Many who would be glad to harvest a crop of delicious apricots are scared of planting a tree, labouring under the delusion that the apricot demands conditions which cannot ordinarily be given to it. The apricot is hardy enough, and given the shelter and warmth of a sunny wall it is capable of ripening excellent fruit in the open.
Ready for Use. The season is not a long one, but fruits can be stored for a limited period, can be preserved, and made into jam. Apricot pudding, or tart, needs no boosting.
Varieties include New Large Early, ripening in mid-July, perhaps the hardiest of all apricots and a very regular cropper; Blenheim, late July; Luizet and Hemskerk, July to August; Royal, early August; Moorpark, late August.
It is advisable (to ensure proper fertilization) to plant two different varieties, so that pollen can be transferred from one tree to the other.
Forms of Tree.
Fan-trained trees are obtainable for growing flat against a sunny wall. Pyramids and bushes, of fruiting size, can be purchased in pots for fruiting in greenhouse or conservatory; these to be dealt with as explained in the section FRUIT IN THE GREENHOUSE.
Free drainage is essential, and the soil must contain plenty of lime. If the ground is clay, or otherwise heavy, it should be broken up to a depth of 3 ft., plenty of mortar rubble and sand or sharp grit being mixed in throughout that depth. Any doubt as to drainage should be removed by taking out the soil to the depth of 3 ft., and in the bottom of the planting hole ramming a 9-in. layer of broken brick or stones. Soil that lacks sufficient lime should have lime rubble mixed with it, or be given a dressing of slaked lime well in advance of planting.
When and How to Plant.
October is the best month for planting. Roots then have some encouragement to get hold of the ground before the dead days of winter. Soil must be made very firm around and above the roots, and fan-trained trees should be planted about 18 ft. apart. Further details, including instructions for staking and tying, are given in the section THE ABC OF PLANTING.
Watering and Feeding.
Dry periods lead to fruit splitting and fruit dropping; plenty of water should be given to avoid these and other troubles. Young trees especially must be nursed with the watering can, 3 gals, to 4 gals, being given at a time. Loss of moisture can be prevented in hot dry weather by covering the area occupied by the roots with a surface dressing, 2 in. thick, of lawn mowings or weeds, water being poured, as required, through this mulch.
Young trees should not be fed until they begin to fruit. Rotted manure put down wet, as a surface mulch, in early June, is then of great assistance.
One of the special artificial mixtures sold for this class of tree can be hoed into the surface in March, at the rate of about 2 ounces per square yard.
Where lime is not present in any quantity, slaked lime should be put down every second or third winter, applying it at the rate of one pound to each square yard of soil.
Aid to Fruiting.
Frost is always to be expected when the apricot is in flower, because the blossom is produced so early in the year. A double thickness of old fish netting hung from the top of the wall and reaching to the ground, shutting in the flowers, prevents frost affecting them. Unfortunately that is not always practicable. But what can be done with little trouble to ensure a good set of fruit is hand-pollination of the flowers.
Hive bees will not work in the cold, and bumble bees are no more inclined to do so. In bad weather, then, no bees will be available to transfer pollen from flower to flower. The grower must do it himself, with a fluffy piece of dry cotton wool, or a rabbit’s tail, tied to the end of a stick. This is brushed gently over the flowers, three or four times at intervals whilst the flowers are open. It should be done when the air is dry, preferably when the sun is shining.
The set of fruit will be more certain – and fewer will fall off when formed – if pollen is transferred between two different varieties of apricot. In this case the cotton wool or rabbit’s tail should be brushed over several flowers of the one tree and the brushing be repeated at once over flowers of the other tree, the operation being continued until all the bloom of both trees has been dealt with. It takes much less time than might be imagined.
Thinning the Fruits.
If the apricots stand finally at about 5 in. apart – no closer – that will be as many as the established tree can bring to perfection. There should be no hurry to do this. A proportion will fall naturally, whilst the stone is forming in the fruit, and it will be time enough to do the final thinning when no more fall.
Why Apricots Split.
If a tree is allowed to carry an extra large crop many of the apricots will split, which is one reason for thinning out die fruit. A prolonged spell of very wet weather will result in the same trouble – as also will prolonged drought. Wet weather cannot be avoided, but drought can – or rather, it can be fought with watering can or bucket.
Why Branches Suddenly Die.
An apricot tree in badly drained ground is specially liable to the complaint known as die-back. A branch in full leaf and apparently in full health will suddenly wilt throughout its whole length and die. Lack of sufficient lime has also been blamed; and too much pruning with knife or secateurs.
If the drainage is suspected the tree should be lifted and replanted after the site has been dealt with as explained in the paragraph name for slender side shoots from the main branches. These laterals, or breastwood, will mostly need to be shortened during summer and later shortened again: some can be tied in to fill any vacant wall space there may be to produce fruit the following year. headed ‘Soil Preparation’.
If lack of lime is suspected, add this in the form of plenty of old, crushed mortar rubble, or slaked lime, forked shallowly into die surface.
How the use of knife or secateurs can be largely avoided is explained later under pruning.
Method of Fruiting.
The apricot produces its fruit on spurs, on stubby side shoots, and also on laterals – which is the technical
Preliminary to summer pruning is the removal in spring – as soon as new growth starts – of all unwanted shoots. which will be numerous. These are rubbed off with the finger. They will include shoots on the front of branches, which if allowed to remain would project outwards from the wall. This disbudding, as it is called, is to prevent crowding.
In addition to fruiting sp-:;-s, short side shoots wili develop during summer. These should not be interfered with if they remain at 4 in. or 5 in. in length; if they exceed that die ends should be pinched off, between thumb and finger, to reduce them to about 5 in. These will develop fruit buds and produce fruit the following year.
Longer side shoots (laterals or breastwood) should be tied in, where this can be done without crowding, to bear fruit the following year. Where space is lacking for this, diese longer summer laterals should be summer-pruned back to the fourth leaf, and later to two or three buds – to form fruiting spurs.
Pruning After Fruiting.
After stubby side shoots (which were left untouched) have fruited they should be shortened back to a shoot at their base.
Each longer lateral which was left to fruit should be shortened, after the fruit has been gathered, to a new shoot arising from its base. These new shoots, which will carry the following year’s fruit, should be tied in; they in turn will send out new shoots of their own, but these should be rubbed off with the exception of one at the outer extremity and one at the base. The latter will in due course take the place of the fruited shoot; if it exceeds 2 ft. in length the tip should be pinched off. The upper shoot which was left on the long lateral is there to draw up sap and so assist in the swelling of the fruit, and it should not be allowed to extend beyond about the third leaf.
The spurs should be kept young. When a spur is obviously ageing it should be cut back to a strong shoot at its base (unwanted wood shoots from spurs are rubbed off in summer), this shoot being summer-pruned and shortened back later to about two buds – to make it a new fruiting spur.
Use of prun ing. knife or secateurs should be avoided as far as possible, removal of unwanted growths being done by pinching between thumb-nail and first finger-nail before wood becomes too hard. Wounds left by knife or secateurs, used when the apricot tree is leafless, provide an opportunity for infection to enter – including silver-leaf disease, and die-back trouble receives encouragement that way.
A branch that has suddenly-wilted and died, or one that shows the typical silvery colour (in the foliage) of silver-leaf disease, should be cut out during summer, if possible – round about June. Disease is then far less likely to enter the cut surface. An additional safeguard is to cover the cut surface at once with thick paint, so as to seal it.
Further pruning details are contained in the section THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING.
Nurserymen obtain their apricot trees by budding selected varieties on to special plum stocks, during summer. How this is done, and how a fan-tree is made, is explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
When to Gather the Fruit. Ripening is hindered in the case of individual fruits when a leaf or two blocks out the sun. The cause of the shade should be pinched off. A fruit otherwise hidden from the sun can often be coaxed into a more prominent position by means of a piece of smooth stick placed lengthwise behind the shoot carrying it.
Apricots are at their best, so far as flavour is concerned, when only slightly soft; over-ripe, they lose something of their quality as dessert fruit – for eating raw, that is.
The fruit can be stored for a limited time if taken from the tree before it is ripe, the ripening being completed in a cool shed or similar place.
How apricots can be preserved, without the use of sugar, is explained in the section EASY HOME PRESERVATION OF FRUITS. Preparing for Table.
A dish of apricots for raw dessert can be made even more attractive if the dish is lined with clean leaves of Virginia creeper, ivy or blackberry. The fruit itself needs no preparation. Doctors describe the apricot as ‘wholesome and most agreeable’: most people will agree that this is an understatement.