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How to Grow Your Own Apple Tree

by Paul-Martin Foss

Fall is here, and while pumpkin spice everything seems to be the current trend, there’s no denying that fall is synonymous with apples. From apple picking to apple cider to apple pie, fall is the time of year to enjoy the wonderful variety of apples that exist. If your visit to the apple orchard has inspired you to grow your own apple trees, there’s good news: it’s not that difficult. There are several different ways you can grow apples: from seed, from cuttings, and by grafting.

Growing Apples From Seed

If you plant apple seeds, they’ll grow into an apple tree. But the apples they produce won’t necessarily taste like the fruit you got them from. Because apple flowers aren’t self-pollinating, they require another apple variety to pollinate them. Most commercial orchards plant crab apples as pollinators, so that seed may grow to become more like its crab apple father, or it could be more like its apple mother, or it could be some combination of the two.

Remember that the Granny Smith apple variety came about because an old lady in Australia threw apple cores out her kitchen window. The seeds eventually sprouted and grew into an apple tree that created a new variety of apple that took the world by storm.

But growing apples from seed isn’t as easy as just putting seeds in the ground. Apple seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate. Some varieties require as many as 2,000 hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to germinate. In many cases, storing apples in the refrigerator over the winter can provide that cold. But if you’re harvesting seeds in the fall, what do you do?

Well, you could plant them in seed trays and leave them outside over winter. Or you could fill a Ziploc bag with peat moss or potting soil, put the seeds in the soil and moisten it, and leave it in the refrigerator for a few months, making sure to keep it moist. Not all apple seeds will germinate, but the ones that grow come spring can be transplanted into large pots and eventually into the ground.

It can take up to eight years for apple trees grown from seed to start producing fruit. Because the apple trees will also be full-sized if allowed to grow unchecked, they will have to be pruned in order to keep their height down and encourage horizontal growth to make apple harvesting easier.

Growing Apples From Cuttings

Apple trees can be grown from cuttings, too. Recommendations on the best time to take cuttings vary, with some saying that cuttings should be taken after dormancy in winter or early spring, while others suggest late spring. The cuttings should have at least one bud on the end of the cutting, hardwood or semi-hardwood at the base, and should have several nodes from which branches could grow. They should be at least eight inches long, with two to three inches of the base placed into the soil.

Putting rooting hormone on the base of the cutting can help with root growth. Cuttings should be planted in pots with a loose and well-draining soil mix. Just as with all plants grown from cuttings, not all will root successfully. Cuttings will grow into trees that are clones of the part of the tree they were taken from. If the tree is, for instance, a Red Delicious grafted onto another rootstock, cuttings taken from above the graft line will grow to be full-sized Red Delicious.

Grafting Apples

Grafting is the most common way of propagating apple trees through cuttings, as it allows cuttings to be grafted onto established rootstock that has desired characteristics such as dwarf height or disease resistance. There are many different grafting techniques, but they all require taking a cutting from the tree to be cloned, known as the scion wood, and attaching it to the trunk of a young apple tree. The graft is covered and tightly bound to allow the tree to heal and the two different sections of wood to bind together. As with planting cuttings directly int the soil, not all grafts will succeed.

Grafting also is dependent on being able to secure viable rootstock, normally dwarf rootstock that will result in a tree that doesn’t grow terribly tall. Through careful grafting, some apple growers have been able to create single trees that can grow hundreds of different varieties of apples at once.

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