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Larry Sagers
Red apricots are surprisingly abundant this year.

According to Wikipedia, serendipity means "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. While this definition might not exactly fit my home orchard in most respects, I will share a serendipitous event with you.

Several decades ago, I purchased an apricot tree from Basil Combe, owner of Valley Nursery in Uintah, Utah. He bought the nursery from his father and master horticulturist, Art, who had discovered a red apricot that he had propagated.

It intrigued me, so I purchased a tree and planted it in my home orchard. I already had two different apricots that were growing well. Apricots in Utah are usually a feast or famine crop. Most years the blossoms freeze and I get little or no fruit. When they escape the frost, I get bushels of fruit.

The red apricot has been very reluctant. Some years it produced fruit, but their only claim to fame was their red color. They were small and somewhat dry and flavorless. Several years I told my wife that it needed to go but I never carried through with the threat.

Fast forward to 2012. Once again, spring frost killed most of the blossoms on the two trees in the other part of the orchard. Imagine our surprise when the red apricot produced a bumper crop of huge and very tasty apricots.

When apricots ripen and are at their flavor and texture peak, they are soft and bruise easily. Those shipped here are picked firm and green and lack the quality and flavor of local produce.

The most limiting factor in apricot production is that they bloom early in the spring. The early blooms are beautiful but very vulnerable, because they often freeze, which destroys all the fruit.

I often tell people to plant them as shade trees. When you get a good crop every few years, be happy.

Most apricots are self-fruitful, meaning they do not require another tree for pollination. The trees are the most attractive of all the fruit trees and have a nice, rounded form and pretty fall foliage. They have pests like all other fruit trees, so do not plant them unless you will control the pests.

To get better fruit size in abundant fruit years, thin the fruits heavily in May. Most gardeners are afraid to thin and look at the fruit on the ground and feel bad. In reality, thinning makes the remaining fruit larger and sweeter, and the fruit yield in pounds is about the same.

If you want to try growing these tasty but sometimes elusive treats, these suggested cultivars grow well here. Zone 5 trees grow well in lower valleys and Zone 4 plants tolerate colder sites.

Goldrich, Zone 5: Early variety has large fruit with a bright orange color. Trees are vigorous and productive. Resistant to winter injury. Requires pollination, and is not pollinated by Perfection.

Rival, Zone 5: Large light orange fruit with a red blush. Mild deep orange flesh. Trees are vigorous and productive. Requires cross pollination and pollinates Goldrich and Perfection. Flowers early and may not pollinate later flowering varieties.

Perfection, Zone 5: Large bright orange-yellow fruit. Good flavored with a firm texture that ships well. Requires cross pollination and does not pollinate Goldrich.

Chinese (Mormon), Zone 4: Fruit is medium to large size with yellow to medium-orange skin and flesh. Early bearing, heavy producing cultivar with good flavor and texture. Self-fertile and pollinates other cultivars. Blooms late and has a sweet pit. Traditional old favorite.

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Moorpark, Zone 5: Large light yellow-orange fruit with yellow flesh. Excellent flavor and good for drying and home canning. Productive, self-fertile and a good pollinator for late varieties.

Tilton, Zone 4: Medium to small golden yellow fruit with a dark red blush. Firm, golden flesh vigorous tree typically bears a large crop. Cold-hardy and resistant to late frost. Self-fertile.

Garden tips

For the latest and best pest control information in Utah, go to utahpests.usu.edu

Garden Talks in the Park, July 18, 8 p.m.: attracting, encouraging and caring for bees in your garden; Brigham Young Historic Park, southeast corner of State Street and North Temple.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.