Growing apple trees from seed

There seems to be endless controversy over growing fruit trees from seed, particularly growing apple trees from seed. Some common dissenting opinions are  “if you plant an apple seed you will get crab apples” and “only 1 in 10,000 apple trees planted from seed will be edible“.  The 1 in 10,000 sounds like an exaggeration to me and no you don’t get crab apples from apple trees grown from seed.

It is true that an apple tree grown from seed will not be “true to type” but that doesn’t mean it will automatically be bad. So why would we grow apple trees from seed? I can think of a few reasons:

  • free” apple tree rootstock – About $0.15 worth of potting soil and you have a viable apple seedling to graft your favorite varieties on to.  Think about it, you purchase a $20 Dorsett Golden apple from your local nursery, grow it out for a year and now you have a “mother” tree which you can take cuttings to grow out your own Dorsett Golden clones trees for next to nothing.
  • Animal fodder – It is true that if you let your apple seedling grow out and produce it’s own fruit there’s a chance it may taste like cardboard, or band-aids or sour dirt. Yuck. But I bet you your chickens/cows/pigs will love them.
  • Genetic lottery – There is also a chance that your little seedling will grow up to produce the most amazing tasting, disease resistant apples known to mankind! Or it might just be OK. Whatever the end result is it will be yours, you get to name it, sorta like a pet.
  • Building Diversity & Habitat – These trees could grown up to be massive 40-50 foot overstory trees on the outer edges of your property which will provide habitat, species diversity and biomass for your local biome. Oh yea these apple trees will actually have a taproot, something that is mostly lost when buying trees from a grafted source. This has the potential to make your tree wicked hardy.
  • It’s fun – Seriously it is fun, easy and a great activity for the kids.

So how do we go about growing apple trees from seed anyway?  It is crazy easy.

  1. Procure a ziplock bag and place in an easily accessible location in your fridge or counter space.
    1. Remove the seeds from your finished apples and insert into your bag. Seeds come fast and plentiful when you have 3 kids so collecting a good 30-40 should come quick.
  2. After collecting your seeds you are ready for cold stratification. Wrap up your seeds in a slightly damp paper towel, place towel into your ziplock bag, seal your bag about halfway and place into the crisper section of your fridge. Make sure you label the bag with this entry date and set a calendar reminder 60-90 days in the future.
  3. Wait. Retrieve your seeds after the 60 – 90 days and  you are ready for planting.
  4. Mixup a batch Coconut Coir and sand and plant each seed 1/2 inch deep in a quart or gallon container.
  5. That’s it!

In planting my last round of seeds I used quart containers and inserted 3 seeds in each figuring I should get at least 1 seedling if I have poor germination percentage.  It turns I had nearly 100% germination rate and they all looked great so I decided to separate them and put into larger containers:


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One thought on “Growing apple trees from seed”

  1. I’ve been growing apple seedlings in San Diego for about 6 months now. These are my results:

    20% sprout rate:

    10% of seeds sprout in the fridge. Some will have sprouted in the apple (kept in the fridge), others will ‘root’ in less than a week, while others will take 3 months or more. I did a fresh damp paper towel every week or two to keep them from getting funky. As soon as the root is about 1/4″ long they go in a little dirt cup. After 3 months I took all the seeds left and dumped them into one big pot and another 10% sprouted.

    20% survival rate:

    Of the ones that made it into a dirt cup about 20% made a plant at least 6″ tall. Some don’t sprout. Some sprout into two leaves then die. The rest seem to do fine for a while and then stop growing. If it’s not getting bigger it will eventually die. I grow in San Diego with blistering sun and 110 degree weather (barely 300 chill hours) might be a problem but then again I don’t want apples that can’t survive here. Also, there’s no snow or frost here so every seedling that dies in the summer will probably be fine during the winter (when most normal apple seedlings die).

    80% long term survival rate (6 months):

    Once they get to about 6″ in the blistering sun and not die. They are usually fine. At 6″ I transplant them to a gallon water bottle I cut in half with a few holes on the bottom. Most seem to be ok but about 10% died, and another 10% seem to have stopped growing and I suspect will eventually die, while the other 80% are growing at various rates.

    Before you lecture me about chill hours I only start with seeds (from varieties) that require less than 500 chill hours like Granny Smith (300-500), Pink Lady (100-500), and Fuji/Kiku/Red Fuji/Auvil (100-500). If I ever plant them and they don’t produce flowers or fruit (10 YEARS from now) I can always graft a true low chill variety, like Dorsett Golden (100-250), Anna (100-300), or Tropic Sweet (250).

    It’s true that only about 1 in 10,000 trees can produce COMMERCIAL grade apples. Most commercial grade apples have to be resistant to multiple pathogens common to orchards, they have to be large, sweet, not too tart (crabs) and not too bitter (cider), and most of all, they have to be ‘fresh’ for at least 3 to 6 MONTHS after picking.

    For seedlings it’s more like 1 in 5 for fresh eating, and almost EVERY apple can be used for SOMETHING. For home growers you can eat the apples before they turn to mush in a week. They can also be canned, jammed, sauced, buttered, dried (and if all else fails), made into apple cider/brandy. Or tasty treats for ruminants.

    A new ‘perfect’ apple variety can make you a MILLION dollars (eventually). Even at 10,000 to 1 that’s still better odds than any other lottery and at least you have a tree with pretty pink/white flowers and some apples (or cider, or whatever).

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