Yes, You Can Plant Seeds from Store-Bought Apples—Here's How
It's not a myth: You really can grow an apple tree from seeds inside the fruit you bought on your last grocery run. However, it's not quite as simple as just scattering them across the ground in your yard. But with the right care and a lot of patience, it's possible to eventually end up with your own fruit-producing tree. Just know that if you have a favorite apple from the store that you want to grow, you'll be better off buying the seeds or a small tree for that specific variety. This is because apple trees need to be pollinated in order to produce fruit, and that pollen can come from any other apple tree, including crabapples. That means the seeds from the fruit usually have genes from two different apple varieties, so if you buy a Pink Lady or Gala apple and plant the seeds, don't expect identical fruits from the resulting tree.
How Different Apple Varieties Are Created
Many of the apple varieties you can find today are the result of random mutations known as “sports” and by growers sorting through hundreds (if not thousands) of seedlings looking for something different; whether it's taste, size, color, or consistency. Nowadays, these tasks are usually performed by professional plant breeders in a scientific way, but in previous years, the simple act of planting a few seeds led to most of the selections we enjoy today.
Because the seeds can be so genetically variable, planting more of the desired variety is not done with its seeds. Instead, it is cloned through a process known as grafting, where a small branch or bud from a particular variety is joined onto the rootstock of another with surgical precision. Grafting ensures that whole orchards can be planted with exactly the same variety of apple and harvested at the same time while the rootstock functions as a growth inhibitor to produce super dwarf, dwarf, or semi-dwarf trees.
How to Grow Apple Trees From Seed
If you want to experiment and see what you might get, it's possible to grow your own tree from the seeds in any store-bought apple. All you need are a few supplies and plenty of patience. To begin, take an apple of your choice and remove the seeds within the core, being careful not to nick or cut them. Clean the seeds off so that they don't have any fruit juice or apple bits on them, and place each seed into a small pot filled with potting mix.
Because apples come from temperate climates, the seeds need to be stratified (kept cool and moist) for a couple of months before they’ll germinate. Cover the pots with a plastic bag to hold in moisture and set them in an unheated garage or even a refrigerator. You're mimicking the conditions the seeds would experience in nature over the winter, so it's best to time this period to happen in fall over the colder months of the year. That way, when they sprout, the seedlings can be planted outside in spring after the danger of frost has passed.
After the required amount of chilling time, move the pots into a warm, well-lit location and keep the soil moist. After a few weeks to a month, the seedlings should begin to push through the soil surface. From here, plant them in the ground where they can get plenty of sunlight (preferably full sun). Keep them well watered and feed them with a balanced fertilizer. Plant at least two apple seedlings so they can pollinate each other to produce fruit.
How Long It Takes Apple Trees to Produce Fruit
It can take up to a decade from the time you planted your seeds to when the resulting trees will be mature enough to produce their first fruits. And remember when they do, those fruits will likely be very different from the variety of apple the seeds came from. There's always the chance they may turn out to be an amazing new variety, but they are just as likely to be no good at all. Still, tasting your first apples, unique to the world, is worth all the effort and waiting over the years.