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  • Sean Dugan

Apricot Varieties for Boise

Apricots are one of my favorite fruits, and I find them to be one of the more attractive fruit trees in a landscape. Most apricots are hardy to zone 4, and can survive colder climates than ours in the Boise area. However, climates with variable spring temperatures like ours can make it difficult to get fruit. Apricots are one of the first trees to break dormancy in Spring, and also have relatively delicate flowers. A hard frost during bloom can wipe out all your potential fruit.

The first tree I planted at our house was a Chinese / Mormon variety apricot. Like most people, I read the nursery description of a fruit variety to pick between them. The description for Chinese apricot included "late blooming" and "cold hardy." A year after planting, when it flowered before any apricots in the neighborhood I started to doubt its description's accuracy. After a few years of watching it flower too early, get blasted by spring frosts, and make no fruits I started delving into how to get a productive apricot tree here.

There are many apricots that are described as "late blooming" and "cold hardy" in nursery descriptions. But I have found that nursery descriptions are intended to sell trees, and cannot necessarily be relied upon. I reached out to backyard orchardists around the country in similar climates, and to a local commercial apricot grower. There were two varieties that came to the top of the list for trees that are likely to produce fruit in marginal climates: Hoyt Montrose and Tomcot.

I learned how to graft, I cut my Chinese apricot tree back to a stump, and I topgrafted the tree with Hoyt Montrose, Tomcot, and several other varieties to test how they would do here. It took a year for the grafts to grow out and form the new tree, and the following year I was rewarded with a nice crop of apricots.

Tomcot produces medium-large apricots with excellent flavor. It has a prolonged bloom period, the flowers stagger opening from early to late. This makes it come through spring frosts better than most varieties, because the staggered flowering means that a 1 or 2 nights of frost might destroy some blossoms but won't take out the whole crop.

Hoyt Montrose produces an abundance of medium sized apricots. Its fruit buds are notably thicker and hardier than any other variety I have seen, which may be the reason for its frost tolerance. Hoyt Montrose is a seedling of Montrose. Montrose was developed to handle the spring frosts of high mountain cold in Colorado, and the Hoyt Montrose seedling was developed in Northern Idaho.

Along with Tomcot and Hoyt Montrose, I now grow Canadian White Blenheim, Zard, Sugar Pearls, Hunza, Orangered and Harcot. Of all these varieties, I recommend Tomcot and Hoyt Montrose as the most likely to produce fruit here. Personally, I prefer the flavor of Tomcot, but Hoyt Montrose is also excellent has been the most prolific.

My Canadian White Blenheim is my most aesthetically beautiful tree, but it has not been very productive for me. It seems to put a lot of energy into vegetative growth, and doesn't seem to develop fruit buds on first year growth - unusual for stone fruits, and a trait that significantly slows down fruit production. It's also a white apricot. This tree's nursery description said something like "best scoring in taste tests," and something I didn't think about is - who's doing the tasting in these tests? Well, not people who share my tastes. This tree was my first experience with white apricots. They are great if you like a very sweet fruit. They lack the classic tart notes of a traditional orange/yellow apricot. So consider that if you are thinking of planting a Canadian White Blenheim. Also note that the "Blenheim" in Canadian White Blenheim bears no relation to the famous Blenheim variety, the name came from a mislabeling event.

Thinking of planting an apricot tree? I recommend looking for a Tomcot or Hoyt Montrose. They may not be available locally, but they can often be found at online mail-order nurseries like Raintree.

Do you have an existing apricot tree that flowers but rarely produces fruit?

One option is get scionwood of a Tomcot, Hoyt Montrose, etc and topgraft the tree. Topgrafting uses the existing root structure of your tree to rapidly re-grow the newly grafted varieties.

Another option is to look into using KDL (potassium dextrose lactose) spray to protect flowers from spring frosts. I don't have a lot of experience using KDL, but my understanding of how it works is that the flowers absorb the sugars (dextrose and lactose) and the large amount of potassium temporarily lowers the freezing point of the liquid within the flower so that the flowers can survive lower temperatures. Read more about KDL here.

A healing graft, Tomcot variety, made with side-graft technique.

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