HOW TO GROW AN APPLE TREE FROM SEED

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The apple is one of the world's most widely cultivated tree fruits, and to date there are more than 7,500 cultivars to choose from. These different cultivars have been bred for various tastes and uses, including cooking, eating and cider production. However in order to ensure that the desired characteristics continue, all domestic apples are propagated through grafting. While apple trees will grow readily from seed but there is no guarantee that the traits of the parent plant will continue through to its progeny. Of course this also means that your seed grown apple tree could have characteristics that surpasses its parents!

How to collect and prepare apple seeds for propagation

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To begin with choose an apple variety (preferably organic) that appeals to your sense of taste.

Remove the seeds and the wash them in a fine sieve until all fruit residue has been washed off. Place the seeds on a couple of layers of paper towel and leave for a few days so that they can dry off.

Using a resealable clear polythene bag or Tupperware box, fill with damp sphagnum moss and then throw in the seeds. Apple seeds will need a cold period to break their natural dormancy before they will germinate and so to mimic this place the bag or box in the bottom of the fridge. They will need to be kept at a temperature of between 3 and 6 degrees Celsius for approximately 8-10 weeks. During this period the seeds should start to germinate within the moss, but it is always worth checking every couple of weeks just to see how they are getting on. Once the embryonic roots are visible the seeds can be removed from the fridge ready for planting. Don't expect all of the seeds to germinate as on average only 30% of apple seeds are viable.

Growing apple trees from seed

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Using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 1' fill 4 inch pots to within 1 inch of the top and place one seed in each pot at a depth of 1/2 inch. This will need to be done very carefully so that no damage occurs to the delicate embryonic root.

Cover the seed and gently water in. Keep the pots in a warm bright position such as a windowsill or greenhouse at a temperature of between 18-20 degrees Celsius. Place a piece of glass or clear plastic on top of the pots or alternatively seal the pots inside a clear polythene bag. Once the seedlings have emerged through the compost the covers can be removed.

The seedlings can be left to grow in their protected environment until they have reached a height of about 12 inches. From this point they can either be potted on into a larger pot or planted out into their final position once they have been hardened off and if there is no risk of frosts.

Be aware that domestic apple trees are grown on dwarfing rootstock and as such will only grow to a couple of meters or so in height. Seeds grown apple trees will grow considerably larger and won't reach their full height until at least 10 meters!

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