It’s currently autumn, so most trees this time of year will develop yellow leaves that fall off. But does this include apricot trees? Is it normal for them to shed leaves in the fall and winter? Even though I don’t have an apricot tree currently, they’re one of my favorite stone fruits and they’ll soon get a place on my homestead. So, I did some research to find out why they get yellow leaves and what can be done. Here’s what I found.
Apricot trees are deciduous, so they normally lose their leaves in the fall and grow new ones in the spring. The opposite of this is evergreen, in which trees don’t shed leaves seasonally. However, if it’s spring or summer, and your apricot tree’s leaves are yellowing and falling off, it’s likely because of stress.
While it is normal for apricot trees to lose their leaves in the fall, it can be concerning if leaves are discoloring and falling off at other times of the year. So, what exactly is making the leaves die, and what can you do about it?
Why Do Apricot Tree Leaves Turn Yellow?
As mentioned, apricot trees have a seasonal cycle which helps them stay dormant and survive the winter. So, it’s common for leaves to turn yellow and fall off starting at the end of the year. But for trees showing this symptom outside of these colder months, there could be several causes.
If your apricot tree isn’t going through a seasonal leaf drop, and it’s still losing leaves, it could be experiencing stress from an imbalance of water, heat, and nutrients, or damage from disease and pests like borers.
While it can be hard to tell which one of these conditions could be affecting your apricot tree, some clues can help.
How to Fix Yellow Apricot Tree Leaves
The first thing to do when a new plant is dying, is to check its hardiness zone. While apricot trees are fairly resilient, they do fare better in some climates better than others. Apricot trees prefer a hardiness zone of 5-8 and their fruiting often depends on a consistent annual frost.
However, if you already know that apricot trees should do fine in your climate, what are some common reasons why it’s experiencing leaf change and drop?
Over or Under Watering
Apricot trees require consistent watering at least every 10-14 days, especially during hot or dry weather. The amount of water depends on if it’s a potted or grounded tree, but ideally, you should be aiming to keep the top 4-6 inches of soil consistently moist.
If you’re over-watering your apricot tree, it can start to drown or develop root rot (especially if it’s potted or doesn’t have enough drainage). This will cause the tree to slowly die. The first thing it will do is shed the fruit, followed by the leaves.
On the other hand, if you’re under-watering your apricot tree, you can expect the leaves to turn yellow and wilt (or shrivel), eventually falling off.
Apricots have an extensive and invasive root system, so they’re designed to spread out and cover a large area to cover its water needs. But just because the tree’s roots are covering a wide area doesn’t mean it’s finding enough water. Aim to give your apricot tree a good watering every week or two.
Keep an eye on the dryness of the soil and how quickly the water is evaporating when watering. For best results, provide a good layer of mulch for your tree and consider installing drip irrigation. These two methods will help both conserve water and deliver more of it to the tree, instead of evaporating into the air.
Hot and Dry Weather
If you live in a climate that’s generally hotter than the hardiness zones of 5-8, then your apricot tree might be getting too dry or hot.
If your apricot tree’s leaves get too hot in the sun (100ºF+), they can turn yellow and fall off. Additionally, the trees can also lose their leaves if the soil is too hot or dry, even for short periods.
This leaf drop occurs because when the soil gets hot, the roots also become hot. They’ll start using up more water to cool themselves and the rest of the tree. They can quickly run through lots of water this way and have little water left to cool off the leaves. So, what’s a good way to protect apricot trees from a hot day?
The best way to protect apricot trees during times of extreme heat or dryness is to mulch the soil well and provide consistent watering. The amount and frequency of water apricot trees need depends on the quality of soil, the amount of mulch, and how hot it is outside.
Generally, providing a deep watering at least every 10-14 days is a good approach.
Improper Fertilizer and Nutrients
Another reason why your apricot tree’s leaves could be turning yellow and falling off is due to an over or under-abundance of nutrients. Fortunately, if you’ve mulched your tree from the watering and weather sections from above, that mulch will slowly break-down and provide a steady stream of nutrients. But what if you need to give it more readily absorbed nutrients right away? What fertilizer do apricot trees need and when should you apply it?
Apricot trees prefer an NPK fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) with a slightly higher nitrogen concentration (a 6-3-3 or a 6-2-4 works well). They also like a soil pH of 6.7-7.5, which is neutral to slightly alkaline. The best time to fertilize an apricot tree is in the spring and late summer.
However, fertilizer won’t matter much if the soil’s pH is imbalanced. When the soil’s pH is thrown off (either it’s too acidic or too alkaline), the tree will have a hard time absorbing nutrients. For this reason, it’s best to perform a soil pH test and restoring its balance before trying out new fertilizers.
For an easy and quick way to test your soil’s pH, check out this video by Alberta Urban Garden.
When your apricot tree’s soil pH is in the 6.7-7.5 range, you’ll need a good apricot tree fertilizer. Down to Earth’s Organic Fruit Tree fertilizer is a great option for an apricot tree fertilizer. We use their organic citrus mix on our citrus trees, but haven’t use their fruit tree mix yet.
Over or under-pruning can also be affecting the health of your apricot tree’s leaves. Too much in either direction can make or break your tree and the quantity and quality of its fruit.
If you over-prune your tree, it likely won’t have enough surface area for its foliage to collect sunlight and energy. In this case, it can either take time for the leaves to slowly regrow, or the tree will remain stunted and possibly start to die.
On the other hand, if you never prune your apricot tree, it can have growth problems in the future. Apricot trees that aren’t pruned can use a large amount of energy to grow excessive foliage and roots, instead of focusing on fruit production. Naturally, most farmers’ goals depend on maximizing the amount of fruit, so pruning can be a necessity for them.
Pruning is best done at the end of winter and before spring. It’s a good idea to avoid pruning a tree when it is trying to survive extreme weather (winter or mid-summer), or when it’s in its growth phase (spring).
You’ll know that you’ve pruned enough when there is at least some sunlight coming through the foliage and hitting the center of the tree.
However, if you don’t have the time or patience for pruning, you should know it isn’t required for most trees. Pruning is considered a good practice to train the tree to remain a healthy size and focus on fruit production, but it’s usually not necessary.
What to Do if Your Apricot Leaves Turn Red
If your apricot tree’s leaves are turning red, this could indicate a problem, but it depends on if the leaves are new or old.
Apricot trees are some of the most decorative fruit trees and their new leaves will grow as red leaves and quickly turn green. If you are seeing red leaves with new growth, then this is totally normal and will last a little over a month before they turn green.
However, if your apricot tree’s mature leaves are turning from green to red (and it’s not fall), then this can usually signal a problem. The most likely cause is that the tree has a nutrient deficiency. While it can be tough to determine which nutrient your tree is lacking, some catch-all approaches can help.
Providing either a balanced or high-nitrogen NPK fertilizer (5-5-5 or 6-2-4 for example) once a year during the spring is considered a good measure to take.
Additionally, an even simpler way to prevent leaf discoloration is to add 1-2 inches of compost 1-2 times per year (ideally in the spring and late summer). The compost will break down quickly and provide a wide range of nutrients that are easily absorbed by the tree.
If you decide to use compost, note that the 1-2 inch layer can be placed anywhere around the tree, but avoid directly touching the compost to the tree’s trunk or roots.
If you’ve tried fertilizer or compost, and your apricot tree’s leaves are still turning red, consider getting the soil’s pH and nutrients tested for more definitive results.
It’s completely normal for an apricot tree’s leaves to turn yellow and fall off in the fall season, but if there’s leaf loss in the spring and summer, it could be from stress. This stress could be a result of too much or too little, heat, water, nutrients, and pruning.
While it’s also a good idea to check for diseases and pests, they often won’t be the cause of the issue since their damage would be more obvious than just yellowing leaves. In these cases, the leaves would likely be spotted from disease or the roots exposed from the pests.
If you’ve gone through all of the above options, and your apricot tree’s leaves are still yellowing and falling off, try getting the soil tested for further analysis. There might be some issues that aren’t immediately obvious to the human eye.
If you’re interested in growing apricot trees from stones, check out my 5-step guide.