I have dreams of wandering outside and plucking apricots off a tree in my own backyard. Yup, in Seattle.
There are plenty of fruit trees in Seattle- mostly apples, cherries, and plums, along with the occasional pear or fig tree. I haven’t seen an apricot tree in Seattle before, but I’m told it can be done, so I’m going plant one. Apricot trees like dry springs, which of couse Seattle doesn’t have, so there’s certainly a risk that the tree won’t produce fruit, or will outright die. 4-6′ trees only cost about $25, though, and young trees don’t really take up much space, so I figure it’s worth the price for the fun of the experiment.
I’m not going to plant just any apricot tree- like most plants, there are varieties that have been bred to survive and thrive in a range of conditions. The main attributes I’m looking at are the size of the tree and the ability to handle some soggy seasons. If I lived on the East side of the state, I’d also be looking at cold tolerance, and whether the trees are likely to bloom before the last frost (not a good thing). I’ve seen conflicting advice on which varieties produce best in the maritime Northwest, but in the end I’m trusting the folks at Raintree Nursery, because they have plenty of experience dealing with us west-siders.
The variety I’ve chosen is called Puget Gold, which is the result of efforts by local breeders. It’s reported to set fruit fine despite our non-ideal springs, has a mature height around 15′, and is self-fertile. Being self-fertile means that it doesn’t need another apricot tree of a different variety nearby, to provide pollen, as many fruit trees do. Having a tree pollinate itself or another of the same variety (they’re produced asexually, which means that every tree of the same variety is genetically identical), leads to inbreeding, so some fruit trees have mechanisms to prevent self-fertilization. I’m not concerned about inbreeding, though, because the pits from my apricots aren’t going to be planted. Self-fertile trees sometimes still produce more fruit with another variety nearby, but I’ll see how my experiment goes before investing more time and space into apricot trees.
Most backyard fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks. The “tree” part is called the scion, and the root part is the rootstock. One of the most obvious influences of the rootstock is the size of the tree, and how quickly it grows. Rootstocks can have a dwarfing effect, and are often categorized as standard, semi-dwarf, or dwarf. (Standard is the biggest). Rootstocks vary in their tolerance to cold and wet soils, and their resistance to soil pests such as nematodes. My apricot tree will be on a Lovell rootstock, which can also be used for other fruits such as peaches, plums, or almonds.
My first steps to maximize my chances of a healthy tree are to buy from a reputable nursery and properly pick a site and prepare it for planting. I’m counting on the nursery to provide me with a disease-free tree that’s been properly pruned for the last few years. Although I curse the slope of our property when I’m planning a fence or patio (or want to drive somewhere in a snow storm), it does provide excellent drainage, which is good for tree roots. I’m going to remove some arborvitae, to give the site more sun, and also because my arborvitae look uglier every year. If I didn’t already have orchard mason bees to provide pollination services, now would be a good time to order some, but I started raising them last spring, so I’m all set on that front.
Has anyone grown apricots (or peaches) in the maritime Northwest? I’d love to hear both success and failure stories.