Growing your own apple tree from a pip can be fun and exhilarating but it can also be a huge disappointment. The genetic makeup of the apple tree means that the fruit that it bears is entirely random and not the same as its parent. Growing your own unique variety of apple can be a lot of fun as long as you know what you are getting into and realise that you may never get to eat the fruit that you produce. So, if you know what you are getting into and still want to learn how to grow your apple tree from pips, read on and we will show you.
How to Grow Apple Trees From Pips
In this guide, we will explore the steps and considerations involved in successfully growing apple trees from pips, offering you a chance to create your very own apple varieties.
Step 1 – How to Save Apple Seeds
We recommend using seeds from some nice and juicy store-bought apples (as we said, you cannot guarantee the fruit, but we can try and give it a nudge in the right direction).
1. Purchase your Apples
You will want to purchase 2 different varieties of apples from your local store or supermarket. We recommend selecting the nicest and best-looking fruits as you will have to eat them first to get at the pips inside.
2. Eat your Fruit
This is certainly the best part in the early stages, you do not have to eat the fruit, you can just cut it open to get to the seeds but why waste that lovely apple goodness? Once you have reached the seeds, gently remove them, and set them aside.
3. Rinse and Dry the Seeds
Your apple seeds will now need a rinse and then some time to dry off. First, using a sieve, just give them a quick rinse under a tap and then set them on some paper towel on a nice warm sunny windowsill for a day or two. Once the seeds are dry, store them in a dark and cool place until you are ready for the next step which is germination.
Note: Collect as many seeds as you can as the germination rate is only about 30%.
Step 2 – How to Germinate Apple Pips?
Apple pips or seeds respond best and germinate after a period of cold. Simulating the natural conditions of a cold winter is called cold stratification and can be done quite easily.
How to Simulate Winter for Apple Seeds
- Place all the apple seeds that you have collected in between 2 sheets of moist paper towel inside a sandwich bag and leave them in the fridge for around 6 weeks but as much as up to 70 days (we usually do this the first week of January, so they are ready to be planted out after the last frost).
- Once a week, you will want to check on your seeds to ensure that the paper towel is still moist and if it has dried, just add a touch more moisture.
- After around 6 weeks, you may already start to see some signs of life and some of the seeds may have already begun to sprout. It is unlikely you will see them all sprout together though, as the seed germination rate of apples is around only 30%.
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Step 3 – How to Plant Apple Seeds
If it is after the last frost, and the night temperatures are already above 10°c, the seeds can be sown directly outside although we prefer to sow our apples into pots where we have a little more control over the temperature for the first few weeks after they become young seedlings.
Sowing Apple Seeds Outdoors
Apple trees are generally okay growing in most soil types although for best results you will want to avoid soil that is too light and sandy and soil that holds too much water and is often waterlogged.
- For best results, the ideal soil conditions for apple trees will be at least 2 feet deep, well-draining loam mixed with well-rotted organic matter. Apple trees thrive in soil that is not too hard and lumpy with a pH of between 6 – 7.
- Due to the low germination rate, to sow your apple seeds, you will want to sow 5-6 seeds around 2 inches apart in one area and then another 5-6 around 20 feet away ensuring that both areas are in a nice and sunny spot.
- Once the seedlings have grown to around 3 inches, we will choose the strongest and thin down to only 1 infant tree in each area.
- For each seed, poke a 1/2-inch hole into the soil and sow your apple seeds and loosely cover with soil, gently compact and water well and continue to water daily through the dry months.
Sowing Apple Seeds in Pots
Sowing our apple seeds in individual pots is what we recommend and that way, you can decide which ones to plant out and when.
- Fill 4-inch pots with a seed starter potting mix which contains perlite. Poke a ½-inch hole into the centre of each pot and sow your apple seed.
- Cover the seed with your potting mix and water well. Leave your pots in a nice sunny spot and water at least once daily, maybe twice as the potting mix will dry out very quickly.
- At 3-4 inches tall and when the seedling has its first couple of sets of leaves, it can be transplanted to the garden. As above, you will want to plant them 20 feet apart, so the roots have space to grow and they are not competing for nutrients.
Step 4 – How to Care for Apple Tree Seedlings Year 1
Caring for apple tree seedlings in their first year involves keeping a good eye on the plant and ensuring it has the right conditions to grow:
Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water deeply when needed, especially during dry spells. Proper hydration is crucial for young tree roots to establish themselves.
Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, around the base of the seedlings to conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk to prevent rot.
Guard the seedlings against pests and small animals like rodents by using tree guards or wire mesh. Inspect the seedlings regularly for signs of damage and take appropriate action if needed.
In the first year, focus on training the seedling’s shape by removing any damaged or crossing branches. Keep the central leader (main stem) intact to encourage upward growth.
Apply a balanced, slow-release fertiliser in early spring to provide essential nutrients for growth. Follow the recommended dosage on the fertiliser package.
Stake young seedlings if they are prone to leaning or wind damage. Use soft ties to secure them to the stakes, being careful not to damage the bark.
Regularly inspect the seedlings for any signs of stress, disease, or pest infestations. Promptly address any issues that arise to ensure the seedlings’ health and vitality.
Step 5 – How to Care for Apple Tree Seedlings in Subsequent Years
Continue to care for the young tree as before by keeping it watered, fertilised and staked for protection. As the tree grows, however, you will need to begin pruning.
Pruning a Young Apple Tree
- Formative Pruning: In the tree’s early years (2-4 years), focus on formative pruning to establish a strong, balanced structure. Remove any crossing branches, weak shoots, or branches growing at less than a 45-degree angle from the trunk.
- Maintenance Pruning: From the fifth year onwards, switch to maintenance pruning. This involves removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood and thinning out crowded areas to allow light and air circulation.
How to Care for a Young Apple Tree in Winter?
Young apple trees, especially during their first few winters, require special attention to ensure they survive the cold months and are set up for healthy growth in the spring. Here’s a guide on winter care for young apple trees:
Watering in Winter
- Deep Watering: Before the first hard frost, give the tree a deep watering. Moist soil retains heat better than dry soil, providing some protection against early frosts.
- Avoid Waterlogging: Ensure the soil drains well. Waterlogged soil can freeze and damage the tree’s roots.
Mulching in Winter
- Insulation: Apply a thick layer (about 4-6 inches) of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of the tree. This helps insulate the soil, retain moisture, and protect the tree’s roots from temperature fluctuations.
- Keep Mulch Away from Trunk: Ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the tree trunk to prevent rot and deter rodents from gnawing on the bark.
Tree Guards for Winter
- Protection from Rodents: Young apple trees are susceptible to damage from rodents like mice and rabbits, especially in winter when food is scarce. Wrap the lower trunk with a tree guard (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) or hardware cloth to prevent them from chewing on the bark.
- Sunscald Prevention: Tree guards can also protect the young bark from sunscald, which occurs when the bark warms up on sunny winter days and then freezes again at night.
- Wait for Dormancy: It’s best to prune apple trees when they are fully dormant, usually in late winter. This reduces the risk of transmitting diseases and allows you to see the tree’s structure clearly.
- Remove Damaged Branches: Prune away any broken, diseased, or dead branches. For young trees, also focus on shaping the tree and establishing a strong central leader.
- Wrapping: In areas with harsh winters, consider wrapping the young tree’s trunk with burlap or specialized tree wraps. This provides an added layer of protection against frost and wind.
- Shake Off Heavy Snow: If heavy snow accumulates on the branches, gently shake it off to prevent the branches from breaking under the weight.
- Hold Off on Nitrogen: Do not apply nitrogen-rich fertilisers in late fall or early winter, as they can stimulate new growth that will be vulnerable to cold damage.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Apples?
Some dwarfed varieties of apple trees that are bought ready to plant can bear fruit in as little as 4 years but generally, apple trees will take 8-10 years to grow, mature and begin to bear fruit. This may seem like a long time to wait but that tree will continue to bear fruit for many years.
Although it is generally considered to be a mistake to grow apples from pips, it can be done with relative ease, watching your tree sprout, grow and mature can be a lot of fun. The fruits that you end up with will remain a mystery until the taste test, it is extremely rewarding to take a bite from that very first apple of a unique breed you have grown. Fingers crossed that you get a fruit that is tasty straight from the tree although if not, I am sure that you will find another use for them be it cooking or making your own unique-tasting cider. Now you know how to grow an apple tree from seed, you will need to know how to train an apple tree for fruit.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Plant 2 different varieties of your favourite apple so that they can pollinate each other!”
“Plant young trees outdoors in their second winter when they are stronger!”
“Once you have grown your first apple, as it is unique to you, give it a name!”
“Buy your favourite apples to take the seeds from so you can enjoy eating the fruit too!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an apple a fruit
Yes, apples are fruits. Fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant. Apple trees are classified as Malus Domestica, and the apple is the most cultivated fruit in the world.
What is the best time to plant an apple tree?
Seeds can be planted directly into the soil from December to March although the success rate of germination is only around 30%. The best time to plant an apple tree is just after the last frost which gives the young tree time to strengthen and grow before the next winter when conditions become harsher.
What happens if you plant fruit trees too close together?
If you plant your apple trees too close together, the roots will be vying for the same soil, therefore, making it a competition. This competition below ground will severely impact the fruit production of the trees.
Why are Apple seeds placed in the fridge?
Apple seeds are put in the fridge as a way of simulating the natural outdoor conditions of winter. This is called cold stratification and works by keeping the seeds cold and moist in a similar way to if they were on the ground outdoors.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.