Apple trees started from seeds--need for grafting ?

novagrdnr7aMarch 13, 2012

I've germinated a number of Granny Smith and Gala seeds just as a fun experiment. I know it will be years before they have a chance to bear fruit but I have a small area of my property where I want to plant 2-3 of each. I've been told that unless I graft some other variety to them I'll just end up with crabapples. I thought that since I have more than one type that would be adequate for pollination and full size fruit should develop even if the fruit turns out to be less than desirable. Thank you for any clarification/help.

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The word on the street is exactly that: without grafting you will end up with mostly poor quality apples, and definitely nothing resembling the parent, since apples do not come true to type from seed. I don't know about fruit size, but I doubt they will be as small as true crabapples, although pollination has nothing to do with that (no cross pollination usually means no fruit at all in self-infertile species, not just smaller fruit). They would be really nice for wildlife and probably good for some culinary use.

If you wanted to try grafting it would be really easy to get some prunings from a known variety (a friend's tree, or something growing in a nearby park or orchard) next winter.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 1:58PM
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Randy31513(Georgia 8b)

But, if you play the lottery, then go ahead with your project because you might hit it lucky and come up with a new variety. The odds may be better than the lottery by a little bit

I think I would plant the seeds. get some dwarf root stock, then start a stool, then graft your planting onto the root stock for a quicker turn around.
Who knows you might have to build a locked fence around it to protect your scion wood.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Thanks to both of you, you've given me a lot to think about ! lol

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 2:24PM
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I think there's a bit of misconception here.... especially the difference between HOME apple growing and Commercial apple growing....

Remember that every single apple grown came from a seed... and that the vast majority of apples grown until the last 75 years or so were grown out from seed....

First... Yes - Apples are not true to seed.... so if you want a "Granny Smith" - then you have to graft it...

Second... If you want a tree that does not grow up into a giant tree the size of an Oak or Hickory tree - you probably want to graft it onto a dwarfing rootstock....

Now the counter side....
If the apple was grown in an orchard full of other eating apples - then there is a good chance it was pollinated by another eating apple... and the seed will produce an eating apple...

Here are 2 very interesting quotes from a fruit breeder:

"Many seedlings have fruit with very little acid and in consequence they are very sweet and insipid. This type is quite unacceptable. Fruit may have a strongly aromatic or distinct aniseseed-like flavor and, while these may prove to be good home garden apples, they are not acceptable as commercial apples for large scale production because such flavors are not universally liked. The connoisseur who likes the subtle flavor of some apples will no doubt grow his own."

Notice the importance of flavors that are generally accepted for "Commercial Apples" and the counter against the flavors preferred by the Connoisseur....

Since your seed came from Granny Smith - it at least has 1 parent that contains a good amount of Acid... rather than if they were Golden delicious or Red delicious seeds.... That will help stack the deck in your favor.


"Good flavor is a peculiarly personal thing. Since the fruit must have a more or less universal appeal, fruits with distinct, particularly aromatic flavors are only for the connoisseur. A pleasant but undistinguished flavor is regrettably the answer - following the maxim that most will like that which has nothing to dislike. "

Notice the importance of a "Pleasant but undistinguished flavor" in commercial breeding.... and that is exactly what you get for the most part... Something that very few people will DISLIKE - not something that a group of people will intensely like...

So... Plant out your seeds... You will definitely get an Apple tree.. and it may well bear in 5-8 years You will probably get something worth eating... You might get something you really, really like.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 9:59AM
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Thanks for your perspective John !

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 3:01PM
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John is right about breeding...the other criteria that weeds a lot of crosses out of commercial production are appearance (can't be an ugly thing) and shelf life. Many crosses go to mush very quickly.

However, as a commercial grower, I can tell you that most of the pollenizer trees used in Granny Smith (heck any variety for that matter) here in Wa state are crab apple; most likely Manchurian.

Not to dash all your hope, bees fly up to a mile so the pollen donor could have been a golden delicious from an adjacent block of apples.

Just be prepared for a dud.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 1:49PM
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You could let it grow, see what the fruit is like, and then graft over to something else down the line if you're not satisfied. It could be a while, though.

Most apple rootstocks have been developed for desired characteristics like size, hardiness, resistance. They are clonally propagated. I suppose not only is it a crap shoot for fruit when growing from seed, but also with the root system. I don't have direct experience with this aspect, so this is just my assumption.

But no harm in trying. There are plenty of wild apple tree around our property to show that apple trees from seeds can last 50+ years. One of them even bears edible apples.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 5:37PM
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Exactly... There is no harm in seeing what you get... and it can be fun...

Now... The other side of the argument is that there are already well over 10,000 varieties of Apples.. and probably a good 1,000 of those are for sale here in the USA... There is literally something for every palate... Sweet, sour, bitter, aromatic, Anisey, orangey, pineappley, red, pink, purple/black, disease resistant, etc... and there is something for nearly every climate - all the way from Florida Zone 10 all the way up to Maine and Montana in Zones 3 and 4....

So... It's worth it to stack the deck with a few trees that sound like you will really enjoy eating them.. and you can plant your seeds for the fun of it.... Even bitter, sour apples have a place in Cider...


    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 9:48PM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

I plan on trying something sort of like Randy suggests -- plant desired seeds, then accelerate fruiting by snipping and grafting onto dwarf rootstock. Should be able to get fruit within 4-5 years that way. Otherwise it may take 6-9 years on its own roots, which is way too long for worthy experimentation. And since all I really want is good cider apples anyway, finding a new customized apple that is also a good eater or cooker would just be an added bonus. It's just something fun to play around with.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 10:51PM
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Its also well worth pointing out that "true to type" means "clone". A self pollinating fruit like a tomato will always be true to type, because it fertilized itself and has no genetic variance.

Not being true to type does not mean the results will be inferior. It just means it won't be identical to the apple you ate to get the seeds from. Some apples are grafted with different rootstocks to get different effects that you can't replicate with just seed, this is true, but thats fairly limited.

What you grow may be a little worse, it may be a little better. It may be a lot worse, it might be a lot better. Odds are it will be very close to what you ate though.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 3:08PM
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Thanks again to everyone who has offered their experience and expertise.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 8:31PM
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I am facinated by apple seed germination. I have germinated over 100 seeds with the same concerns of fruit not coming true to seed. Therefore, I have decided in order to have good apples, I would graft a known cultivar onto my seedling, and at the same time leave branches of the original seedling to fruit. Therefore, if it does, by chance develop into a delicious fruit, I will have the original tree. If its a bad fruit, I will just eliminate the branches and graft another cultivar.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 12:52AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Interesting and extremely informative conversation. On a whim, my son and I also started a couple of seeds this winter from an Empire apple. I kept 2 viable seedlings and after only a few weeks I could see that the two seedlings were different from each other. One was taller with fat leaves and the other was squat with longer thinner leaves. They are both doing well at the moment. To be continued.....

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 9:50AM
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You could also speed up time to bearing on these seedling by either doing a bark inversion(removing a 1" strip of bark all the way around the trunk, turning it upside down and replacing it(wrapped and sealed as you would a graft - or 'looping' - tying an overhand knot in the trunk of that supple young seedling.
Both make a not-so-pretty lump in the trunk, but will hasten time to bearing, and may temporarily confer some degree of dwarfing.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 11:48AM
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Lucky.... Ya gotta be kidding....

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 12:19PM
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