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Planting apples from seed?

November 5, 2010

Is this feasible? I just bought some Northern Spies ($8.50 a half peck!) at a small orchard nearby, they only got 5 boxes this year (and no Baldwins). I've been saving them for eating so have the cores/seeds. I also have some Golden Delicious and Red Delicious (or what looks like it, but taste much better than store-bought) from a friend of a neighbor.

Are these good varieties to start from seed? Apple trees are $$ at the nurseries, and I haven't found the old varieties like Spy and Baldwin. We have a few old (100+ yrs) trees on the property, but the Spies and Baldwins I remember as a kid (now on my uncle's property) don't seem to be bearing any more after decades of neglect. The really old trees on our property have tiny apples - we think one is a Granny Smith or Greening, not sure what the others are. Thanks

Comments (14)

  • franktank232

    Yes you can grow them from seeds, what you end up with, when they finally do fruit is anyones guess. The problem is how much time you want to wait. I think you can easily figure at least 5 years before you see flowering, if not longer.

    Saying that, i have several seed grown apples that have grown very well. They really are SIMPLE to grow from seed. You'll end up with way more seedlings then you'll know what to do with. My method is to take those seeds, wrap them in moist/wet paper towel, put them in a ziploc baggie and toss them in the refrigerator. Start checking them in Jan.

    Another method is to leave a few branches of the seedling and graft on known varieties. These seedlings will probably want to become huge trees so be prepared for that (prune them once they really start going). I'd use branch bending method of inducing early fruiting (just bend the branches down so they are horizontal).

  • 2ajsmama

    Thanks - my mom's uncle used to have an orchard but he died years ago, I don't know who to ask. We could graft but then I'd have to find root stock (maybe one of the old trees that DH has to cut anyway, some are 60ft tall)?

    What do you mean by "what you end up with when they finally do fruit)"? I figured growing these older varieties from seed, I'd end up with same variety? Not hybrids...of course, with other (unknown) old varieties growing within a mile, we will get cross-pollinization, is that what you were referring to? So how do orchards grow different varieties that flower at about the same time, and not just end up with hybrids?

    Time isn't a problem - we'll be here til we die. Though it would be nice to have apples in just a few years, so we may plant some seedlings if I can get them cheap enough, I'll wait 10 years for a fresh-picked Spy from our own land like I used to eat when I was a kid (I'm 47).

    While we're waiting, though, any tips for bringing back the old trees that have gotten huge/stopped bearing (well)?

  • alexander3_gw

    >What do you mean by "what you end up with when they finally do fruit)"? I
    >figured growing these older varieties from seed, I'd end up with same >variety?

    No. Apples require cross pollination, and what you get will be a mix of the two parents. Unfortunately, even if both parents make good apples, there is a good chance that any individual seedling will not. Even in pants that are self fertile, there is substantial variation in the offspring.

    >Not hybrids...of course, with other (unknown) old varieties growing within a >mile,
    >we will get cross-pollinization, is that what you were referring to? So how >do
    >orchards grow different varieties that flower at about the same time, and >not just
    >end up with hybrids?

    All the seeds in the apples are hybrids of the two parents. The characteristics of the fruit depend on the tree that bears the fruit. The source of pollen has no effect on the fruit produced. For example, a Golden Delicious apple tree will produce the same kind of apple no matter what the pollen donor was, but the seeds in those apples will give rise to diverse trees. In addition, even if there is only one pollen donor, each seed will result in a genetically distinct tree with its own fruit characteristics.



  • sautesmom Sacramento


    What do you mean "start checking them in January"? Checking them for what? Do you mean they will sprout inside the baggies in the fridge?

    Carla in Sac

  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    I raised 3 apple seedlings of unknown parentage. One was a very growhy tree with large apples that I did't care for and I took it out. The second one turned out to be a crab apple with bi-annual bearing. The blossoms are a beautiful deep red and the apples are a nice size for crabs and are very red. The third one was slow to grow, but is a wonderful early red that is very large fruited and very versitible and early.
    So I kind of got the spectrum from just three trees.

  • 2ajsmama

    Oh wow, so if I plant a number of seeds from the N. Spy apples, and some from the Golden Delicious, and some from what I think are Red Delicious, and I have a Greening and crabapples to pollinate them (as well as them pollinating each other, assuming they flower around the same time, I haven't checked), I could end up with (not doing the math here, guessing) 9-12 *different* varieties? And maybe none of them Spies or Delicious?

    So, if grafting the way to go to make sure you end up with the variety you want?

  • olpea

    AJ's Mama,

    Yes, you are starting to understand what the posters are telling you.

    Think of it this way. AJ is not a clone of you, or his father. He's got some gene expression from both of you, which includes you, and maternal and paternal ancestors.

    In the same way, seedlings apple trees are not copies of the parents. The only way to get an exact planned copy of the parent is to graft (for trees) or somatic nuclear transfer if you're Dolly the sheep.

    It's unlikely any seedling you fruit will be better than one of the hundreds of apple varieties already available.

    But if you want to play around, go for it.

  • lucky_p

    Also, be aware that seedling apples become a 'standard' tree - meaning: potentially VERY large, unless you are dedicated to keeping them pruned back to a manageable size. And, as franktank mentioned, you'll have to grow them out through a fairly lengthy 'juvenile' period - could be 5-10-15 years - before they flower and fruit, giving you an indication of what they'll produce. Are you willing to wait that long for the disappointment?

  • 2ajsmama

    I don't mind waiting for a true Northern Spy, and don't mind large trees (I know we have to keep up with them, the problem with the trees we have now is that no one did). But not if we might end up with something else entirely.

    Guess I'll have to look online - and might as well get dwarf rootstock. Any recommendations?

    Anything we can do with our (really) old trees - the ones that still get apples on them? We have several that look dead too, haven't seen an apple in the 3 years we've been here. Those might get cut down for firewood, unless you think a severe pruning (basically cutting the tree down but leaving the stump?) might help.

    Thanks - we're trying to bring back the family farm, the "old" orchard on our property has been neglected probably 70+ yrs, my great-great-grandpa bought the place almost 98 yrs ago and I'm not sure if he planted the "new" orchard or if it was already here, that's the one I remember picking but my great-uncle and my uncle haven't done anything with those trees with for over 30 years. I haven't been next door to my uncle's "new" orchard to see if those trees even bear any more, but if they do, it's not much and/or the apples are small. I know my aunt wants to bring those trees back or plant more.

  • marc5

    If you are trying to save money, and you have your heart set on Northern Spy and Baldwin, I am sure you can find some free scionwood. Then try some grafting next spring. Graft onto the healthiest of your trees. In a couple of years you can graft onto your home grown seedlings.

  • maryneedssleep

    ...or just buy benchgrafts next spring. Bench grafts are baby trees that someone else has grafted for you. You will have to baby them the first year, and plan to buy a couple more than you want because some may fail, but they are cheap.

    Maple Valley has a great selection of bench grafts for $8 per tree + shipping. You can choose Bud9 dwarf rootstock.
    Or, you may be able to find someone local -- you could try asking on a regional forum.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Maple Valley

  • 2ajsmama

    I don't know if I can find free scionwood - at least of a known variety, b/c then I'd probably have to go to an orchard and I doubt they'd give me any (competition). If any of the old trees on my uncle's property are still alive (but not bearing?) would they make suitable scionwood? Of course, I have no way of knowing what variety a tree is, besides Spies and Baldwins I think there were other kinds there.

    If I have to order (Maple Valley looks good, thanks for the link!), would bare root be better than bench grafts? $22 is still cheap compared to what nurseries want for (larger) trees. I want to plant these near the majority of our older trees, and not that far from my uncle's, so we have lots of chances for pollination. Plus that area's more or less clear ;-) But irrigation is a problem out there so I don't want something that really needs to be babied. Or plant bench/barewood in a large pot, or near the house where we can water it more, then transplant it later?

    I may "branch out" ;-) and order more varieties from Maple Valley, esp. if we go with scionwood or bench grafts. I still want to plant Spies and Baldwins for nostalgia (and taste) but Winesap and some others they are sold out of right now (at least bare root) sound good too. Is M26 a good rootstock for my area?

    Thanks for all the help.

  • athenainwi

    Raintree is a very good nursery. They've got Northern Spy but I didn't see Baldwin. Any tree you plant will probably need some irrigation the first year, but it will depend on rainfall and your soil. You don't need to be that close to get cross-pollination either if you want to plant your trees in a more convenient spot.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Raintree's dwarf apples

  • maryneedssleep

    There are a lot of great nurseries -- in the West, Trees of Antiquity and Raintree; in the East, Cummins Nursery; midwest, Maple Valley... I've purchased nice trees from all four of those. There are plenty of great nurseries, and it really isn't my intent to advertise, but I know it can be hard to find resources when you're new, so I hope this helps. If you are unsure of any vendor's reputation, you can check it on Garden Watchdog. (Google "Garden Watchdog".)
    Keep in mind that shipping costs will be greater for trees than for the same number of little bench grafts!

    Good luck.

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