Frost-resistant and generally cold-hardy, Prunus armenica ‘Chinese’ is a small to medium-sized apricot tree that sprouts many fragrant white flowers in the early spring. These are followed in early summer by medium-sized, yellow-orange, freestone fruits which have a sweet, mild flavor and are great additions to pies and tarts.
The Chinese Apricot tree is recommended for difficult climates that are prone to late spring frosts. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this hardy variety of apricot tree.
History of the Apricot Tree
The apricot fruit actually has its origins in China, where it traveled the Great Silk Road with the merchants. From there, the fruit gradually found its way to Armenia, where it was given the name ‘Armenian Plum’.
Sometime in the early 1700s, the fruit was brought over to Virginia and gained a foothold there as part of Thanksgiving preparations, but it would be nearly a century before the fruit saw widespread popularity in North America. This lag in recognition mostly had to do with the lack of settlers moving across the country at the time.
Eventually, things and people started to move again, bring the apricot with them, and the fruit slowly became the easily accessible staple that it is today. It gained traction primarily due to being not only delicious, but easy to grow and process as well.
Since then, apricots have spread and developed into many different breeds, each with their own subtle differences in flavor, color, and texture. At least in name, the Chinese apricot may well be connected most directly to the very beginning of this long and winding line of fruit trees.
Chinese Apricot Tree Characteristics
While most apricot trees fruit in spring, the Chinese apricot actually fruits in early summer. As with all fruit trees, the fruit itself must be picked at the right time in order to ensure the quality of the texture and taste. The medium-sized, yellow-orange fruit should have a uniform color and a consistent firmness. These are both good indications that the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked.
The Chinese Apricot tree will yield yellow-orange freestone fruit that ripens in the early summer. While these trees begin fruiting in their second year, a full harvest can’t really be conducted until their third to fifth year.
This tree has a chill time of 700 hours in order for its buds to bloom in the spring. The fruit it produces has a juicy texture and a mild, sweet flavor. The Chinese Apricot tree is very productive and self-pollinating, though you may still want to plant some pollinating partners to help increase the size of your harvest. This is considered a semi-dwarf tree, typically reaching 15-20 feet tall.
While many varieties of apricot do well in zones 5 through 8, the Chinese Apricot tree is rated best in zones 4 through 7. It’s actually recommended for difficult climates that are prone to late-spring frosts.
Check out our Complete Guide To Growing Apricot Trees.
Size and Spacing
Chinese apricot is considered a semi-dwarf variety. Still, it routinely reaches 15 to 20 feet and is best planted at least 8 to 10 feet away from patios, water lines, and sewer pipes. Between 6 and 10 feet of height is best for orchard use, but the tree can be pruned to any size you prefer.
Read more about pruning apricot trees here.
Chinese Apricot trees are self-fruitful, meaning they can be pollinated by their own flowers, or the flowers of another tree of the same type, however harvests will be larger with more than one tree. This is one reason this variety is still popular with gardeners today. Self-fruitful trees are generally easier to grow, care for, and harvest in large numbers, making them ideal choices for anyone looking to harvest and then sell the fruit.
Chinese Apricot Tree Care
As with all apricot trees, Chinese Apricots can only thrive in full sun, and do best with fertile, deep, moist, and well-drained soil.
It’s best to water regularly. A Chinese Apricot tree will do best with weekly watering — more often if you’re dealing with extreme heat.
All apricot trees will require pruning to keep them healthy and thriving. Cut back any dead, diseased, or crossing branches to help the tree grow evenly and without lasting issues. Thinning out young fruit allows the later ones to grow to their proper size, and helps encourage proper air circulation, which lowers the risk of disease.
Oh, and be sure to keep an eye out for pests like aphids, moths, and squirrels.
Common Uses for Chinese Apricots
Flavor: The fruit of the Chinese Apricot tree is yellow-orange and has a mildly sweet taste. Throughout the years, many different breeds of apricot have developed, so it’s a good idea to try several of them to get a feeling for what you prefer.
Cooking: All types of apricots can be made into pies and tarts with various flavor profiles. They can also be grilled and eaten with ice cream for an easy summer treat, and are a staple in mid-Autumn cooking.
Eating Raw: Any breed of apricot can be eaten raw and many are delicious fresh off of the branch. They can also be enjoyed as part of a smoothie, or a fruit salad on a hot summer day.
Canning, Drying, and Freezing: Apricots of all types hold up well to both canning and freezing, and their high sugar content makes them ideal for drying into candied pieces to enjoy throughout the year.
Health Benefits of Chinese Apricots
Apricots have a variety of health benefits as well as being enjoyable to eat. For example, they are:
- High in potassium
- High in antioxidants
- High in vitamins and minerals
- High in nutrients for the calories
- May be supportive to eye health
- May be supportive to gut health
- May be supportive to skin health
- May offer protection for the liver
Where to Buy a Chinese Apricot Tree?
Nature Hills Nursery has Chinese Apricot trees in stock, as well as many other varieties of apricot and other fruit trees. If you’re looking to purchase fruit trees of your own, Nature Hills is an excellent place to start.
Where to Buy Chinese Apricots?
Your local farmer’s market is a great place to check for all varieties of apricots. If you don’t have any luck there, your next best option would be small online sellers and the websites of farmers and orchard owners.
Chinese Apricot trees are unique among apricot varieties for its winter hardiness and position as one of the prettier and more elegant fruit trees out there. Its canopy reaches upward and creates an elegant spread, making for a pretty addition to your lawn or garden even during the winter months. It is an early baring and heavy producing variety that is recommended for difficult climates with late-spring frosts.
Like all apricot trees, it will begin fruiting in its second year, but a full harvest cannot really be undertaken until years three through five. They do best when placed in full sun with deep, rich, well-drained soil, and watered once a week — more if you’re experiencing a drought or extreme heat. The fruit it produces has a velvety texture and juicy flesh with a mild and sweet flavor.
Pruning will be necessary, as with all trees, especially apricot trees. Chinese Apricot trees do best when shaped into a V. Basic tree care also applies here, of course. Be sure to trim back any crossing branches, diseased branches, or dead branches to give your tree the best chance to thrive. Remember to thin out the young fruit to all for proper air circulation around and through the tree. This also helps reduce the risk of diseases such as brown rot and powdery mildew.
Overall, this is a useful and beautiful tree, valued not just for its fruit, but for its ornamental quality as well. Excited for more apricot content? Then check out my apricot page for more info guides, growing tips, recipes, and more!