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(Genus: Prunus armeniaca - Family: Rosaceae)
The apricot tree and its origins
The apricot is of Asian origin. However, Prunus armeniaca translated means Armenian Plum, where the fruit had been assumed to have originated from given its long standing history and availability there.
It has been in existence for at least 4000 years and was introduced into Western Europe by the Romans in around 60 B. C. However, its distribution and production in Europe is much more recent.
Part of the Prunus genus, the apricot derives from the same family as plums, peaches and cherries, although many apricot varieties are slightly hardier than other members of the family.
English settlers brought apricots to the New World and they are now cultivated globally.
How to Plant apricot trees
For best results plant apricots during the dormant period from autumn right through until March.
Apricots enjoy a warm temperate climate with full exposure to the sun. Despite the fact that they favour warmth, they are not delicate fruits and do benefit from a cold spell to ensure complete dormancy. The key to a successful crop is ensuring that the plant has warmth during both the flowering and fruiting phase and protecting it from late frosts at this delicate stage.
Space the planting holes at least 3-4.5m apart. The branches should be 1m from the ground. Apricots thrive in deep, loose soil that is rich in organic matter and will struggle if placed in shallow or water-logged soil. Different cultivars respond to different types of soil, choose according to your local conditions.
Apply a yearly dose of xxx xxxxx g / m² fertiliser before and after the fruit sets, then add another dose of xxxx g / m² between late winter and late summer.
When planting the graft or rootstock, prepare the soil in advance by adding XXg of XX, mixing in well before replacing the soil in the planting hole.
Water frequently, ensuring that the soil remains moist but not water-logged and then reduce in the month leading up to harvesting. Drip irrigation systems are very effective to do this job.
Apricots produce fruit quickly and only have a short fruiting season. They bear fruit on year old wood, so care must be taken to avoid pruning too much old wood which will restrict future blooms. They need to be pruned in spring or late summer to keep a balance between vegetation and production. Pruning should gradually increase with age, reducing branches that bear too many fruit buds.
To produce larger and more beautiful fruit, it is important to thin-out the tree, directing all the nutrients to the superior apricots.
When to harvest Apricots?
A medium sized tree, apricot cultivars generally reach about 4m in height, although some wild variants can grow up to 12m. It is defined by slender branches and smooth, heart-shaped leaves that have a serrated edge and purple stem.
The apricot is in bloom during February and produces delicate blooms that range from pink to white in colour and have five petals on each flower. They bloom in groups of 2 or 3. Most apricot cultivars are self-fertile but some will require cross pollination, which is often manually achieved by hand.
The apricots produced are fleshy, stoned fruit called drupes, ovoid, longitudinally furrowed, velvety skin with a colour that ranges from pale yellow to deep orange, depending on the variety. The flesh is tender, juicy and sweet. They ripen during the summer months and are ready for harvest in June and July.
Apricots can be kept fresh for a short number of days but are best eaten as soon as they are picked.
Propagation of apricot trees
Propagation of the apricot tree is usually from grafts, cuttings or rootstocks. To ensure the plant has vigour, rapid growth and an ability to bear fruit early, strong scions are grafted onto myrobalan (Prunus. cerasifera).
It is also common for apricots to be grafted using a peach tree which offers both a larger fruit size and will condition the apricot to bear fruit early.
Diseases and insects affecting apricots:
Did you know?
Apricots are widely used in cooking to add sweetness to both sweet and savoury dishes. They are also used in jams, preserves and sauces. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, an apricot is rich in vitamins B, C, PP and carotenoids, precursors of vitamin A. 200g of the fruit provides the daily requirement of vitamin A for an adult.
The apricot is also rich in phosphorus, iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium; it is a must for an anaemic, those suffering from exhaustion and for depression.