Apricots are delicious but impossible to grow outside in most of the UK. They need a little extra protection in our cold winter weather. This is where a polytunnel can really come into its own. Even without extra heating, a well appointed polytunnel can offer the chance to grow some fruits that most of us would not otherwise be able to grow. There is nothing quite like being able to pick your own fruit at home and apricots would be a fine addition to a home growing repertoire.
Apricot trees are usually grown from saplings rather than from seed. You can either make a permanent home for your apricot tree in your tunnel or you can grow it in a large pot. A container grown tree will be able to be moved out of the tunnel in the summer months so you can gain the space for other warmth-loving plants. Just be sure to move your trees back under cover when the colder weather does begin to draw in.
When choosing your apricot tree, it is important that you choose a dwarf variety that will fit well in your polytunnel and are fully aware of how big your tree will get at maturity. Choose a variety that is suited to the conditions in which you plan to grow it. You should be able to get some advice on the best varieties from a local garden centre or plant nursery.
Apricots require a moisture retentive soil that will not dry out too quickly. Make sure to use a good quality and fertile mix to fill your containers or to mulch your polytunnel bed and water well, especially until the trees become established. The best time to plant your apricot tree is during the dormant period but preferably in the autumn whilst the soil is still warmed after the summer and the winter chill has not yet set in.
Apricot blossoms appear early and the greatest risk can be that the flowers will be damaged by cold and frost before the fruits get a chance to set. To protect your apricot from frost you can drape the tree with a few layers of horticultural fleece to keep off any frost that your polytunnel cannot. Make sure, however, that the fleece does not knock off any of the flowers. Remove the fleece during the day and make sure your tunnel is open so that pollinating insects can still reach the tree. Hand pollination with a small brush can help increase the chance of a good yield of fruit. Choose a nice sunny, dry day around noon to undertake this pollination.
When the fruit set and are around 1cm long, thin them if necessary. Remove any fruits that are awkwardly located, damaged, small or that look as though they are not thriving. Make sure there is a spacing of 2-3cm at least between fruits.
You can expect to harvest your apricots between late July and August. Apricots will turn from green to a yellow/orange and when they are fully ripened and ready to pick, will be slightly softer than unripe fruits though still firm to the touch.