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George recently handed me an apple seed and said he wanted to plant it. We have planted acorns and grown cress before, but apple seeds are new for me. I wondered how long it would take before the tree grew, and if growing it true for seed (rather than grafting onto a rootstock) would give us a viable tree.
Firstly, to grow an apple tree from seed will take much longer than grafting it onto rootstock. The size and vigour of the tree will be as programmed in the seed, not the rootstock. Apples trees grown from seed will not have the dwarfing qualities of those grown on rootstock and so will be much larger, 9 meters in height, and will take nearly ten years to bear fruit.
The variety of apple see you plant will determine the size, shape and vigour of your tree but remember apple trees do not grow true to type, and so the seeds from apple will not grow be identical to its parents. Apple seeds are not self pollinating so if you want your tree to bear fruit and have not got any adjacent apple trees in your garden you may be lucky enough to get two varieties for one apple but to be on the safe side collect two different types of seeds to ensure cross pollination. Ensure you select varieties of apples that grow well in your climate zone, or the plants will die once planted outside.
Firstly dry out your apple seeds on some kitchen paper and allow to air dry. In order to facilitate germination you need to mimic winter so place your seeds on moist kitchen towel and seal in a transparent plastic bag in the fridge. Keep in the fridge for ten weeks until they have germinated and the seeds have sprouted. Check regularly to ensure that the kitchen towel is kept moist. It is best to align this germination period with winter so that the seedlings can emerge into their first spring and make the most of the growing season.
Fill a 9 cm pot with John Innes seed and potting compost. Use a dibber to make a hole in the pot 1 cm deep and carefully drop your sprouted apple seed in, pointed side facing up. Place 2 seeds in every pot to allow you to select the strongest seedling when they emerge. Cover with soil and water gently. Place in a sunny and warm position such as a windowsill. After several weeks shoots should start to appear and from then on your tree will continue to grow and get stronger.
When the seedling is 10 cm high place it outside or in a cold frame to harden off for several weeks. Plant your seedling directly into well drained soil in a sunny, sheltered site well away from any frost pockets. Allow sufficient room for your tree and leave 5 metres between trees.
Dig a hole twice the size of the rootball and plant the sapling in the hole. Water after planting to eliminate air pockets. Ensure you mark the location carefully with a stake and remove any competing weeds from around the base of the tree. Water regularly and protect from rabbits with rabbit mesh.
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