While camping last week we visited Gross’ Apple Orchard in Bedford, Virginia. The apples were so tastie and we were able to make 6 quarts of apples sauce and even had some to dehydrate. While I was cutting the apples down I started to wonder about growing apple trees from seed.
We already have four apple trees that we can’t wait to bring to our forever homestead but I thought it would awesome to have some more. So I did some research and found that it is actually pretty easy to grow apple trees from seed but they will not be the same variety as the apple that they came from. Let’s look into what this means and growing apple trees from seed.
Why wont it be the same variety
The main reason apples aren’t grown from seed is that they don’t “come true to seed.” Just like humans, the offspring may have some resemblance to their parents, but with their own flavor and habits. Humans tend to want predictability, and for that reason, apple trees are cloned by grafting rather than starting from seed.
Planting an apple from seed is like playing the lottery, and since you’re likely going to compost that apple core anyway, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Growing Apple Trees from Seed
Preparing Apple Seeds for Planting
Apple seeds need cold stratification to break dormancy. The seeds need to be kept under moist refrigeration for at least 6 weeks before they’re planted. Place apple seeds in a moist paper towel, and then put that paper towel inside a plastic bag, leaving it open just a crack for air exchange. Store it in the back of the refrigerator, checking on the towel every week or so to make sure it’s moist.
At the end of 6 weeks, some of the seeds may have started to sprout already. That’s a good thing since apple seeds have a very low germination rate.
Another very simple method for cold stratification is to simply plant the seeds outdoors late in the fall. This mimics nature’s natural rhythms, and it’s like the plants just dropped their seed heads at the end of the season. The seeds will overwinter under a blanket of snow, staying just the right temperature for germination.
This is the method we used the first time we planted apple seeds.
A couple of things to keep in mind with this method though…
- The seeds are outdoors, and could just as easily be eaten by moles, chipmunks or birds. That’s one reason to plant them as late in the fall as possible, to minimize the time they’re out there before snow cover protects them (somewhat).
- This only works if you’re in the right growing zone. Chokecherries, for example, will grow as bushes as warm as zone 8. The seeds, however, won’t cold stratify in that climate. They’ll only grow from seed outdoors in cooler climates, below zone 6. If you’re in a warm climate, keep in mind you may need to artificially stratify seeds.
How to Plant Apple Seeds
After a minimum of 6 weeks in a moist paper towel in the refrigerator, you can plant apple seeds just as you would any other seed. They can be direct seeded outdoors if it’s after last spring frost and the soil can be worked. Since germination rates are low, and predation from squirrels, mice, and voles can be an issue early on, we recommend starting them in pots.
We place about a dozen seeds in a recycled one-gallon nursery pot along with a bit of seed starting potting mix. Keep the soil warm and moist, as you would any other spring planted seed start (ie. tomatoes).
How Long Do Apples Take to Germinate?
After 6 weeks of cold stratification, apple seeds actually germinate fairly quickly. Many of the seeds will already be germinating on the paper towel in your refrigerator, and those will emerge from the soil quickest after planting. Assuming soil temperatures are fairly warm (about 75 degrees F) the seeds should emerge from the soil in 1-2 weeks.
From there, we tend the apple seedlings in pots until the young trees are at least 4-6 inches tall. That means we’re less likely to lose them where they’re planted, but staking them is also a great idea because one casual step can mean the end of a young tree at this stage.
How Long Does it Take Apple Seedlings to Bear Fruit?
The apple tree (Malus Domestica) begins to produce fruits 2-10 years after planting. This depends on the variety of the tree, and whether it was grown from seed or rootstock.
A dwarf tree takes 2 to 3 years after planting to produce fruits. These are grafted onto Mark rootstocks to reduce the tree’s mature size from 12 to 6 feet tall. Be sure to support your tree; it needs extra support as it grows.
This type starts producing fruit 2 to 4 years after transplanting in a garden. It requires pruning to keep it at least less than 22 feet tall.
This type begins to produce fruit 4 to 6 years after planting. The rootstock may be MM.11 or P.18 and it produces a large tree of about 30 feet tall with a wide canopy. Keep the tree smaller by pruning it each year in late winter or early spring when it’s dormant.
Grown From Seed
Apple trees are grown directly from seed take between 6 to 10 years to bear fruit. The seeds are likely to grow into a full-size tree even if they were from a dwarf tree.
We have gotten our apple trees from many different places. Our first trees were bought at Home Depot, for the most part they have done really well. Two of our other trees came from Gross’ Apple Orchard in Bedford Virginia. We are currently looking into buying a few more from Stark Bro’s.
You don’t need an entire orchard to get a decent apple harvest, you just need two trees!! Making starting your own apple orchard very easy. And now that you know everything about growing apple trees from seed you are ready to start.
Thanks for visiting the farmhouse we hope that you found inspiration for your homestead.