Growing fruit trees from seed produces trees that are tough, need minimal water and are resistant to many diseases. Plus they’re free!
How to start growing fruit trees from seed
The standard propagation method for such trees is asexual reproduction: a piece of the parent plant is either grafted onto rootstock, usually a cultivar; or the tree is grown from a cutting. The new tree will produce fruit exactly the same as the parent tree.
Producing new trees from a seed is sexual reproduction: the seedling has two parents and a unique mix of genetic characteristics. This is part of the fun with growing from seed – you can produce unique fruit. However, some of these new trees may be low yielding, or have boring or inedible fruit.
Benefits of growing fruit trees from seed
Seedling trees tend to be larger and more vigorous than grafted trees. They are able to cope with harsher conditions so are good in poor soils, non-irrigated areas and low-input food forest systems, especially where there is a lot of space available.
Which fruit trees should I choose?
Peaches and nectarines are excellent trees to grow from seed. Because they are self-fertile, the seeds tend to be true-to-type: if you eat a really good peach and plant the seed, your tree should produce a similar, really good peach. They produce fruit early and in dry conditions, and are resistant to diseases such as leaf curl.
In contrast, most apples grown from seedlings will take many years to fruit, and will not be the same as the parent. However, it’s often possible to guess the parents of a seedling apple – the fruit will have characteristics of both.
Planting fruit from seeds is easy: eat the fruit and, if you enjoy it, plant the seed. There is no need to dry or otherwise treat the seed first.
Seedlings do best when planted where they are going to grow. Suppress grass and other plants around them, and they may need some extra water in the first year or so. Planting them into pots can make care in the first year easier, but this will restrict the roots, negating some of the advantages of seedlings.
Most fruit tree seeds need a period of cold before they germinate, so grow them outside, exposed to the winter weather. Most species will sprout the following spring. In warmer areas, or to germinate seeds faster or out of season, keep them in the fridge for a couple of months to encourage them to sprout.
Disadvantages of growing fruit trees from seed
Consider carefully what is best for your situation. For example, planting a grown cutting or grafted tree is the only way to preserve a heritage cultivar.
Grafted trees also tend to fruit earlier. Fruiting times for seedlings vary a lot – I’ve had many seedling peaches fruit within the first three years, and some seedling pears that still haven’t fruited after 15.
A combined approach
You can combine the best of both systems, by grafting onto seedling trees. This gives you a good root system with a vigorous plant, and your choice of cultivar.
This is a good use for seedling trees that don’t produce interesting fruit – the tree does not need to go to waste!