How to Grow Apple Trees From Seeds
How to Grow Apple Trees From Seeds
We all love apples (at least most of us do!) and we want you to buy our apple trees. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could grow your own apples from seed?
But due to hybridization and breeding, no modern apple variety comes “true to seed.” That means that if I plant a Granny Smith apple seed, it will not grow a Granny Smith apple. Modern apple cultivars are the results of decades of cross-breeding. Cross the varied genetics of the cultivar with the uniqueness of the pollen that pollinated that particular flower, and you get an apple cultivar (Granny Smith in this case) that has complex genetics. This causes the apple seeds to produce a plant that is very different from the parent plants. In most cases these apple trees produce fruit of inferior quality or no fruit at all. But in rare cases, growing your own apple seeds can yield an actual useful apple variety. The Granny Smith apple itself was the result of an apple seed being planted in Australia in the mid 1800’s by a Mrs. Smith. The tree produced superior quality fruit and scion wood was taken from the tree and grafted onto rootstocks across Australia…and that variety eventually came to United States, where it is sold in most supermarkets. If you plant a Granny Smith apple seed, it unfortunately won’t grow that variety of apple tree.
The odds of producing a tree as good as Granny Smith are slim, though it still might be possible. One research paper I read placed the odds of planting an apple seed that grows into a decent variety for an area at about 1 and 100. So theoretically you could plant 100 seeds and get a decent tree out of it after several years of cultivation. But the odds are much less in your favor to randomly plant a seed that grows into the next Granny Smith.
This is a fun activity anyway. And the worse case scenario is that you have several apple seedlings that could be used for practice grafting! The best time to do this is probably late winter to early summer, but really it can be done year round if you can protect the young apple seedlings from winter weather.
So here’s how to collect and prepare your apple seeds for planting (I touch on this briefly in the book How To Grow Apples In The Southern U.S.):
1) Here are the materials you’ll need to do this:
– A sharp knife
– An apple (it can be store-bought or home-grown)
– A plastic zipper bag with a little moist soil in it.
2) Slice the apple in whatever way you’re comfortable, doing your best to not cut the seeds in the center of it.
3) Pull the seeds from the core. This particular apple was stingy and only had 4 seeds in it! Most apples will have anywhere from 6-10 seeds.
4) Remove any flat seeds and dispose of them – the plump little apple seeds have the healthiest embryos.
5) Apple seeds are very sensitive to drying out and may die if allowed to do so. Wash off the seeds to remove any apple core material that may still be on them. This will help prevent the seeds from molding while they chill.
6) Place the apple seeds in the bag of moist (but not wet) soil. Make sure the seeds are completely covered by the soil. Place the bag of soil in the refrigerator. I always write the date on the bag. The time in the refrigerator is called stratification and it mimics the seeds being exposed to cold outside over winter.
7) Patiently wait about 30 days. After 30 days, check the bag. If there are little white hairy roots emerging from the seeds, it’s time to plant them. If not, wait another week. Remove the seeds when you see the roots.
8) Plant the seeds in loose potting soil in containers, with the roots pointed down. Water them thoroughly.
9) Depending on the time of year, protect the young plants from too much heat or too much cold. The plants are growing because you’ve tricked them into thinking it’s spring after a long, cool, dark winter (in the fridge!)
10) Finally, watch the trees grow. They can be planted in the ground as soon as they are actively growing, or you can be control freaks like we are and wait until they are large and more established before you put them in the ground.
11) Wait a few years. It will be at least 5 years before you see any fruit. If you get impatient, graft another apple variety on this seedling – it should grow into a standard-sized apple tree.
So that’s the process! At the very least it’s a cool project with kids, allowing them to see that the apple is the container for living, viable apple seeds. And who knows? You may produce the next awesome apple variety!
Have you ever had success with finding a tasty apple variety this way? We want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments!