Planting Apple Trees From Seed

jacobsteigerNovember 27, 2011

I have gathered seeds from my favorite apple types already successfully grown in the area and am strategizing on how to get started. I would like to start them indoors. Can I use a good potting soil instead of local soil? Also what size container should I begin with? The most important question of all is when (what month) should I start them in the house, I don't know how long they take to germinate or build a root system that will allow them to survive a transplant. I'm sorry for my ingnorance, but I really want to be successful at this and ANY and ALL advice will be considered. Thank you Jacob

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Jacob - apple seeds do very well when sown using the winter sowing method. I grew them for a neighbor last year. He gave me 4 seeds in December; I gave him 4 apple seedlings in April. There's a winter sowing forum here on GardenWeb where you can find out more information.

I planted the apple seeds in a recycled milk jug with 4 inches of moistened professional growers mix in the bottom. Drainage holes poked in the jug bottom with an ice pick allowed excess moisture to drain away. Once the seeds were sown inside the milk jug, I taped it shut and set it out in the snow.

Here's a photo of the sprouts:

Chances are the apples you eventually get from your trees will not be the same as the fruit from which you harvested the seeds. Most apple trees are grafted to improve/enhance flavor. The seeds likely will not be a genetic match.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 5:51AM
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Apples need to be cross-pollinated with another apple or crabapple variety to produce fruit. The key is the varieties need to be different for cross pollination to be
successful. For example two Cortland apples will not cross-pollinate each other but a Cortland and a Golden Delicious would pollinate each other.

The mother tree will always produce fruit true to variety.
It is the seed that is a hybrid of the two parents. Thus
seed taken from Cortland will not produce Cortland fruit.

This does not mean that growing apples from seed will give you bad fruit as many of the apple varieties now grown derived from chance seedlings and were then asexually propagated by grafting/budding to be true to variety.

You may get good tasting apples when grown from seed but then again you may not. Nice experiment either way. Are you growing out the seedlings for fruit or to use them for
rootstocks for grafting purposes?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 2:13PM
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So what gardenweed and spartan are saying is that if you really like your old tree apples cut scions and graft them onto a good rootstock. You'll be much further ahead in not having to waste 6-8 years only to determine that the fruit on new trees is undesirable.

This bring to mind a statement from Marshall Ritter, past Penn State pomologist that Johnny Appleseed did more harm to the apple culture than good.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 10:55AM
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You taped it shut? You mean you used clear tape to make the milk jug into a mini-greenhouse? What is the reason for that? That sounds like it would get moldy in there but you sound like you know what you are doing.
What I did was put some crabapple seeds from a tree in my yard in an ordinary clay pot and I put it outside partially buried in the garden. Will that work or should I try your method?
I wonder if birds might get at them? They didn�t bother my iris seeds last year.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 7:09PM
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mccommas - yes, I taped the milk jug shut but with duct tape. Mini-greenhouse is exactly what it became, along with nearly 300 others just like it. A little green formed on the soil surface once the weather warmed up. Didn't appear to bother the seeds or sprouts.

It's called winter sowing. There's a forum on the topic/method here on GardenWeb. The mini-greenhouse containers protect seeds from wind, rain, critters, alternating freeze/thaw cycles. The seeds sprout when the combination of daylight, temperature and moisture trigger their genetic code that the time is right. The sprouts are already accustomed to outside temperatures so there's no "hardening off" required.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 7:23AM
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nick_b79(4/5 Southeast MN)

In addition to the good info given already about apples not breeding true from seed, also know that seed-grown apples will ultimately be much bigger than most nursery-purchased apple trees. Those from a nursery are grafted to specialized rootstocks that dwarf their growth to 8-15 ft, while an apple tree grown on it's own roots can easily grow 30+ ft tall! If you plant one in your yard, make sure it will have the space necessary to grow.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 8:58PM
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Is that true with small crab apples as well? We have some small crab apple trees growing on the property (for flowers in the spring). One evidently got chopped down and it became the cutest little crab apple bush! I got my seed from that one.

Are you saying a seed from that tiny thing could grow into a full sized tree?

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 3:39PM
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There be sprouts! There be sprouts! Actually just the roots so far. Even the way I did it with just a pot partially buried worked.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 3:28PM
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I had far better luck with store bought apples than with crab apples. I am trying again this year. The crab apple trees all from one plant did fine but then dried out and died.

These two here is from a Pink Lady. I have found that often are already sprouted in the apple.

These ladies will grow up in my back yard. I want a full sized tree. I will take my chances on the fruit being ugly or bad tasteing. They can't be much worse than Dell Apples. YUCK.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 5:01PM
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I have a bunch I winter sowed will be planting them out where I am making an orchard.
Some where from store bought the rest where from the neighbors small orchard of yellow,red and green apples.

Should get an interesting mix of apple trees and they where free.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 8:41AM
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All of your favorite apples are hybrids, just like roses. There are a few species apples like crabapples that grow true from seed, just like Rosa rugosa will grow true from seed. All of your favorite apples are the result of either chance, mutation, or intentional breeding programs, like the Minnesota research station that developed the HoneyCrisp apple. No HoneyCrisp will grow true from seed, it will be all over the map - to get a HoneyCrisp tree, you need a graft, and it is grafted onto a root-stock : there is just no other way of doing it, so it is really not worth your while at all to do what you are doing. cheers, paul m.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 12:20PM
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I have a huge empty lot that needs trees,I have free apple seeds and all the space and time for them to grow. Even if I just get some weird small apples I can still make apple butter and such.The wood is still good for smoking as well.
So how is that not worth my time?
I am actually growing roses from seeds as well as Irises,daylilies,grapes and a whole host of others,I did study before I ever even took on this endeavor.I do know all these things don't grow true from seed.
It is the journey not the destination I am looking forward to.
It is not a waste of time if your enjoying it.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 6:15PM
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If I wanted cloned apple trees I could go to the store and buy one. I am more interested in the trees themselves. Real apple trees grow nice and tall and full.

And the flowers are great too.

I too am growing roses from seed too. Who knows what we will get. I bought some of those wild apple seeds from Maine and they are doing nicely!

I have small deerless patch of woods and I will put them there as well as a few for the lawn.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 7:30PM
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mauch1(z6b PA)

I almost posted yesterday, but glad I didn't. I'm glad you're enjoying growing the apples from seed. Nothing wrong with it -- if you know what you may or may not get. And just because an apple you grow is good enough to be commercialized (the figure i've heard is 1 out of 40,000) doesn't mean it's not good enough for your purposes.

Remember (if you're inclined) that besides apple butter, if the apples are astringent or bitter think hard cider.

"I have small deerless patch of woods" -- HOW and where do I get one? :-)

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 5:07PM
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I am in a semi-urban setting. We got wild turkeys behind our condos but no Deer sighted as of yet. That might change when my apple trees start dropping apples! We have plenty of Maples and Oaks; how about something different?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 10:31PM
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