Those fragile N. apricots

alan haighMay 17, 2013

If you've successfully grown Harrow and the couple of NJ release cold hardy apricots in Z6 or colder you are fortunate they are still alive.

I lost trees at several sites this season and haven't a clue what caused their demise. At two separate sites I lost Earlyblush, which is extremely disappointing as Bob Purvis suggested the NJ releases might be stronger than the Harrows.

One site would appear to be perfect- a short walk to the Hudson river with no hills between- just 40 miles north of the city. Well drained sandy soil- a Harlayne died there while a Harcot remains robust. The Harlayne replaced another tree that had died a few years back and had been vigorously growing there for 2 seasons.

Another site, where I lost both a Harlayne and an Early Blush, is on top of a hill and a mild 6B. A third site was neither on top of a hill or in a valley and also relatively mild where I lost another Early Blush.

None of these trees saw zero degree temps or periods of warming followed by hard frost in spring or sudden cold temps in winter. All of them are warmer than my own site where my early blush survived. None of the many trees in my nursery not far from the second site suffered any damage.

The soils ranged from sandy to clay and two of the 3 sites are very well drained and the one that isn't wasn't particularly wet going into winter.

I will continue to ponder any connecting threads but right now I'm completely baffled.

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You need to get a few of our varieties hardy to zone 3 minus 50 and will produce fruit .

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 7:29PM
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You need to get a few of our varieties hardy to zone 3 minus 50 and will produce fruit .

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 7:30PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

That's a puzzle. Apricots have been hardy and long lived in west Texas despite wildly fluctuating winter temperatures and some sub zero weather. They are also pretty drought tolerant. The big difference, we are much drier. I have lost very few trees actually none that I remember.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 8:10PM
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alan haigh

Yes, I can remember when I was young seeing wild apricots in New Mexico in areas where temps do sometime get well below zero and with the fluctuations- high desert chaperel country.. High humidity must be part of it, somehow, but I can't tie specific weather events to years when they fail.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 8:16PM
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I've yet to meet an apricot that I can't kill. Nothing like others' experience, just six or eight trees over 20 years, but very uniform results.

And now I'm expanding: it looks like I've successfully ruined a prune plum, too. Good thing I don't do this for a living.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 8:03AM
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I just can't imagine winter minimum temps, or even fluctuating temps being a problem. You should definitely rule out the cold.

Yes, apricots are very common in the coldest parts of New Mexico (they weathered the February 2011 deep freeze of -20's and -30's without a problem), and I know of many trees in one of the coldest places in the continental United States: Alamosa, Colorado.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 10:06AM
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We grow apricots in very cold areas of Canada. Try and get a few of our varieties . The hardiest best tasting are morden 604 ,westcot and this famous strain from city of Edmonton planting "capilano "Edmonton is the largest most northern major city in North America sees annual temps of minus 40 every year . This famous planting has produced amazing apricots with no care at all from the city .

And apricots do not tolerate fluctuating temps very well in winter . It needs to stay cold before it warms up .

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 1:26AM
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Harlayne, BLENHEIM, MOONPAK and the other varieties you mentioned I have them the trees are very hardy and naturally they need certain numbers of chill hours. My main problem is the frost kills that little white flower by 1000s and I never produced ONE apricot from my trees.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:30AM
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alan haigh

Treehugger, that's why they aren't very useful in parts of the country where commercial fruit growing is not highly successful. The sites where I lost trees produce apricots almost every year- even last- which was a disaster in most commercial eastern areas. These are sites where fruit used to be grown for NYC before the land became too valuable.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 5:28AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Since these sites have been in orchard for many years there might be something in the soil that is contributing to this tree loss. In fact it could be a combination of things similar to peach tree short life: nematodes, fungi, bacterial cankers, minor cold injury, or even pesticide residues. If cold injury contributes to PTSL in South Carolina and Georgia, and it does, then it could on cots in NY.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:47AM
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alan haigh

FN, only one of these sites has been an orchard for more than about 15 years but it's a good idea to suggest there may be more than a single factor (weather) in play. But the dead trees went into fall with excellent vigor (unlike most apricot trees on my own site) and there seems no connection between relative vigor and death during winter. I'm waiting for Bob Purvis to comment on it.

When I've mentioned the fraility of apricots to folks at Adams they just say, "yup, apricots are weak trees" and are not surprised by high mortality at all. If it is partially due to other factors it is only apricots that are affected this way in our area. We don't generally have a big nematode problem up here.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 1:42PM
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I could post literally dozens of pictures of huge old apricot trees around Santa Fe, NM, that have weathered lows in the -20 degrees, and fluctuating temperatures EVERY winter. When I say fluctuating temps, I mean both daytime/nighttime temps which fluctuate by at least 30 degrees every day, as well as alternating warm/cold spells throughout the winter.

In this climate at least, apricot trees are anything but weak, ranking up there with apple for cold hardiness and longevity.

Good luck solving the mystery...

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 3:46PM
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alan haigh

Yeah Fab, I know. It's funny that I never thought to ask what is it about a humid climate that would make apricots more fragile, just accepted it.

Is New Mexico consistently dry in early Autumn?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 4:18PM
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No, early Autumn can go either way here, though "wet" might mean just 2 or 3 inches precip for the month of September, and a less in October. I have seen some tip dieback on vigorously growing apricots in years when winter starts suddenly, such as the first freeze being a 20 degree event that fries the leaves while they're still green.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 5:27PM
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I had planted "Morden 604" and "Scout" apricot tree in 2007 in Ottawa Zone 5a. They grew and fruited well in 2009 and 2010. I have not seen any fruit or normal flowering since then. Every year the leaves come in spring but then suddenly leaves on a big branch will droop showing stress and imminent death of the branch. When a branch dies later I see small mushroom like mold appearing at the base of the branch.
I admit that I am not regular in watering since we have enough rains in summer and have not fertilize them.
Marden 604 and Scout are touted as hardy. The trees have not died all but both are out of shape after pruning the dead branches.
I have been reading that I will be luckey if I get fruit every fifth year here. That will require a lot of patience to see fruit again if the trees survive.
No bloom this year as well but I can spot one branch with leaves sarting to droop.
Any helpful/encouraging comments?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 12:30AM
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alan haigh

Here's what Bob Purvis had to say on the issue in response to an e-mail.

Dear Alan,

I can understand your puzzlement and frustration. However, I can possibly mention a few things that might encourage you or improve our understanding of what is going on.

Richard W. Weidman was the manager of the U of Wisconsin's Peninsular Research Station in Sturgeon Bay, WI on the Door Peninsula. He and I exchanged a couple of e-mails back in 2002 when I was living in Minnesota. (The Door Peninsula lies just east of Green Bay, WI and is an area for commercial fruit production, especially cherries.) I distinctly recall that Dr. Weidman said that although in theory Harlayne should have been the best apricot for his location, in fact Harcot (which is significantly less winter-hardy than Harlayne under MN conditions) performed much better in this cool, modified-maritime environment. I might also mention that in SW Michigan, Herb Teichmann (the manager of Tree-Mendus Fruit, 450 ac, which grows all the tree fruits commercially including apricots) cited Harcot and Goldrich as their "bread and butter" apricots, the ones which performed best at their location, when giving me a personal tour of their orchard in July 2003. I was surprised that they had a lot more acreage of Harcot than of any of the other Harrow apricots. They are in a USDA Zone 5a location, or maybe even a 5b. So your comment about Harlayne's difficulties and Harcot's potential was perhaps in line with what Weidmann and Teichmann reported to me back in 2002-2003.

Attempting to diagnose why a fruit tree dies when you are on the spot isn't easy; to do so from 2,500 miles away is even harder. To begin with, one question I would ask is, when you dug up the dead tree, what did the root system look like? Were there a lot of fine roots, or was the root system mostly big roots (which suggests that soil pathogens were eating the small ones)?

Another thing that would be worth checking out is this: was there a lot of gumming on the tree, or problems that affected the bark, fruit spurs, etc? Was the cambium on the trees dead from top to bottom, or perhaps only near the base?

We had dogwood borers in MN that would attack stone-fruit trees, and out here we have peach tree borer. Dogwood borers typically got active the first week of July in the Twin Cities, and peach tree borers here in Idaho around June 20-27 in an average year. I would wonder if the dead trees were killed by peach tree borer. This clear-winged moth can weaken established peach or apricot trees and kill young trees. The larvae tunnel around in the cambium near the base of the tree, leaving a pile of frass beneath the tree near the trunk.

Here are a few other things to consider, based on comments by Apricot Interest Group members. Tomcot, even though it was bred in Washington State, has done amazingly well from Massachusetts to North Carolina because of its extended bloom period. I've had good reports about Stark SweetHeart as well, from Philip Rainville in central Massachusetts. He's a small-scale commercial grower. Stark SweetHeart is later blooming, but if there are lots of squirrels in one's neighborhood it might be a bad choice because its kernels are sweet. Both these cultivars are readily available from commercial sources. Also, have you tested Jerseycot at those locations where Harlayne and Early Blush died?


Bob Purvis
Chair, Apricot Interest Group, NAFEX

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 6:38AM
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