Prunus armeniaca ‘Harglow’
The genus Prunus evokes a multitude of images of picturesque spring ﬂowering and summer fruit-bearing trees. The wands of branches shrouded in ﬁve-petal blossoms hold their color high up while the ﬂoor of the garden is carpeted in companionable tulips, jonquils, forget-me-nots, and lily of-the-valley. Falling blossoms swirling like snow sift their fragrant petals through the ﬂoral carpet, clinging and scattering along the pathways.
The apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca), abricocke as it was known of old, may seem like an odd selection of fruit tree for a garden in the northeastern region of the United States. Apricots are generally considered more suitable for a warmer Mediterranean climate, though several cultivars are hardy through zone ﬁve! Prunus armeniaca was formerly thought to originate from Armenia, therein the name armeniaca. There is little doubt that its original habitat was in the temperate areas of Asia. Never having seen a living apricot tree, nonetheless we were inspired to grow Prunus armeniaca from an old photograph of one pictured in an enclosed garden setting, as well as by our desire to make apricot tarts from our own tree-ripened fruit.
With its ornamental round-headed silhouette and broad, oval leaves, it is a tree of graceful beauty. The sweetly scented pure white ﬂowers issue forth from plump violet colored sepal-enclosed buds. The two colors of violet and white are visible while the tree is leaﬂess and in bloom and, from a distance, create the illusion of a delicately pale pink ﬂower. We sited our apricot tree at the top of our fragrant path to savor the lilting honey scent of its blossoms.
The apricot buds swell at the earliest hint of warm air and are the ﬁrst fruit bearing trees to ﬂower in our garden. Unfortunately the ﬂowers, and therefore the fruit crop, may be damaged by a late spring frost. Spring in New England is predictably unpredictable; some years the tree sets fruit and some years it does not. Nevertheless, the apricot is a worthy specimen for the beauty of its blooms and branches alone.
There are several varieties of European apricots that are suitable to grow in a northern climate. We chose ‘Harglow’. Named varieties beginning with ‘Har’ (‘Harval,’ ‘Hargrand,’ Harcot,’ and ‘Harlayne’) were developed in Canada at the Harrow Research Station. For the most part, these cultivars are resistant to fungal and bacterial diseases caused by exceedingly damp, wet springs and humid summers. They are an ideal choice for a garden in a temperate zone where the growing season is shorter than a Mediterranean climate and are grown extensively in the Paciﬁc Northwest.
Apricots are also a sound selection for the urban garden as they are less affected by air pollution than other fruit trees. ‘Harglow’ is a perfect cultivar for the small garden. They are self-pollinating and grown on a semi-dwarf rootstock, ultimately reaching only ﬁfteen to eighteen feet in height. For four seasons of beauty I encourage every gardener who lives in a suitable climate, including those with only a wee bit of space, to consider growing the elegant apricot tree. When planning where to site an apricot tree, choose a sunny, sheltered location out of the path of drying winter winds. Plant apricot trees in loose soil with excellent drainage. After the ﬁrst hard frost, cover the root area with several inches of compost. Water apricot trees deeply, once a week during the growing season and more if you are experiencing drought-like conditions.
Standard and semi-dwarf apricot trees require regular pruning to maintain their height for ease of harvesting fruit and to allow light and air to penetrate the interior of the tree. Most fruits are borne on one- to three-year-old spurs that look like short, stubby branchlets. To best see the overall shape of the tree, prune in late winter or early spring, just after ﬂowering, while the tree is leaﬂess.
Apricots are plagued by many of the same pests as peach trees. Be on the lookout for signs of the Oriental fruit moth and peachtree borer. Peachtree borers burrow into the bark of the tree, leaving a gummy exudate of sap and tree dust. To prevent this problematic creature from destroying the tree, wrap the trunk of a newly planted tree with strips of brown paper up to the ﬁrst lateral branch. Cultivate the soil four inches deep within the drip-line of the tree, being mindful of the tree’s root system. With its distinguishable black body banded with vermilion or yellow, the adult peach tree borer moth is easy to detect, and unlike most moths, this one ﬂies during the day. From the ﬁrst indication of an infestation of Oriental fruit moth, you will observe the new growing tips have a drooping and wilted appearance. Caused by adult moths burrowing into the tips of the tender new shoots, the subsequent generations of larvae will then burrow into the fruit. Cut (and discard) the infested twig tips back to healthy growth. Again, working the soil at the base of the tree will help to destroy the pupae and therefore any future attacks by the Oriental fruit moth. The adult Oriental fruit moth is a mottled gray-brown with a relatively small wingspan (1⁄2 inch).
At the ﬁrst sign of disease or pest problem, cut out the infected growth. Practicing good housekeeping and growing disease-resistant varieties may be the best remedies for growing healthy, strong fruit trees. Weak and stressed plants are at a much greater risk than those that are healthy and vigorous.
Apricots are ready to be picked when all traces of their green color have disappeared and they turn a glowing golden yellow. Gently grasp the fruit and pull with a bit of an upward twist. As with pear trees, do not pull the fruit off vigorously. The fruit-bearing spurs may be damaged, thereby reducing next year’s potential harvest. The Persians referred to apricots as “seeds of the sun.” Some cultivars (‘Stark Sweethearts’ for example) produce fruits with large and edible sweet pits inside the stone fruit. And since apricots and almonds are closely related, the edible pits taste characteristically like an almond.
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden, written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher).