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Apricot in California

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca) is a member of the genus Prunus, which also includes cherry, peach, nectarine, plum, prune, and almond. Apricot originated in China and was cultivated extensively in the Mediterranean prior to being brought to North America. Although it was originally introduced in Virginia, apricot cultivation in North America was not successful until it was brought to California by Spanish missionaries in the late 1700’s.

Apricot cv. Blenheim. Shoot almost full bloom. photo by Jack K. Clark, UC IPM Program
Apricot cv. Blenheim. Shoot almost full bloom. photo by Jack K. Clark, UC IPM Program
Apricot is grown worldwide, primarily in Armenia, Afghanistan, Iran, Italy, Turkey, Morocco and France. California, with 9,400 acres planted,  leads the nation in production, accounting for approximately 95% of the total U.S. production (NASS 2014). Apricots are primarily grown in Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Merced counties throughout the San Joaquin Valley of California (Pollack and Perez 2004). However, some are grown for fresh market distribution in Contra Costa and San Benito counties, and the Santa Clara valley (Norton and Coates 2012).  In 2013, 54,400 tons were produced in California,with 49% going to for fresh market, 30% to canning, 18% to drying, and the balance to the processing of juice concentrate. The crop  value was over 37 million dollars (NASS 2014). 

As one of the earliest ripening stone fruits, apricot has the shortest growing season beginning in mid-May through mid-August. Apricots perform best in a well-drained, silt or sandy loam soil, although some rootstocks confer tolerance to heavier wet soils. Climate is the primary factor determining the suitability of a site for apricot production. Apricots require winter chilling to ensure adequate bud production and can tolerate low winter temperatures, but grow best in areas with a low risk of spring frost (Norton and Coates 2012). Additionally, disease and pest resistance is greatest in areas with warm, dry summers (Looney and Jackson 2011). Unlike some close relatives in the genus Prunus (ex. almond), most apricot varieties are self-fertile and do not require supplemental bee pollination to set fruit (Norton and Coates 2012).