January 16, 2016

1 - Apple trees are impossible for most home gardeners to grow from stem cuttings due to limitations of adult phase stem tissue.

Yard and Garden January 16, 2016

Q.

I want to cut stems from my apple tree and use them to start new trees. I have tried this for several years with no success. I have even used rooting hormone powders, but they did not help. What do I need to do to make these stems grow roots and become new trees?

A.

Growing apple trees from stem cuttings taken from mature fruit trees is impossible for most home gardeners. Apple trees and many other plants go through a change in life between the time a seed germinates and the time the tree begins to bear fruit. These plants begin life in juvenile phase and mature to be in adult phase. Seedlings in the juvenile phase may be more easily grown from stem cuttings, but it is almost impossible to get stems from some adult phase plants to produce roots and become new plants. That is why these plants are propagated by grafting to produce the desired varieties for you to purchase at a plant nursery. Although the stems will not form roots, they may be grafted onto an appropriate rootstock. Your best chance to start a new tree is to purchase one or to graft a branch or bud from the mature tree onto an apple seedling rootstock.

While rooting hormones are helpful in encouraging roots to form, they may not always work, especially in the case of apple trees and other plants that have distinct juvenile and adult phases.

Seed producing plants begin life as seedlings in the juvenile phase. Characteristics of juvenile phase may include leaves shaped differently from the adult phase leaves, different arrangement of leaves on the stems, and even different plant forms. Of course juvenile plants cannot reproduce by flowering and producing seeds, they do not produce flowers until they enter adult phase. Juvenile plants may more readily propagate by producing roots on stem cuttings, even in the case of species that cannot be propagated from stem cuttings in the adult phase.

All of this explains why you have not had success starting new apple trees from stem cuttings. Some common varieties have been in adult phase and propagated by grafting for several hundred years. Some newer varieties have not been in adult phase for nearly as long, but, even so, are in adult phase and will not easily be propagated from stem cuttings. Grafting is your best chance to increase your trees by home gardening techniques.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!