November 17, 2012

1 - You can grow apples from seeds you saved, but you must provide special conditions to allow the seeds to grow.

Yard and Garden November 17, 2012


I saved some seeds from a Golden Delicious apple that I ate recently. I want to plant them and grow an apple tree. What should I do to make them grow? The last time I tried, the seeds did not grow.


Albuquerque, NM


The first thing I am supposed to tell you is that the seeds from an apple may not grow into a tree that produces the same kind of apples. I did tell my grandmother that many years ago when she planted seeds from a Golden Delicious apple in her back yard. The result was a tree that produced apples much like the original. I learned that the books are not always correct. So, rather than discourage you, I will tell you that you may not get a tree that produces good apples, but then again, you may. Go for it!

Seeds from apples (and other temperate climate trees and shrubs) often fail to grow because they contain biochemical factors that make them dormant. They must undergo special conditions (simulating winter) before they will grow. If they were not dormant, the seeds would sprout in the fall and the plants would freeze during the winter.

Overcoming dormancy in these seeds involves putting the seeds in some moist medium (moistened paper towels, peat moss, or potting soil) in a refrigerator (not freezer) for 4 to 8 weeks at a temperature of 35 to 45 degrees. During this cold treatment biochemical changes in the seeds produce a plant hormone, gibberellic acid, which overcomes dormancy and causes the seeds to grow normally. This is what happens during the cold of winter after the fruit containing the seeds fall from the trees. The seed must remain moist and at a temperature above freezing, but below 50 degrees until the biochemical changes have occurred. It is OK for them to remain in the refrigerator longer than 4 to 8 weeks unless they begin sprouting. Once they sprout they need to be planted in individual pots and exposed to sunlight. If they begin sprouting after winter has past, they can be planted in the garden outside, but if they sprout early, they need to be kept indoors where they will not freeze. The seedlings that grow in pots may be planted outside in the spring when they will not freeze.

You should also know that the new seedlings must grow through a period of juvenility in which the plants cannot bloom and may look somewhat different from the adult plants. In apples this period of juvenility may be up to 7 years long. However, if a branch from a one year old, or older, seedling is successfully grafted onto an existing adult phase apple tree (one that is bearing apples), the grafted branch will produce apples much more quickly and you will learn if you have grown a good apple.

While the chances of getting a tree that produces superior apples from the seeds you saved is very small, it is not impossible, however the chances of getting a good apple that you enjoy eating are reasonable and worth the effort for many gardeners. Plant the seeds and have fun watching to see what develops.

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:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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