Apricot: that precocious fruit
When it comes to plants you can grow yourself, the apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca) is a clear standout. Interestingly enough, the origin of the word ‘apricot’ comes from the Roman word ‘praecocium’, which means ‘precocious’.
There are many reasons why you should plant an apricot tree. With plenty of sweet, fleshy fruit during the months of November through February, you’ll only be thinking how fortunate you are to have these fruit trees adorning your garden.
Imagine the endless landscaping and culinary possibilities you can fulfil with this tree!
Why you should have an apricot tree in your garden
Apricot tree size depends on the variety. An apricot tree can reach between 8-12m in height and has a trunk that can reach up to 40cm in diameter.
Apricot trees are deciduous and especially beautiful when they’re in full bloom or bearing fruit. The apricot tree’s dense, graceful-looking foliage is an attraction in itself. Apricot tree leaves have an ovate shape with a wide base, a tapered tip, and serrated edges. Because of their width, they’re perfect when you need a natural canopy in your garden.
Edible apricot tree flowers are as useful in the kitchen as they are pretty. When they’re in bloom, the flowers of the apricot tree can brighten any garden.
It’s not a secret that the star of the apricot tree is the fruit. Apricots are high in antioxidants and have a distinct flavour similar to peaches and plums. The mix of tartness and sweetness makes it an easy addition to savoury dishes and desserts. Whether you eat them raw or spread as preserves over toast, you can’t help but think of summer at the first bite.
Dried apricots are as equally sought after as their fresh counterparts. No charcuterie or cheese board would be complete without a few dried apricots strewn here and there.
Common apricot tree varieties in Australia
Apricots belong to the Rosaceae family, with peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, and almonds joining the cluster of stone fruits.
There are more than 400 apricot varieties in the world, and these are the most common types you’ll find in Australia.
With its capacity to bear plenty of fruit, this variety is excellent for Australian home gardens. The reddish-orange slightly oval fruit is best when eaten fresh.
The fruit of the Moorpark apricot is among the sweetest around. With the right level of acidity and a large fruit yield, it’s a popular choice for jams and preserves.
A subvariant of the Moorpark, Early Moorpark apricots are called such because they bear fruit 2-4 weeks earlier than the traditional Moorpark variety. This variety is self-pollinating, which means it can use its own pollen to propagate. A fully established Early Moorpark can bear up to 300 fruits per tree.
Tilton apricots are slightly oval with bright orange flesh. The fruit can be eaten raw or used for canning and preserving. This variety can tolerate cold temperatures fairly well, which makes it an ideal choice if you’re living in temperate areas in Australia.
Like the Moorpark, the Trevatt is a favourite ingredient in jams and other bottled recipes. The dwarf variety of the Trevatt apricot is a popular choice among garden owners because of its compact size and high fruit yield.
Fireball is an apricot cultivar that’s known for its vibrant orange colour and distinctly sweet flavour. This variety can be found in temperate regions of Australia.
These are the common varieties of dwarf apricot trees you can find in Australia:
- Dwarf apricot Bulida
- Dwarf apricot Fireball
- Dwarf apricot Moorpark
- Dwarf apricot Trevatt
Japanese apricot tree and native apricot tree
The native apricot tree (Pittosporum angustifolium), which also goes by the name gumbi gumbi, is an Australian plant that’s used for its medicinal purposes. The fruit closely resembles an apricot, but this species belongs to a different genus from other apricots.
The Japanese apricot tree (Prunus mume) is a cross between a plum and an apricot, but its traits are more similar to the latter. One of its variants, the weeping apricot tree, is called such because of its graceful drooping appearance. Japanese apricots can be grown in parts of Australia where the climate is colder.
How to grow an apricot tree
You can grow an apricot tree from a young plant, which you can purchase from a nursery in your area. You can also choose to grow an apricot from seed. Whichever method you choose, it’s sure to be a fun and rewarding experience!
Not all apricot varieties need a temperate climate to thrive. There are trees that grow well in Australia where the weather is warmer. When choosing a location, you will need a reliable water source to ensure that your apricot tree is well-hydrated throughout the year. Plant during the winter season under full sun.
Apricots love alkaline soil. Well-drained loam helps strengthen your tree’s root system. Dig a hole that’s big enough to leave some space around the trunk. Water your plant well, especially during the hot summer months. Apricot blossoms need dry weather to thrive and become fruit. A mature apricot tree usually needs 100 to 120 days for the fruit to ripen.
Planting an apricot tree from seed
You may happen to have sweet and juicy apricots and would like to harvest fruit of the same quality. If you want to be rewarded with fresh apricots from your own garden, simply follow these tips on how to grow an apricot tree from seed:
Step 1. Prepare the pit
Clean then dry the pits indoors. Most apricot plants inherit the traits of their parent plants. Choosing pits from good-tasting apricots will increase the likelihood that your apricot trees will bear sweet fruit as well.
Step 2. Get the seed
Using a hammer, lightly pound the pit to remove the apricot seed. The trick is to be able to crack the pit without damaging the seed inside. You can also use a nutcracker if this is easier for you.
Step 3. Store the seed
Clean the seed, then keep it in a cool area of your home for 4 to 6 weeks.
Step 4. Grow the roots
To start the germination process, soak the seed overnight then place in moist paper towels. Store the paper towels containing the seed in the fridge until small roots develop. This usually takes about a month or two.
Step 5. Position well
You can start planting as soon as roots appear. Make sure to plant the seed after the last frost. An area where there is full sun is the best place to grow an apricot tree. Check that the soil is alkaline enough and there is enough space for your tree to grow.
Step 6. Start digging
Prepare your planting site by digging a 15cm hole. Plant the seed root-side down and cover it with a mixture of compost and soil. Protect the newly-planted seed with a piece of hardware cloth or screen.
Step 7. Water well
Water the seed well to boost its growth. Watering once a week is sufficient when the climate is cooler, but you can water up to 3 times a week if the temperature is higher. Remove the screen as soon as your tree starts to sprout.
Common apricot tree problems
Fungal diseases like mildew, brown rot, and Eutypa dieback can weaken your apricot trees and damage the fruits. The fungi responsible for brown rot in stone fruits are Monlilia fructicola and Monlilia laxa.
Fruit tree pests
Apricot trees attract animals like bats, possums, and rats into your yard. These critters can damage your trees and wreak havoc on your garden. You can use homemade repellents to deter possums and other fruit-eating pests from eating your apricots and littering in your home.
Aphids, earwigs, and garden weevils are common insects that infest apricots. Earwigs and garden weevils cause small holes in apricots and cause the fruits to spoil quicker. To prevent this, clean the planting spot regularly. You can place a barrier around your tree to stop the infestation from spreading.
Apricots are frost-sensitive trees. Freezing temperatures can destroy the blossoms, which means less yield for your tree. A sprinkler irrigation system can protect your apricot trees from frost and ensure that they’re healthy even during harsh winters.
How to prune an apricot tree in Australia
In Australia, pruning can be done in two seasons. To induce fruit production, it is best to prune your apricot tree during spring. Pruning during autumn is a must as soon as leaves start to fall off. Apply a pruning paste to the cut areas to speed up healing and prevent bacteria from infecting the tree’s wounds.
You can trim off fruits in spring if there’s a crop overproduction. Removing 1 to 4 fruits is ideal. To keep your fruit tree small and compact, prune your apricot tree by two-thirds. Remove dead or infected branches that will otherwise use up nutrients meant for healthier parts of your tree.
You can prune strategically to train your plant into an espalier apricot tree. Espalier fruit trees save space and make for an ornamental addition to your garden, especially during flowering and fruiting seasons.
Apricot tree care and maintenance
Fertilising nourishes your apricot trees by infusing essential vitamins and minerals into the soil. What this does is it helps your trees produce more fruit and brings back their vigour.
Always check the information on the fertiliser package to ensure that the product is suitable for your plant. For young apricot trees, half a cup to one cup of fertiliser will do. For bigger, more mature trees, using one to two cups of fertiliser is sufficient. Make sure to use a maximum of .9kg of nitrogen fertiliser annually.
If your apricot tree looks unhealthy and isn’t bearing plenty of fruit despite your best efforts, it’s always good to seek help from professional gardeners. Sometimes your tree may just need a pruning, but there are instances when the problem is more serious.
There are gardening and pruning services who can check your tree’s health and diagnose if it has disease and infestation. Professional gardeners will also assess if your soil is alkaline enough and if it needs further nutritional boosting. With proper care and maintenance, your fruit trees will grow healthy and bear plenty of fruit for you to enjoy.