Questions on: Apricot

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: We live in the desert of Arizona at about 4,000 feet. I have an apricot tree that did not bear fruit last year, but this year it did. The tree gets no attention. Suckers grow and are not pruned and the tree is never pruned. It does get a steady drip of water, which it seems to like. Can I use one of the suckers for a tree? How do I make it root? This tree seems to be self-fertilizing because it's in a junkyard and there are no other trees around. The apricots sure taste good! (e-mail reference)

A: Bearing fruit in alternate years is a normal characteristic of many fruit trees, so there is nothing to worry about. As to rooting suckers, it would be a variable experiment at best. You need to use some rooting powder and take the cuttings at different times of the year. Take cuttings now while the leaves are fully expanded. Take more cuttings later in the fall after everything has hardened off and during the winter while the suckers are dormant. The cuttings should be about 6 to 9 inches long. Dip the cuttings in an IBA or NAA rooting hormone and then plant in a sand/peat mixture. Keep the cuttings moist under semishady conditions when using leafed-out cuttings. Don't have high expectations because this method normally does not have a high degree of commercial success. They generally are grafted onto rootstock.

Q: I have an apricot tree that I planted a few years ago. This tree was recommended for the zone I live in. The tree has been a real trooper. It has borne fruit each year, except one. However, last year was the first time that all the apricots were infested with worms. Is there something that I can do to prevent this infestation from happening again this summer? It is just about spring here and I would like to help my tree to be fruitful and avoid the infestation. (e-mail reference)

A: If the tree has not started budding, go ahead and spray it with dormant oil. If it has started budding, then wait until the flowers begin to fall to start spraying with Sevin insecticide. Repeat the application at least three more times every 10 to 14 days. Of course, be sure to follow label directions for timing and concentration.

Q: I have an apricot tree that has grown very large, but has yet to produce full-grown fruit. Last year I saw some fruit starting on the tree after it bloomed, but then nothing. I do not know if birds or bugs ate the fruit. I did not see any on the ground. This year, it has just started blooming. Is there anything special that I need to do to take care of it? (e-mail reference)

A: I am going to direct you to my Web site on apricot tree care at

Q: I am renting a house in Concord, Cali. The landlord who owns the house told me that we had an apricot tree in the backyard. The tree is very close to the house and last year it was infested with aphids. This year it seems to be doing OK. I was wondering how I could tell if it's an apricot tree. Do apricot trees normally produce sap? Is there anything I could do about the aphids if they come back this year? The tree has no signs of bearing fruit, but I think it's too early. (e-mail reference)

A: Aphid control is best practiced with an application of dormant oil spray before the trees leaf out. If you were told it is an apricot tree, then you have to believe it until it bears fruit to prove otherwise. The sap that was annoying last year came from the aphid feeding activity. It will occur on any tree that is infested with aphids or other insects with piercing-sucking mouth parts.

Q: I know someone who has an apricot tree, but does not have enough space for another. A second party has a good-producing apricot tree. Does it make sense for the person with the lack of space to graft a branch from the good-producing tree for pollination purposes? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, grafting a branch from one tree to the other may make a big difference in fruit set. Keep in mind that some trees come into bloom earlier than others, so while the graft may be compatible, the blooming might be out of sequence for pollination. However, it would be worth a try, as well as fun.

Q: I live a little north of West Fargo. The Sheyenne River runs at the foot of a little cliff in the backyard. Occasionally (including this year) the water will come up over the cliff to a depth of about 12 inches and flood the backyard for a few days and then subside. I have ordered two Manchurian apricot trees to plant. Can I plant them by the edge of the cliff or would a few days worth of flooding kill them? Also, do you have any tips on how to grow apricot trees? Do they need full or partial sunlight? (e-mail reference)

A: You would be accused of plant homicide if you placed them where they would get flooded, even for a few days. Apricots have a hard enough time making it in our environment without the root zone being covered in water or saturated soil. Apricot trees need full sunlight and very little, if any, fertilizer.

Q: We have 12 apricot trees. When the trees were smaller, the rabbits would eat the trees, so in the spring the trees would grow from the roots. The trees are about 15 feet tall now, but don’t have a main trunk, only spindly branches coming from the root. Can I cut all of the branches except one of the stronger stems so it will grow and produce fruit? The rabbits still eat the bark as high as they can reach. (Nome, N.D.)

A: Go ahead and cut all the branches except one strong stem. Next fall, wrap the stem with paper or some other protection. Spray the portion that is not wrapped with Hinder or Plantskydd repellent.

Q: I have a moongold apricot tree that I planted this year. I understand I need to plant another one to provide pollination. Do I need a certain variety? My first choice would be the scout, but is there another that you would recommend? (McVille, N.D.)

A: Get another tree even though some apricots are self-fruitful; they will always produce better with another cultivar to cross pollinate. Just be careful in the use of any insecticides so the bee population can remain high and active. The cultivar you mentioned is as good as any.

Q: You spoke about spraying fruit in the spring with oil. Is this the time and what kind of oil should I use? I have apricot trees that yielded abundantly last year and I'd like some more jam. (Brookings, S.D.)

A: Now is the time. Get Horticultural Oil that can be used any time of the year. You can get it at any garden supply store.

Q: My husband and I planted a row of apricot trees in 1999. This year they are producing a lot of fruit, although the worms or bugs are enjoying it more than we are.  The fruit is almost ripe but there are holes where the worms have been eating their way to the inside of the fruit. The fruit then turns brown, dries up and falls off.  Is there any thing I can do to prevent this from happening next year?  (Lisbon, N.D.)

A:  Pick up all the fallen fruit this fall. Spray the tree with Malathion as the leaves are unfolding next spring and hope that does the trick.

Q: I have three apricot trees about eight years old which started to bear fruit the last few years. Last year they bore fruit which grew to maturity but the apricots were covered with brownish black spots. What is it? Can I spray with anything to save the crop? Otherwise, the trees look healthy. Also, what can I spray for cedar apple rust? We have a couple of cedars with apples but it’s only the second time in 15 years. (Barnesville, Minn.)

A: The spots on the apricots are likely a fungal leaf spot. Clean up all the fallen leaves then next spring spray using a Bordeaux mixture to prevent the spores from developing. The best bet to control cedar apple rust is to remove one of the alternate hosts to control the rust cycles. The next best bet is to pick off the fruiting bodies on the junipers or the witch's broom. Lastly, spray them with a fungicide just as the gelatinous bodies are developing on the junipers.

Q: I have a client that has two apricot trees, a sungold and a moongold, that have great fruit sets but later in the summer drop all fruit when it is about a half inch in diameter. There are no visual symptoms. Is there any inherent problem in these varieties or would you suspect another cause? (Devils Lake, N.D.)

A: A number of things can cause premature fruit drop of apricots. The most common one is overbearing. When the fruit is pea to pigeon egg size, begin thinning to prevent fruit drop. Pollination and fertilization are carried on at too great a level for the tree to sustain all of the set fruit and consequently simply drop the whole load. This will reduce the energy expenditure of the tree and it can then put more of it into upsizing the remaining fruit. You can also thin the blossoms rather than the fruit. Considerably less damage is done to the tree with selective blossom removal and the procedure goes much faster. The problem could be pollination but no fertilization or fruit maggots inside the fruit. I doubt that either of these is the cause since it wasn’t a selective drop and you saw no visual symptoms.

Q: What fruit trees will act as pollinators for a sungold apricot? When I bought it, I was told it would self-fertilize. Now I have been told that it needs a pollinator and that moongold is recommended. Are there other trees, besides moongold, that would work? Does it have to be an apricot tree? I got the impression from one of your answers that it just needs to be in the prunus family. I'm trying to find a variety that I can espalier since I have run out of yard space. (E-mail reference)

A: I assume that you live somewhere in the Upper Midwest. To be on the safe side, always plant another cultivar or two to assure cross-pollination. The species that is used for our region of the country is prunus mandshurica. Sungold and moongold cultivars are recommended for the coldest regions like North Dakota and upper Minnesota. If you live anywhere else, then the choices become a little wider and you can consider planting scout, moorpark, mantoy, manchu, and possibly goldcot.

Q: I bought a couple of apricot trees a few years ago. They were supposed to be Sungold and Moongold. The trees now have grown to a good size and obviously are two different varieties. One tree (Sungold?) is very upright (almost columnar) and smaller and less vigorous. The other is more spreading and larger. I have had good blossoms from both trees but have noticed that their blossom times are different. One tree seems to have almost completely finished blooming as the other blossoms. Peak blossom seems to be about a week apart. I still get fruit set, but considerably more on the smaller tree. On the larger tree, I get some fruit set but it doesn't seem to survive to maturity and drops off. I see no sign of disease on either tree. I probably should mention this is a mixed orchard and there are apples, peaches, a Montmorency cherry, and even a Meador american persimmon nearby. There are plums about 100 feet away. I am located in Wisconsin on the border of zone 4 and 5. My orchard is at the top of a hill, so I figure it is more like zone 5. (E-mail reference, Wisc.)

A: I would suggest getting a couple more of each of the two cultivars for better pollen distribution between the trees. You are fortunate to be able to grow such a variety of fruit trees!

Q: I have an apricot tree that grew from a seedling from the parent tree. It’s 15 years old, and each year it blossoms but the apricots fall out after a week or two of development. Some leaves on the branches are wilted and I also see some sap coming from some of the branches. Is there a fungal disease or bug infestation? (E-mail reference, Cal.)

A: It sounds like you have a couple of problems. Premature fruit drop is the result of embryo abortion from incomplete or non-fertilization of the flowers, or an insect problem. Apricots typically need two different cultivars for pollination success. If you have just one tree, or if the trees on your property are of the same variety or cultivar, that would be why you are experiencing fruit failure. Another reason would be some type of midge or insect laying eggs on the developing fruit embryos and the resulting larvae that feed on the fruit causing it to drop. My vote goes with the former reason. Wilted leaves and sap oozing from the branches indicate a borer problem to me. Once they get started, they are difficult to control. You may want to cut off those branches that are wilting and oozing below the spot where the sap is visible. Contact your local county extension agent or a competent garden center to check what is legal for borer control on your apricot. Generally, once trees become infested with borers, it is time to deliver last rites to them.

Q. My 4-year-old apricot tree got lots of flowers in the spring but no fruit at all. Do I need to plant another apricot tree to pollinate? What should I do? I read an article in a magazine with pictures about apples that are trained and kept short in the front yard but still bear a lot of fruit. The thing is, they did not include how to train and prune them. Can you give me some tips how they did it? (E-mail reference, Milpitas, Cal.)

A: First of all, thanks for identifying who you are and where you are writing from. It helps me to focus on the problem a little better and gives me a person to respond to instead of just a message. I wish everybody did that! About your apricot tree. While it is not clear whether or not apricots need another to cross-pollinate, it would be a good measure of security to have another one for that purpose. Even if not necessary, it will only make the fruit set better. I don't know your climatic conditions in that part of California. In our part of the country, the apricot is usually prevented from setting fruit by spring frosts damaging the blooms. That could be the case in your territory as well. The fact that you are getting flowers is encouraging; you could be lacking in bee activity at the time the blooms are open, it could be too windy, or too rainy. For now, try the additional tree. California produces 95 percent of the apricots sold in the U.S., so somewhere in the state things are going right! What you likely read was about the art of espalier -- a technique that has fruit trees pruned in a geometric form, generally in two dimensions -- vertically and horizontally -- against a wall or fence. Book stores or a local library should have information on that. If that isn't it, then they were creating topiary plants that have unique shapes. Again, local references should help.

Q: Will you please address the following questions:

No.1: We have put an apricot tree in our back yard. Is it necessary to have a second apricot tree of the opposite sex for it to bear fruit? We have a chokecherry, Juneberry, Nanking cherry, plum and pear tree nearby. Can any of these cross pollinate with the apricot?

No. 2: How do we properly prune our shrub roses? Even our veteran rose people in the Bismarck-Mandan Garden Club don't
seem to know the answer to this one. (Bismarck, N.D., e-mail)

A: To answer your questions:

No. 1: You have a good selection of Prunus species for the pollination to take place. It sounds like you should be getting a lot of fruit off the trees and shrubs you have planted. Enjoy!

No. 2: Shrub roses need little pruning in comparison to their hybrid and floribunda cousins. Simply remove the winter killed wood and clean up any tangled, nonblooming growth at the ground from the centers of the older bushes. Be sure you wear HEAVY gloves and that you use your best, sharp pruners! That old wood can get to be pretty tough at times, and those thorns seem capable of penetrating anything short of armor plating. If it proves to be too much of a blood-letting task, then simply cut them back to the ground and allow them to regrow.

Unlike the hybrid teas and floribundas, don't head these back once they have finished flowering. The objective in pruning shrub roses is to promote their natural form whether it be upright, spreading or drooping. Once the flowers have finished, attractive fruits called "hips" form that add to the beauty of the plant.

Q: Should I spray my fruit trees with any kind of spray at this time? They are plum, apple, cherry, apricot etc. Also I have an apple tree with yellow delicious apples, but lost the name of the tree. Is there any way to identify it and what would you need to identify it? (Hague, N.D., e-mail)

A: All the spraying is done in the early spring or late winter, prior to leaf-out. I suggest a lime-sulfur and dormant-oil spray at that time--these take care of most overwintering insects and diseases.

If you have an apple tree with yellow delicious apples on it, then that is the name of the tree. I do not try to identify apples any longer. It turns out to be too much of a good guess or worse, a shot in the dark!

Q: I cut down my apricot tree in July, and now it has a 2-foot-tall shoot coming out of the stump.Will this shoot grow up to be a good mate for the other apricot tree that I just planted? (Sisseton, S.D.)

A: There is every chance that the new sprout coming from your old tree will survive and make a good "yard-mate" for the one you just planted. At least give it a chance to see what happens!

Q: We have two apricot trees that keep dropping the fruit before it gets ripe. What can we do to stop this? (Wahpeton, N.D.)

A: Usually complete fruit drop indicates grub infestation, poor fertilization, and/or wide moisture fluctuations. I suggest trying a spray of Sevin or Malathion next spring as the flower petals begin to fall.

Q: I have an apricot tree that is beautiful, but the fruit is all wormy. What can I do to stop this problem? (Waubay, S.D.)

A: How frustrating to await the delicious fruit of the apricot only to find it wormy!

It could be any number of insects: the plum curculio, green fruitworm, apple maggot, sawfly larvae, or a beetle larvae—you name it. Anyway, the first step is sanitation. Rake up and destroy all fallen fruit. Remove any fruit remaining on the tree going into winter. Spray the tree with lime-sulfur next spring before leaf-out, then spray at full blossom with Malathion or Sevin, being careful NOT to do it when the bees are active. Spray again in 10 days. That should do it. If you should get too many apricots to eat, send some up here! I love `em!

Q. Your column is very helpful.

Will Manchurian apricot pollinate a Moongold apricot? Is Manchurian apricot sort of like a wild plum? I mean real common. 

Will a wild plum pollinate Underwood plum? I had Pipestone plum and fruit from it and did not have a pollinator. I suppose it lived 15 years. Some wild plum around. 

Can you tell me anything about summer cypress or standing cypress? A friend gave seed and in her yard it looks easy to grow but I have trouble starting it. I have found it listed in a 1962 House and Garden bulletin from the Department of Ag—only identified, but I was glad for that identification.

Do you need to thin daffodils? If so, how often? Mine have lots of shoots for which I am happy, but I sure want to keep them doing well. Thanks. (Pierre, S.D.) 

A. Thank you for the nice comments about the column. 

The answers are "yes" to your first two questions.

The summer cypress is Kochia scoparia, and also has the common name of burning bush because of its blazing fall color. Seeds need to be soaked for 24 hours, then germinated at 70 F. It is one of the toughest, most heat-tolerant annuals on earth. Makes a nice temporary hedge.

Yes, daffodils can be thinned every three to five years.

Q. I love fresh apricots. Is it possible to grow them in my part of the country? (Dickinson, N.D.)

A. Apricots can be grown throughout North Dakota, depending on the cultivar or variety you select. The Manchurian apricot is the hardiest, but has the largest seed and very little fruit to enjoy. I suggest going for the Sungold or Moongold cultivars; both are freestone, with the stones being much smaller than the Manchurian. If they bear two to three years out of five, consider yourself lucky, as a late spring frost usually wipes out the opening blossoms.

Q. I read your column every week and find it really interesting.

I have three apricot trees that are 3 years old, and all six and a half feet tall. Two are looking great, the third tree just dried up. Enclosed are some of the leaves from this tree. Could you tell me what happened to it?

Thank you.

A. It is the letters I receive from folks like you that make the column interesting.

It looks as if your apricot went under from a fungal disease that originated in the root system. There is no fungicide registered for this disease. What I suggest is trenching  around the stump, or complete removal of it, to prevent the spread of this disease to your other trees.

Q.Could you check another sample of an apricot tree? This is the fourth tree I have lost in two years. I have the bark protected from rabbits. (Dante, S.D.).

A.Although not possible to identify from your sample, I suspect it is suffering from armillaria root rot, common and widespread in our region, especially where soils are poorly drained. Unfortunately, this is a progressive disease that kills the host off in a year or two. There is nothing you can do to stop it.

Q: I would like to know why our apricot tree drops the apricots and our plum trees drop the plums? We are also noticing that our apple tree does the same.
(Bismarck, N.D.)

A: So-called June fruit drop is a normal phenomena. The tree is simply shedding the excess, smaller fruit so that more energy can be put into developing
the remaining fruit to maturity. Nothing to worry about or do.

Q: I have an apricot tree that is dropping fruit with insect larvae emerging from the inside. The leaves on the tree have shot holing in them and skeletonizing. Do you
have any tips for me? (Ellendale, N.D., e-mail)

A: Sounds like you have two distinct insects zeroing in on the poor apricot tree! Leaf skeletonizing is typically caused by a sawfly larvae. These are
ugly-looking, slug-type larvae that chew the tissue between the veins of the leaves. If their presence is no longer noted, then spraying is not
recommended. If they are still active, then spray with either pyrethrin, roteonone (organic), malathion or Sevin (non-organic).

The second insect is the plum curculio. About the only thing you can do right now is to pick up dropped fruit and destroy it. Sprays now would do little
good. This fall, follow good sanitation by removing all fruit that has dropped. Next spring, spray after petal drop and the fruit has set with any of the
pesticides I’ve listed.

Q: About three years ago we bought and planted what was called apricot bushes, which were supposed to produce fruit. Each year they get leaves but no blossoms
or fruit. What happened? (Yoncalla, Ore., e-mail)

A: Most likely, your apricots are living too good a life: ample water and nutrients with no or very little stress, environmentally speaking. You might want
to try a little traumatic stimulation, which means coming out to the dripline of the trees and pushing the blade straight-edged spade into the ground about
6 to 9 inches deep at about a half-dozen places around each tree. This effectively reduces the root system volume without hurting the tree and often
stimulates it into a reproductive mode. You won't get anything this year, but you may next. Give it a try.

The other possibility is that the apricot flowers at a time when the pollinators are inactive because there is too much wind or rain or a frost.

Q: I am starting an Apricot tree from seed. (From the super market.) If I keep it a pot indoors all winter, will it grow? (E-mail reference)

        A: The apricot tree needs to go through the cycles of winter/summer. Keeping it as a houseplant will not allow it to
        survive. You are better off planting it outside, depending on where you live. 

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