Garden Detective

Apricot trees bear headaches for these gardeners

Apricot trees
Apricot trees Bigstock Photo

Can you tell me what is wrong with my apricot tree? Should I cut it down even though it produces apricots every year?

John Volk, Carmichael

According to UC master gardener Anna Symkowick-Rose, a recap of the care provided during its life is needed to provide an accurate diagnosis. It appears from photos that you submitted that the tree may have been significantly injured, potentially sunburn.

Also, your apricot may be suffering from Phytophthora root and crown rot because of moisture issues. In your pictures, you have rocks and some kind of landscape fabric covering the base of your apricot tree. This can cause too much saturation of the soil.

It is suggested that you remove the landscape fabric and rock and instead replace it with a bark mulch about 6 to 12 inches from the trunk of the tree. To avoid rot, water the tree properly by irrigating away from the base of the tree. Also, avoid standing water at the base of the tree.

You may not have to remove the tree. You can remove limbs that are dangerous to your house or other structures. If the tree has root and crown rot, it will eventually die. However, changing irrigation practices and allowing the root zone to dry out may increase its lifespan.

This year and last, my apricot tree did not produce fruit. Previously, the fruit was bountiful. The tree was planted about 15 years ago in a bottomless barrel so that the roots would grow down, but many roots spread over the top, but stayed below the ground surface. Each of the last two years, I’ve used fruit tree fertilizer spikes along the subsurface roots’ paths, and I’ve removed all the dead wood that I recognized. The tree appears to be healthy, and produces an abundance of leaves. As far as I can tell, it receives adequate water. What can I do for next year to hopefully get fruit? Would it benefit the tree to prune it? Do I need an “apricot tree pro” to do it or can I?

Gene Clements, Mission Viejo

According to UC master gardener Carol Hunter, most fruit trees need a substantial amount of cold winter weather to end their dormancy and promote spring growth. Did your tree produce any spring flowers?

The chilling requirement is the number of hours below 45 degrees F. from Nov. 1 through Feb. 15. The Sacramento area usually receives adequate chilling, averaging about 900 to 1,000 hours. (You should check the Orange County chilling temperature information for your community.)

It also is possible that frost during or shortly after blooming can cause the young fruit to abort. If the tree did flower in the last several years but the fruit dropped prematurely, then lack of pollination could be a factor. Rainy weather will interfere with fruit set and also a heavy crop will promote a lighter crop the following year.

Apricots bear mostly on short spurs that form on previous year’s growth and remain fruitful for approximately four years. Verify your tree has healthy spurs.

Normally, 75 percent or more of the roots of fruit and nut trees can be found in the upper 2 to 3 feet of soil. That may be an issue, too, with your tree in a barrel.

For a copy of Environmental Horticultural Notes No. 68, “Why Fruit Trees Fail to Bear,” and Publication No. 8058, “Fruit Trees: Pruning Overgrown Trees,” please send a self-addressed, stamped business-sized envelope to: EHN No. 68, UC Cooperative Extension, 4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95827. These publications also are available online at


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