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Dakota Gardener: Amazing apples

By Carrie Knutson 

NDSU Extension – Grand Forks County

My son came home from school one day last month and emptied out three apple seeds from his jeans pocket. He saved them from his lunch. He asked to plant them so he could grow his own apples. Be still this gardener’s heart!

However, I was in a pickle. I knew that the chances of the apple seeds growing, thriving and producing apples were slim. Why is growing an apple from seed challenging?

For starters, apple seeds need a period of cool, moist conditions, also called stratification, before they will germinate. Usually, seeds are placed in moist potting soil and then put in the fridge for 90 to 120 days.

Second, apples are cross-pollinated so the seed will not grow apples that are the same as the original tree. In order to get the same tree, you would have to take vegetative cuttings from the original tree.

That brings us to a third point, apple trees are commercially produced through grafting. A scion (top of the tree) is grafted on rootstock.

Rootstocks have a big impact on the way the scion grows, and there are many different types of rootstocks for apple tree growers to pick from. Some characteristics determined by the rootstock are cold hardiness, disease resistance, fruit quality, how long it takes the tree to fruit, and mature tree size. In addition, some rootstocks can improve the strength and growth potential of a less-robust scion.

How does this impact the apple seeds we are trying to grow? The seeds will not have the benefit of a hardy rootstock to support the tree as it grows.

Sometimes, gardeners can graft scion wood from other apple trees directly on a tree that is already established in their yard. There are multiple methods of grafting. The goal is to line up the thin growing region underneath the bark of the scion and rootstock. Then wrap the union up tight and wait for mother nature to take its course. There are a few more details, but we will save those for another day.

Our little apple seeds have 60 more days in the fridge before we can plant them. So, we have to wait to see what happens. But, you don’t have to wait to grow apples in your yard this summer. Make a trip to your local greenhouse this spring and purchase a ready-to-grow apple tree. Happy gardening! 

Source : ndsu.edu

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