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Can You Grow Apples From Seed?


I've been asked this question many times now, and the simple answer is, "Yes, you can grow an apple tree from the pips of a ripe apple". However, knowing a little more may persuade you that it is not such a great idea to do so.

How are apple trees grown commercially?

Most if not all apple trees you can buy, are not grown from seed - they are clones! They are produced by cutting a branch from an existing tree and grafting this to a rootstock. The rootstock will determine the size and vigour of the final tree, and the grafted branch will determine the variety of the apples. Modern rootstocks have been bred for specific characteristics of tree, for example forming dwarf trees which can be grown in large pots, or very large trees suitable for orchards.


Why are they not grown from seed?

Apples, and other fruit, have two parents - the female parent produces the fruit, which is impregnated by pollen from a male flower. The male plant could be several miles away, with the pollen being transported by bees, moths or other pollinators. In the same way that children are not copies of either parent, but share some characteristics of each, so an apple grown from seed will not be the same as its mother - the apple from which you took the pips. Unlike a grafted plant which may produce fruit in a couple of years, a seedling could easily take 10 years before it produces any. Only then will you discover what you have grown - the fruits could be anything from a crabapple to a Bramley in size. Similarly, the sweetness, texture, skin colour and shape of the fruit may be very different from the (known) parent. In addition, other inherited factors like susceptibility to disease or pests may create a very poor tree.


So how are new varieties discovered?

The simple answer is trial and error. Apple nurseries will grow thousands of seedlings each year, discarding sickly looking plants and growing on the more promising saplings until they fruit. If they are lucky they may have grown a new variety with the characteristics we desire in terms of taste and appearance, but the vast majority of these plants will not make the grade.



By all means sow some apple seeds and have the fun of watching them grow to maturity, but please be aware that the resulting tree will probably grow 10 metres (30') tall with a 10 metre span, and that in all likelihood any fruit may only be fit for cider-making.


Please note that similar factors apply to all fruiting plants, though apples and pears produce the most diverse offspring.


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