This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Much of what we have said of Plums and Peaches applies to Apricots. Like Peaches, they are not recommended to those whose gardens are in northern or cold localities. They are rather too tender for any but warm climates and sunny walls. In this they must be placed with Peaches, although they are hardier, if anything. The same kind of soil which we have recommended for Peaches will suit them. Fan-training is the best form in which to train them. Most of the kinds should be pruned, pinched, and trained in the same way as Plums. Like Plums, they form fruit-spurs on the two and three years' old wood; and although by careful pruning and pinching older wood may, like Plums, be kept furnished with bearing spurs, still, like many Plums, old branches are apt to get bare; and it is therefore wise to be always training up young branches, to take the place of older ones as they get bare. Young shoots when pinched in, in the way recommended for Apples and Pears, form stubby spurs which produce fruit freely; and when these spurs are well managed, they may be kept compact and close to the branches and wall for years.
When they get long and straggling it is time to replace them; for although spurs which stand far out may produce fruit, yet fruit which is far from the wall is always inferior to that close to it; and in late localities, in cold seasons, it often does not ripen at all. In warm localities this result is not so much to be feared; but even in favoured districts, the fruit which is close to the wall is always finest.
Moor Park Apricot differs from the others in that it bears chiefly on the year-old wood in the same way that Peaches do. It should therefore be grained, pruned, and disbudded in the same way as Peaches. Spurs formed by pinching in superfluous shoots also bear freely. It is said there are two varieties of the Moor Park Apricot, one much inferior to the other. The best variety is considered the best Apricot grown, but Breda and Brussels are hardier. Hemskirk is also good.
Like Peaches and Nectarines, Apricots are generally budded on Plum-stocks, and therefore lifting and root-pruning, when that is necessary, should be done in the same way in all three cases. It may be observed here of all these fruits, that lifting and root-pruning should only be done to moderate a too strong growth, which means a great profusion of shoots and leaves, but little or no fruit, and that little of an inferior kind. Sometimes lifting only, without root-pruning, is needed. It is essential to keep tree-roots fibry and near the surface, for reasons which we have before stated. However necessary lifting and root-pruning may be, and very often is, especially in cold localities, it would be worse than folly to lift and root-prune a tree that was making short sturdy growths and forming fruit-buds freely. In our papers on the Apple, we have shown how to keep roots near the surface by mulching, how to assist trees when bearing, and how to check them when, through having their blossoms destroyed, and thus being barren, they run into shoots merely. To all the trees which we have referred these directions apply equally, and therefore we need not repeat them. We have tried to enforce the principles which should govern beginners, and have also given such details as we thought necessary.
But only-practice can make perfection, and only observation teach all that is necessary to success. Practice needs to be somewhat varied, according to soil, climate, and other things. In the warm sunny south, especially on deep soils, trees may grow strongly, and yet, by being thoroughly ripened, bear fine crops of excellent fruit.
In the cold north, especially in wet localities, a much more restricted growth is required, for trees which grow strongly very often fail to produce fruit at all. In hot dry localities, deep soils, into which roots may sink for sustenance when the surface is parched and dry, may be absolutely necessary in order to secure success. When the climate is cold and the rainfall great, the roots cannot be too near the surface, otherwise the sap drawn out of the cold undersoil may so keep down the temperature of the trees that blossom-buds never form, or if they do, the fruit never ripens. When fruit-growers understand all this, and the capabilities of their own garden and climate and soil, they will know how to vary their practice to secure success. With the best of skill and the profoundest knowledge, northern gardeners can never produce results equal to those in the more favoured south; but the possession and application of these to barren fruit-trees may produce results which may astonish those who have laboured in vain, simply for want of the knowledge of those principles which we have endeavoured to explain, or for want of opportunity to apply them.
Before closing this chapter, we may add a few remarks on pruning, which apply to all trees. In making cuts, be sure to make them clean and short. In cutting out a branch always cut close to the cleft, and if the branch is so thick as to necessitate the use of the saw, always take care to smooth the surface with a sharp knife. In cutting young shoots, always cut to a wood-bud, and about an eighth of an inch above it, and be sure to cut to buds which point in the direction in which it is wished to make the resulting shoots grow. Make all cuts slanting, at about an angle of 45°, with the faces of the cuts pointing downwards wherever possible. In all cases cuts should be so made that no rain can possibly lodge on them.
Finally, the soil about all trees should be made very firm, especially underneath the roots. A loose soil favours the production of long sappy roots, with their concomitant of long sappy shoots. Loose soil holds too much water; a firm one is always drier. Wet soil is sure to be cold, for water requires more heat to warm it than dry soil, and as firm soil is always drier, it is sure to be warmer. For stone-fruits especially, the soil should be very firm indeed.
A. H., H.