Growing Apples from Seed

Have you ever considered growing an apple tree from seed? The first thing to remember is that most apple trees do not reproduce true to type. In other words, if you grow seeds from a Granny Smith apple, you won’t grow a tree that produces Granny Smith apples. It will be a combination of Granny Smith and whatever pollinated it. The only way to reproduce a Granny Smith apple tree is to vegetatively propagated it, which simply means grafting. However, might you want to grown apple trees from seeds?

There are various reasons you may want to grown apple trees from seeds.

  1. Rootstock: If you want inexpensive rootstock, you can grown trees from seeds and use these as rootstocks for grafting. The downsides are that you will probably have full-sized trees and you won’t know how resistant it is to diseases.
  2. Genetic Diversity: If we don’t continue to grow new trees, we could lose genetic diversity and the new beneficial varieties as well as making healthier trees and fruit.
  3. It’s Fun: Not everything has to have a scientific purpose. Who doesn’t want to claim they found the next Ambrosia or Dabinett apple. The likelihood is low but, you will have your own unique apple variety not matter what.

Growing trees from seed is how many apple trees in the early years of America’s history were created and why we had over 14,000 named apple varieties at one time. I’ve been interested in growing apples from seed mostly for to seek genetic diversity and becauses it’s been fun. I expect most of apples will revert towards the mean, which is to say that they would become more phenolic compared to the original apple. This would improve the genetic diversity of the apples in my area. I don’t have cider apple varieties. I also wanted to learn more about the apple tree and orchard practices. Because of this, I signed up to recieve some interesting seeds in 2021. I had tried to obtain scion wood from the USDA for two years but, an extreme case of fire blight canceled those orders. My focus was on red fleshed apples from Kazakhstan. These apples are of the malus sieversii genus. With that plan thwarted, I instead signed up to receive some malus sieversii seeds. While the apples are open pollinated, they are in an area where the most likely pollination is from other malus sieversii trees. Malus sieversii is the origin of most of our domestic apples that we use today. I figured if I couldn’t get scion, I could at least grown some from seeds. They arrived and that got me thinking about needing to outline the process for growing apples trees from seed. There has to be others out there interested in increasing the genetic diversity of apple varieties or looking for something fun to do over the winter and spring months. Yes, I recommend starting this process in the fall as it can take 3-6 months.

There are three basic process or steps.

  1. Clean and Dry
  2. Moisten and Chill
  3. Plant and Grow

Clean and Dry

The first steps is harvesting your seeds. If you getting them from thr USDA, they are already prepared. If you are getting the from the apple you just had at lunch, you need to remove them from the core clean off any pulp, and let them dry for a hour or so. If you are slicing your apple, take care they you don’t damage and cut the seeds. I usually eat my apple and break open the core to remove the seeds. Note that ripe apples should have dark seeds. If the seeds are light, they may not be fully developed.

Moisten and Chill

Once the seeds are dried, you need to moisten and chill them. My method is to fold a paper towel or napkin to the size of a ziplock. Wet the paper towel and squeeze out as much water a possible. You want it to be moist, not soaked. Unfold the paper towel and place the seeds in a row on one side with about 1.5 cm (1/2”) spacing between each seed. Fold the moist paper towel over the seeds and insert the moist towel inside the ziplock bag. Close and label the bag with the variety and date. Place this bag in the refrigerator. It will need to sit for several months. The paper towel will remain moist and the cold will mimic a winter helping the seed to slowly grow. After 3-6 months, you can carefully feel the bag and should start to feel the growth of the root.

Example of Sprouted Apple Seeds
Example of Sprouted Apple Seeds

Plant and Grow

The seed husk will fall away leaving a root that is topped by what are actually small, round, and pale green leaves. If you leave the seed in the refrigerator, the roots can grow extensively and embed in the paper towel. I wait until I have some warm weather, ideally middle to late spring, and plant mine in 1 gallon containers in my back yard. I live in Arizona and have drip irrigation so I generally have warm weather and keep my containers well watered. Some recommend planting then in containers that you cover with plastic wrap and keep in a warm location, like your garage, until they begin growing well. You can move them outside and let them grow after you see some good growth f the trunk. I usually grow mine for 1-2 seasons before moving them to the orchard. If you plan to use them as rootstock, you can graft them in the container or after they have established root systems in the orchard.

Apple trees growing from seed
Apple trees growing from seed

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2 thoughts on “Growing Apples from Seed

  1. I guess I had better luck that you. Several years ago (memory is fading), I got two varieties of Kazakhstan apples from the USDA germ plasm bank. The ones that had the highest sugar and juice content weren’t available, so I took what was available. (If you are interested, I can get the variety designations from the tags on the trees.) I grafted them onto MM111 which produces a ¾ full size tree and does well in our clay soil. Though they are still in one-gallon pots, they have both produced fruit, nothing to brag about, but they are quite precocious. I now have made room for them to be planted out so maybe I’ll see how they do in the ground. I’ve made single apple varieties of cider from Jonagold, Gravenstein, and Melrose apples, all of which tasted great. And I’ve grafted seedlings of Jonagold and Melrose onto MM111 and my old Gravenstein tree’s rootstock (of unknown variety since the tree was here when I got here in 1974). None of those seedlings have yet produced fruit, so I’ll have a wait to find out what their juice will be like. The Melrose seedlings grafted on the Gravenstein rootstock are well over 6 feet tall, but without fruit.

    Have Fun with Your Apples,

    Jerry McCourt

    Lakebay, WA

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jerry – You we’re the reason I started exploring the options with the USDA. They won’t all turn out to be great apples but you never know what you might end up getting! Looking forward to hearing when your seedlings finally produce some fruit.

      Liked by 1 person

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