Use this simple tutorial to grow an apple tree using the seeds found in fruit from the grocery store. It’s an excellent beginner project for anyone wanting to try simple plant propagation. This same method works for pears as well.
Want to turn other food into plants? See How to Grow Avocado From Seed.
Grow Your Own Apple Tree
Of all the ways we can encourage a love of plants, nature, and gardening, it seems that starting something quite prolific from seed—like an oak tree from an acorn or an apple tree from seed—are sure ways to create a lifelong interest in growing. And how cool is it that you take the seeds from fruit you’re eating and grow them into fruit-bearing trees?
- Before You Start
- How to Sprout Apple Seeds
- Planting Sprouted Apple Seeds
- Frequently-Asked Questions
Before You Start
Before we dive into the step-by-step instructions there are a few things to know.
- For seeds to be viable (able to grow), they need to be mature. An apple you buy at the grocery store is very likely mature but an apple picked from a tree part way through the growing season will not have fully-formed seeds. So start with mature, ripe fruit.
- Apple seeds, along with other fruit seeds including pear, peach, and cherry, require stratification (cold, damp conditions) to prepare for germination. The amount of time required to stratify varies depending on the variety. It’s generally between 60 and 90 days. The instructions (below) show you how to mimic stratification.
- Not all apple seeds will sprout. Even if you do everything right, some types never sprout, and for those that do, only half may germinate. It varies a lot. So, increase your odds by starting a bunch, preferably from several different types of apples.
- You won’t get McIntosh apples from McIntosh seeds. Or any other variety (with a few exceptions*). If your apple seeds do grow to become fruit-bearing trees, the apples produced will not be same as the ones you started with. Most apple trees require cross-pollination from another apple tree so any apples produced will have genes from both (the tree you grew and the pollinator tree) and, similarly, no two seeds will produce genetically-identical trees. In other words: every seed has a different combination of genes. That’s why plant breeders who want specific cultivars do not grow their trees from seed but instead propagate vegetatively, taking stems and grafting them onto other established rootstock, to grow genetically identical apples. *Antonovka seeds are one example of apple seeds that reproduce true to parent.
Personally, I love experimenting with seed starting, watching things grow, and propagating plants from food scraps is a favorite hobby to explore.
And, what a wonderful thing for a child (or anyone) to grow something from a simple seed and nurture it for years to come.
How to Sprout Apple Seeds
This is how to germinate apple seeds. You can follow the same steps to sprout pear seeds as well.
Get Seeds Ready
Some apples have many seeds, some have few, others have none or just little white cases where you’d expect to find seeds. Pay attention to store bought apples like McIntosh, Delicious, Granny Smith, Sparta, Fuji, Gala, and so on, and, as you eat them, look for fully formed (dark brown) seeds.
It’s best to start quite a few (10-20) from different types of apples to increase your odds. If you do, be sure to keep each type separate and labelled so you know what worked.
Start with a ripe apple (one you would eat) to ensure the seeds inside are mature. Cut around the core to avoid damaging any of the seeds with your knife.
I like to take clear, close up pictures at this point so I have something to compare with later on.
Ever Find Sprouted Seeds In Your Apple?
When fruits become over-ripe, the hormones that control seed dormancy decline and the seeds within the fruit can actually start sprouting. This is called vivipary (“live birth”). If you ever find germinated seeds in your apple, sow them! And thank them for making propagation so easy.
Sand Seed Coats
Next, to help the process along, you can very gently soften the seed coat. This is a method called scarification. I do this by folding a small piece of sandpaper with the right (rough) sides together. Insert one seed at a time and gently sand off a little bit of the coat by rolling everything between your fingers. Easy does it: you don’t want to expose the embryo inside.
Soak in Moist Paper Towel
Once sanded, spread your seeds out on a moist (not dry, not soaking wet) paper towel (or a dish cloth), fold it up, and place everything in a food storage container or plastic food bag.
You may see other methods where the seeds are placed in moist potting mix instead of paper towel. I prefer paper towel because it makes it easy to check on the seeds and see any sign of sprouting without having to dig them out and rinse them off.
Chill in Fridge
Add a tag or write on tape or with waterproof marker noting the seed name (McIntosh, Delicious, Granny Smith…) and the date.
Place in refrigerator and set a reminder on your phone to check on the seeds weekly.
Most fridges run around 35 to 38°F (1.7 to 3.3°C) and apple seeds do best around 40°F (4.4°C). With the insulation provided by the container and paper towel, our seeds in the fridge will do fine.
How long does it take for apple seeds to germinate?
Depending on the variety, they may need 60 to 90 days of moist and cold conditions to germinate. Never allow the paper towel to dry out or become waterlogged: just add moisture as needed.
When they have sprouted, they are ready for sowing.
If they haven’t sprouted after 90 days in the fridge, try setting the container on your countertop at room temperature and give them another few weeks. I’ve had some sprout this late, right when I was going to give up.
Planting Sprouted Apple Seeds
I’ve sprouted my apple seeds, now what?
While you could plant your apple tree seedling right in the garden (in spring or summer), it will be much easier to protect and care for it if you grow it in a container for as long as possible.
Start with a 4 to 6-inch wide (and deep) plastic flower pot with drainage holes and use organic potting mix.
This larger pot (in the photo, below) has seven apple tree seedlings. Once they get a bit bigger (about 6 to 8-inches tall), they should be transplanted into their own containers to avoid getting the roots tangled.
Like any potted tree, if you are growing your apple tree seedling in a container in a cold climate you will need some winter protection.
Apple trees are cold hardy but you can’t let their roots freeze. For an established plant in the ground, this is not a worry beause the soil provides natural insulation. Container plants require extra care.
Generally, you want to keep the plant watered until just before frosts begin. From there, it’s best to keep your little apple tree in a sheltered location where temperatures stay just above freezing.
I overwinter potted trees in an unheated garage with a few inches of straw over the soil and plant to retain some warmth, safe from nibbling animals as well as winds which can dry the plant out.
Set a reminder on your phone to check on things every month or so. You will need to water the potting mix if it is getting dry.
Come spring, at last frost, you will gradually reintroduce the plant to outdoor growing conditions over the period of a week or two.
At some point, if your little tree is successful, you’ll want to find a suitable location in the ground with room to mature.
When Will My Apple Tree Produce Fruit?
With optimum growing conditions, it may take 7 to 10 years for the tree to flower and fruit—if it will do this at all. Some apple trees grown from seed will never fruit.
We grow from seed for fun but buy grafted apple trees if we want a tree that will provide a specific type of apple.
The whole topic of pollination is worth researching if you do get this far. If you want a chance of pollination (leading to fruit), there will need to be other apple trees nearby for cross-pollination.
Also, some types of apple tree including Jonagold and Gravenstein have sterile pollen and require pollen from two other trees for fertilization to take place. These are called ‘triploids’. So much to know!
Apple Tree Pollinators
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the most common pollinators for apple trees, along with orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria), and (in much smaller numbers) bumblebee queens (Bombus genus). You may also notice that each variety of apple tree has its own time to flower from late winter to late spring. Fruit trees that flower at the same time are called ‘pollinator partners’.
Are Apple Seeds Toxic?
Apple seeds do contain cyanogenic glycoside, a cyanide-based compound. But it would take a very large dose to harm someone. That’s why it’s not an issue when we accidentally swallow seeds when eating apples. There are no cases of apple seed poisoning on record.
Can I Grow An Apple Tree Indoors?
It would be fun but no, not under normal household conditions. These are cold-hardy trees needing four seasons to flourish.
- How to Grow Citrus Fruits from Seed (Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit…)
- How to Grow Peach or Plum Trees from Seed
- How to Grow Avocado from Seed
I hope you’ll give this a try and be sure to sign up for the free Empress of Dirt Newsletter for new growing tips and creative garden ideas.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Grow an Apple Tree From Seed (Tutorial)
Supplies & Materials
- 1 Apple with seeds
- Remove seeds from apple without damaging their coats.1 Apple
- Gently rub each seed between pieces of sandpaper to sand their coats very lightly. This is called ‘scarification’.
- Place seeds in moist (not damp or dry) paper towel, spacing them at least ½-inch apart. Take a photo of your seeds.
- Label plastic food container or bag and place folded paper towel with seeds inside.
- Keep in fridge. Best temperature for the seeds is 40°F (4°C).
- Check seeds weekly and re-moisten paper towel as needed.
- When sprouted, sow seeds in flower pots with potting mix just deep enough to cover them.
- Grow on a sunny window sill or outdoors when risk of frost has passed.
Kitchen Propagation Handbook
7 Fruits & Vegetables To Regrow As Houseplants
by Melissa J. Will
Learn how to grow houseplants from avocado, oranges, lemons, ginger, and more using leftover pits, seeds, and roots.
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