Training a Fan-Shaped Apricot Tree
The initial training of a fan-shaped tree is the same as for peach trees, though you will find that apricots do not produce such luxuriant growth and training them will be less time consuming and less complicated. Once the main ribs of the fan are established, which will take two to three years, depending on the age of the tree when you start, maintenance pruning each year will be necessary.
Your aim in pruning is to encourage the tree to produce new shoots, evenly spaced out, regularly every year. This is achieved by pruning the right amount at the right time, but you should also ensure that sufficient growth is left untouched, so that it can produce buds and fruit. Too hard pruning will give too much vegetative growth; too little or no pruning at all will result in a sequence of heavy crops, which will exhaust the tree and give poor quality fruit.
Although the apricot will fruit on one year old shoots, it carries more and better quality fruit on growth which is two or three years old. There is no need to do the extensive cutting out, rubbing and pinching back so necessary with the peach, though the principles which are followed are roughly the same. Remember, however, that hard pruning results in a smaller crop, and it is better to prune the apricot comparatively lightly.
The considerable risk of infection by silver leaf and die-back means that the safest time to prune is in late spring and early summer. Unavoidably, some pruning has to be done later than this, but it should be kept to a minimum and should be done in mid-to late autumn.
As with the peach, any new shoots which grow directly into the wall or directly away from it, should be rubbed out as soon as they become obvious. Any weak new shoots should be removed, and also those which have died back from the tip; cut these back to living growth or remove them altogether.
Then, two or three weeks later, when the remaining new shoots have grown somewhat, the best of these should be earmarked to form replacement branches, and tied in so that they are evenly spaced between the current main growths. They can be allowed to grow without being stopped throughout the season, and should be spaced at least 30 cm (1’) apart.
Of the remainder, some can be completely removed, and some can be stopped after the fourth leaf beyond the cluster of leaves at the base. If the shoots that are not removed then produce sub-sideshoots during the season, again they can either be completely removed, or pinched back to one leaf beyond the basal cluster, when they have grown to about three leaves long.
Some very strong shoots will probably be produced in the centre of the fan; these should be cut out completely unless they are needed as replacement shoots. Since the best crops are produced on two and three year old shoots and spurs, it is wise to remove periodically the oldest growth every five or six years. This will mean cutting out one or two branches of the framework of the fan, and so a similar number of strong new shoots should be retained and tied in to take their place. Do not prune or pinch back these replacement shoots.
If in doubt whether to prune out or pinch back a shoot, leave it alone, provided the growth is not too crowded. Light, rather than heavy, pruning of apricots will give you the heaviest crops.
In autumn, cut off the growing points of the leading shoots, and those side-shoots which have been kept for future replacements. Also remove the oldest spurs completely.
Pruning a bush tree
If you consider that a bush tree will fruit satisfactorily in your garden, the pruning should aim at building up a cup-shaped framework of primary branches, on which the fruiting sideshoots will be carried. The subsequent pruning should be light, but aimed at helping the tree produce new shoots every year, spaced evenly over the tree. Prune at the same time as you would for fan-shaped trees, and in general follow the instructions for pruning a bush peach.
Flowering and pollination The apricot is self-fertile and does not need another variety to cross-pollinate it. It flowers in early spring, or sometimes even earlier, if it is grown on a wall, although bush trees grown in the open will probably flower two weeks or so later. Hence there is a great risk of frost damage to the blossom, and protection should be supplied in the form of netting or clear polythene sheeting draped over the tree, hung from wires or wooden battens, and rolled back during the day when the weather is warmer. Be careful to see that the protective covering does not touch the flowers.
In the early spring, there are few pollinating insects about, and you will have to do a good deal of hand pollination to get a good fruit set. When the flowers are fully open, which is usually at midday, transfer the pollen from one flower to another with the help of a child’s paintbrush, stroking it lightly over the centre of each flower.