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.
This can be a huge disappointment if you try and grow a Pink Lady and end up with a small green crab and this is the reason that apple trees are usually grown on cloned root stocks.
Growing your own apple tree from seed is considered a big no no in the horticultural world because you cannot guarantee which fruit that your apple tree will grow therefore it is considered a waste of time, energy, and garden space.
We do not believe that to be true, 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 grow your apple tree, read on and we will show you how to grow an apple tree from seed.
How to Save Apple Seeds
We will need to start off with apple seeds and saving apple seeds is rather easy when you compare it to saving such seeds as the tomato.
Apple seeds are small, brown and tear drop shaped and you will find them at the centre of an apple. You can use store bought apples or you can use the seeds of windfalls from a neighbour’s garden, it really is up to you although we recommend using seeds from some nice and juicy store-bought apples (like we said, you cannot guarantee the fruit, but we can try and give it a nudge in the right direction).
As apple trees do not self-pollinate, for our growing technique, we recommend growing at least 2 different varieties of apple tree together although, if you do not have enough space, you can just grow a single tree (it is likely there will be another apple tree nearby to pollinate your new one when it is ready).
1. Purchase your Apples
You will want to purchase 2 different varieties of apple 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 stage 4 and that is simulating winter.
How to Germinate Apple Pips
Apple pips or seeds respond best and germinate after a period of cold. We see this as simulating the natural conditions of a cold winter and this is called cold stratification and can be done quite easily.
How to Simulate Winter for Apple Seeds
Place all your 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 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%.
How to Plant Apple Seeds
Once your apple seeds have had enough time in cold conditions, they will be ready to be planted. 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 spoil 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-drained loam mixed well with well-rotted organic matter. Apple trees thrive in soil that is not too hard and lumpy with a Ph. of between 5.6 – 6.5.
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 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, they 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.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Apples
Some dwarfed variety 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 growing 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 taking 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 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
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.