How to Grow Fruit Trees From Seed
Copyright © March 1, 2011 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Genesis 1:11 - Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth;" and it was so.
Fruit trees may be successfully grown from the seeds of a "heirloom variety" fruit. However, fruit trees will usually not grow from the seeds of a "hybrid variety" fruit. Some people assume that since you can't reliably grow fruit trees from hybrid fruits then it is not possible to grow fruit trees from any type of fruit. Those people would be wrong. Fruit trees may be grown from good quality heirloom variety fruit. However, it will take between four to seven years longer for a fruit tree grown from seed to begin producing fruit when compared to a fruit tree you purchase from a local nursery that is already several years old.
You do not have to immediately plant your fruit seeds and pits. It is possible to save the seeds and the pits from your fresh fruit in the refrigerator and plant them on some future date. This would be practical if you are not currently living in a location where you can grow fruit trees. Instead of throwing your fruit seeds into the trash can, you could save the seeds and the pits from any heirloom variety fruit you now eat. Then if you relocate to another area at some future time, you could take those small fruit seeds and fruit pits with you and start your own orchard. (Note: If you wish to save fruit seeds and fruit pits for the future then after you have dried them you should store them in your refrigerator inside a plastic bag without any holes and do not add any additional moisture to the seeds or pits.)
Instructions for Growing Fruit Trees From Seed
- Fruit Varieties: You must know the exact name (or variety) of the fruit. Most of the fruit sold in a grocery store is sold by its name, such as Golden Delicious Apples, or Bartlett Pears, or Bing Cherries. Knowing the name of the fruit is important for the following reasons:
- If the fruit is not named then it may be a hybrid variety and although it may eventually grow into a tree it may never produce any fruit.
- Some fruits require a pollinator and you will need to plant compatible varieties if you want your trees to produce any fruit.
- Some fruits may not grow in your climate. Therefore you must first verify that a specific type of fruit may be successfully grown in your geographical region.
- Fruit Selection: Select heirloom fruit varieties that can be grown from seed and not hybrid variety fruits. The best fruit for seed and pit collection is fruit that has been allowed to ripen on the fruit tree. Therefore when a specific fruit is in season in your area, if you can find that locally grown fruit at your grocery store or at a road side stand or at a local farmer's market, then it will probably be tree ripened fruit. Another option would be a "pick-it-yourself orchard." Tree ripened fruit is better than fruit that has been shipped from a long distance away and that has gradually ripened while it was in transit. As an example, Ingles Grocery Stores will usually buy their fresh fruit from local fruit growers when that fruit is in season locally. Tree ripened fruit will produce seeds or pits that have stored as many nutrients as possible inside their seeds or pits so their germination rate will be optimal, and more of their seedlings will survive. However, it is still okay to plant the seeds from fruit even if that fruit was not ripened on the fruit tree. The only disadvantage is that your germination rate will be a little lower, and a few more of your seedlings may not survive. However, all the seedlings that do survive will eventually grow into a healthy fruit tree just like the seedlings grown from tree ripened fruit.
There are hundreds of different heirloom varieties of apples, pears, and peaches but very, very few of them are grown by commercial growers. The following very short list of heirloom fruits are ones you may be able to find at your local grocery store:
Although it was mentioned earlier, please let me remind you to first verify that the heirloom variety you are interested in will actually grow in your geographical area.
- Apples, Red: Jonathan, Red Delicious.
- Applies, Yellow: Golden Delicious (sweet), Granny Smith (tart).
- Cherries, Sweet: Bing, Black Tartarian.
- Cherries, Sour: Early Richmond, Montmorency, Stella.
- Peaches: Belle of Georgia, Elberta, Redhaven.
- Pears: Anjou (or D’Anjou), Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Seckle.
- Plums: Methley (purple-red skin), Santa Rosa (dark reddish purple skin).
- Final Ripening: If the fruit is not yet fully ripe, then allow it to finish ripening. If the fruit still feels firm then allow it to ripen at room temperature for just a few more days until it feels just a little soft.
- Eating: Eat the fruit. Save the seeds or the center pit. This is an extremely important step because if you don't like the taste of the original fruit then you shouldn't be trying to grow a fruit tree from its seed to produce more of that same exact type of fruit.
Seeds: Dry the moisture off the seeds using a paper towel.
Pits: Scrub the pit gently with some warm water and a soft brush to remove any flesh still clinging to the pit.
- Drying: Dry the seeds or pits at room temperature.
Seeds: Dry seeds for about three days. The seeds are small and thin and they will normally dry adequately in three days.
Pits: Dry pits for about ten days. The pits are larger and it takes longer for the larger pits to dry.
- Stratification: Stratification means to chill the seeds or pits at a temperature between 35ºF to 40ºF (or 2ºC to 4ºC). Most refrigerators are ideal for this purpose because they consistently control the internal refrigerator temperature within this range of values. Wrap the seeds or pits inside a slightly moist paper towel and then put them inside a ventilated plastic bag in the refrigerator. An ordinary sandwich bag may be used after you punch a few holes in the bag. Write the name of the fruit (such as Granny Smith Apple) and the date on the outside of the plastic bag with a permanent magic marker. Instead of a paper towel you may use a small amount of peat moss inside the plastic bag. Keep the paper towel or the peat moss slightly moist while chilling the seeds or pits.
Chill the seeds or pits the following number of days:
If you don't have a refrigerator you can let nature chill your seeds for you. Simply plant your seeds or pits following the "outdoor germination" instructions in step seven but plant your seeds or pits in the late fall of the year.
- Apple Seeds: 60 to 120 days.
- Pear Seeds: 60 to 120 days.
- Cherry Pits: 90 to 105 days.
- Peach Pits: 90 to 105 days.
- Plum Pits: 90 to 105 days.
- Germination: Germination means to sprout the seeds or pits. Do not split or try to break the pits. (Note: The one exception is peach pits. You may carefully crack a peach pit and remove the small almond shaped seed inside.) Only about one seed or one pit in every four will germinate. You can germinate your seeds or pits indoors or outdoors.
- Indoors: Transfer the seeds or pits to a shallow planting pot or tray that is at least five inches deep. Cover the seeds or pits with some good quality dirt. Plant apple and pear seeds about one-inch deep and plant pits about two-inches deep. Place in front of a sunny window, or outdoors if the temperature is warm, and then wait. Keep the dirt moist but not soaking wet. If the dirt is too wet then the seeds or pits will rot. Wait for the seedlings to grow. When the seedling is between eight to twelve-inches tall it may be transplanted outdoors if the weather is warm, such as in the late spring. Do not plant seedlings until after the danger of the last spring frost has passed. Mulch the ground around the seedlings in the winter months but do not put any mulch against the tree trunk to prevent trunk rot and undesirable above ground roots.
- Outdoors: Or you can plant your seeds or pits outdoors in the location where you want your fruit trees to grow. Plant four seeds or four pits about ten-inches apart in a circle. Plant each seed about one-inch deep or plant each pit about three-inches deep. Water the planting hole. Keep the ground moist during the first two weeks after you plant your seeds or pits. After the first two weeks if it doesn't rain at least once per week, then water the planting area yourself once per week. Do not over water the planting area to avoid rotting the seeds or pits in the ground. Mulch the area around your planting hole to keep the moisture in the ground and to prevent the sun from overheating the dirt. If more than one seed or pit begins to grow into a seedling in one hole, then you can leave the strongest seedling in the original hole and transplant the other seedlings to a hole where nothing is growing.
- Orchard Planning: Keep track of the name of each type of seed or pit you plant in each location so you will know the type of tree that is growing there. The easiest way to do this is to plant a single variety of seeds or pits in one row. For example, if you have four apple varieties, then start four long rows. If you have Golden Delicious apple seeds then you should plant those seeds in one of the center rows to provide good cross-pollination to the other varieties of apple trees. Many of your seeds will eventually sprout into a small apple tree. In about twelve years you will have your own apple orchard with a balanced variety of the different types of apples that will ensure good cross-pollination and a heavy crop of apples each year. This same orchard planning concept also applies to cherries, peaches, pears, and plums.
- Fertilization and Watering: The first year you transplant a seeding outdoors you should water that seedling at least once per week if it doesn't rain. It is okay to add just a little bit of liquid fertilizer to your watering pot when you water your seedlings. Beginning in the second year, fertilize your fruit trees twice per year. Fertilize in the early spring of each year before leaf and bloom set, and fertilize again in the fall of each year after the leaves have fallen off the tree.
- Staking: When the fruit tree is about two feet tall it will need to be supported with stakes until its center trunk is strong enough to withstand the wind and rain in your area so your tree will not get bent over. You may use either two or three stakes per tree. If you use two stakes them put them on opposite sides of the tree. If you use three stakes then space them an equal distance apart in a circle around the tree. Drive the stakes down into the ground about twelve-inches from the center trunk of the tree. The tops of the stakes should be about four-feet above ground. Tie the fruit tree trunk to the stakes using thin strips of old cloth or some pieces you cut from some old pantyhose. This will help the fruit tree to grow straight during the early part of its life. You can remove the stakes when the tree is about five feet tall and the tree trunk is strong enough to withstand a strong wind.
- Pruning: Do not prune your fruit trees during their early years. Wait until your fruit trees are mature and they are producing fruit before you consider pruning your fruit trees. The best time to prune a fruit tree is when it is dormant during the winter months. The one exception is if you notice any type of disease or blight on a tree limb, then you should immediately remove that entire limb from the tree. If the disease or blight reappears on that same tree then you should consider digging that tree out of the ground and burning the tree in a safe area.
- Harvesting Fruit: During the first six years of each tree's life you should pluck off any tiny fruits that set in the early spring. This will allow the tree to grow and mature and not spend its energy on fruit production. If you don't immediately remove those tiny fruits in the early spring during those first six years then your tree will suffer because it is too young to support a fruit crop. It will normally take at least eight to twelve years for fruit trees that are grown from seed to begin yielding fruit. Please remember to be patient. However, if fifteen or more years have passed and your other fruit trees of the same type are yielding fruit but one tree is not, then you may have a sterile fruit tree and you should consider removing it from your orchard.
- Orchard Management: If you will strategically replace the poor quality or low producing fruit trees in your orchard every two or three years then you will not have to replace all the fruit trees at approximately the same time when they grow old and die. Instead you will have a healthy orchard that will always bear fruit every year because you are periodically replacing the poor quality fruit trees.
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