I’ve seen this popular “internet legend” floating around in a lot of forums, social media sites, and other venues lately. Yes, technically you can grow an apple, peach, cherry — you name it — tree from seed. After all that is how they originally started.…..eons ago, that is.
However, most of these cyber-mentions I’ve seen are directed at the idea of saving money when starting your fruit garden. There is the myth! Many novice fruit gardeners may not realize that what you see is highly, highly unlikely to be what you get when it comes to starting fruit trees from seed. So, let’s look more closely at why you would, or more seriously, why you would not want to try this little venture. Think back to middle school biology and the genetics unit.
What happens to a plant’s genes during pollination? In an abbreviated version; the cells divide with the sex cells each holding half the components (the genes) of the parental genetic material. Two cells are then united in the fertilization process and form a new cell with a full component of genes; half from the male and half from the female parent. So now you have a cell with a new combination of genetic material and traits to express. This is precisely why you would not want to try this if you are looking to build up a nice little home orchard of Honeycrisp (or other given variety of) apples. The genes within that newly formed seed are not identical to the Honeycrisp apple you just ate. They will not grow to become just like it. More likely, your new seedlings will be very unlike what you started with. This is the whole point of genetic mixing and variability!
The Money-saving Myth
From both a time and money stand-point, the “grow it from seed” idea will cost you in several ways:
1. Only about 1% to 2% of seedling crosses result in a new plant with a potentially desirable characteristic. Remember, this will only be a single trait of the many that are required to yield a fruit of high quality.
2. Seedlings typically take a half-dozen or more years before they even bear fruit. That’s a long time to wait to find out you have nothing from it that you want to grow or eat.
3. Often, desirable progeny will need to be grown out for several generations to ascertain that the desirable characteristic will continue to exhibit itself over time.
4. Most seedling trees grow to a large mature size; larger than desired by most of today’s home fruit gardeners. Think, potentially the 30 foot behemoth of grandpa’s days. Do you have the space for that?
5. Once you realize the above points, you will still need to invest in a clonally propagated tree of the type you desire. So, really no dollars saved. Lots of time lost — time during which you could have been enjoying a harvest.
When to Give It a Try
Now, to be fair why might you want to give this seed starting project a try?
It can be a fun lesson, especially for kids, to get some understanding of the connection between seed and plant. Haven’t most of us gardeners, as kids, tried some variant of “sprout the avocado pit” and had fun with it?
Plant breeding can be an interesting hobby or, for some, a life-long pursuit and commitment. If you want to learn more you might start here:
If you want to explore and experiment, sure, try growing fruit trees from seed. If, however, you want a ready to produce, true-to-name fruit variety with certain predictable characteristics; invest in a clonally propagated tree. Now, that is a story for another day, that I hope to bring you later in the growing season. Whatever way you choose to acquire your fruit trees, for all you need to know about growing and caring for your fruit trees, buy The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden.