remove scale insects and reduce overwintering mite and aphid eggs. You can buy these from garden centers. Refer to Illinois Home, Yard, and Garden Pest Management Guide or similar publications available in your state.
Harvest apricots when the fruit begin to soften. Taste if the fruit has develop a characteristic flavor. Handle apricots carefully to prevent bruising, and the fruit should keep for 2 to 3 weeks when stored at a temperature of 35 to 40°F.