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Starting Apples from Seed Indoors - How To

Discussion in 'Fruit Trees' started by yoderjac, Dec 3, 2016.

  1. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    I've been growing lot of different kinds of wildlife trees, starting them indoors under lights using the Rootmaker root pruning container system. Last year I started experimenting with apples.

    For those that are new, keep in mind that apples are not true to seed. If you plant the seed from a Red Delicious apple, the tree you get will be a full size tree and won't likely produce apples similar to those of the parent tree. Some crabapples are somewhat true to seed like Dolgo.

    Why grow apples from seed:

    When I grow trees for wildlife, low long-term maintenance is import to me. I use mast trees to feed deer, not just attract them and feeding deer requires significant volume. I simply don't have the funding or time to maintain the number of trees I want. Because of the maintenance, apples are low on my list, but after talking to a number of the apple guys and doing a lot of reading, I think I can make apples work. Most commercial apples are grown on clonal dwarfing root stock onto which specific varieties are grafted.

    I think crabapples which grow wild have a much more balanced set of genetics expressed than domestic apples. While the characteristics of the fruit may not be suitable for commercial use or even human consumption in some cases, there ability to resist disease and insects is generally much greater. Crabapples cover a very wide range. Some are really not preferred by deer or even eaten.

    While it would be great to get fruit soon, for the long-term growing from seed will more likely yield a disease resistant tree. Keep in mind that I'm not all-in with this method. It is simply one of the strategies I'm using for adding apples to my management plan. I'm using some of these as rootstock, grafting known varieties (as disease resistant as I can find) to it in the field. I'm also grafting disease resistant apples to M111 (Semi-dwarf clonal rootstock appropriate for my area). So growing apples from seed is only one strategy.

    Seed Collection:

    First, it is important to know that genetically normal apples are called diploid (two sets of chromosomes) but quite a few of the best named varieties (and most disease resistant for domestic apples) are triploid having an extra set of chromosomes. Triploid apples are typically pollen sterile and may require several pollinating partners. While I'm experimenting with seeds from triploid apples, most are deformed because of odd genetic combinations. So, whatever apple you choose, if you want good germination rates, choose a diploid.

    If you have access to a wild crabapple tree that produces well and deer like, you can take seeds from it. Wild crabapples are almost certainly diploid. Dolgo is a crabapple said to grow fairly true to seed so that is a candidate if you can find Dolgo apples.

    Personally, I went to an orchard that is also a ciderworks. Crabapples are an important ingredient in hard cider production. The orchard I used does not sell crabapples but they do sell apples. After a discussion with one of the orchardists there explaining what I was doing, they were happy to sell me a few crabapples so I could collect seed. They happened to have Wickson Crab, so that is what I chose this year.

    Another option is to buy seed commercially. There are several sites that sell them on-line. Last year I bought some Dolgo and Siberian Red crabapple seed on-line. Germination was very poor compared to this year when I collected the seeds myself.

    Seed Storage:

    I simply ate the apples, broke the core in half by hand, and picked out the seed. I washed the seed and placed it in ziplock bags with slightly damp long-fiber sphagnum and put the bags, half closed and folded over in the crisper. Apple seeds don't actually require cold stratification like chestnuts, but a short cold period does seem to improve germination rates. So, I really squeezed all the water I could from the sphagnum to minimize good conditions for mold.

    After 30 days or so of cold storage, I took the seeds out to plant.

    Planting in Mesh Flats:

    I learned about starting trees in mesh flats from one of Dr. Whitcomb's papers. He would line a standard mesh flat with a single layer of newspaper and then add medium. He would put acorns in the flat to germinate. The flats were elevated so you can see below them. The tap root of an oak is strong enough to easily penetrate the damp newspaper. As soon as he would see a root radicle break through the paper, he would transplant it to a cell from a tray of 18s. This way you are not wasting 18s on nuts that will never germinate. I started doing a similar thing with persimmon seeds.

    Instead of using newspaper to line my mesh flats, I use this shelving material: https://www.lowes.com/pd/Duck-Covers-24-in-x-10-ft-Black-Shelf-Liner/3137959 It is reuseable and works well for me as long as I don't let seedlings in the flats too long. I found that persimmons would generate a tap root so quickly it would get pruned and root branching would start in the flat.

    So, after lining the flat, I filled it with promix and soaked it. I then placed each seed in rows in the flat. An inch or so separation between seeds is fine so you can get a lot of seeds in a flat. I then add a little more mix to cover the seed and water again. I make sure all the seed is covered lightly.

    Transplanting to 18s:

    Apples produce a tap root quickly like persimmons. The tap root comes out of the seed and uses gravity to grow down. The initial leaves are produced inside the seed. The plant then tries to lift the seed out of the medium. Normally enough mix will stick to the seed so the leaves pull out of the seed husk. Occasionally the seed husk stays on the leaves and is lifted out of the medium. Sometimes this will eventually fall off and other times it will deform the initial leaves and stunt the tree.

    So, deciding when to transplant is a balance. If you take a seedling too soon, you may increase the likelihood the leaves won't pull free from the seed husk. If you wait too long, the tap root may prune in the flat. I would rather the tap root prune in an 18.

    I simply fill an 18 cell with promix and soak it good. I then take an ice pick and poke a small hole in the middle of the cell medium for the tap root. I then take a plastic fork and stick it in the medium near the seedling. I wiggle it a bit and loosen the medium. I grab the seedling between my finger and thumb and pull it straight up. I put the tap root in the prepared hole in the cell and press the medium around it.

    Finally, I sprinkle some Osmocote Plus on top of the cell. It needs to stay damp to release properly, so I then add a bit more promix over the osmocote and do a final watering.

    In 12 to 16 weeks I'll transplant from these 18s cells to 1 gal Rootbuilder II containers but I'll provide details when I do that.

    [​IMG]
    Transplanted seedlings.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
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  2. broom_JM

    broom_JM Yearling... With promise

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2015
    Location:
    IN/MI
    Very impressive start, Jack. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your results, as this progresses along. If this can be done in volume, creating an abundance of what I would think of as suitable root stock for grafting, well after the tree is established, it would offer a few key advantages.
     
  3. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Broom,

    There are plusses and minuses to using these for rootstock. On the minus side, they won't likely be dwarfing so it may take longer for trees to come into production. On the plus side, since crabapples grow wild in the area, their offspring are likely well adapted to the conditions. Another thing on the plus side is that when I field graft them, I leave a nurse branch. I tie it down so it does not compete with the graft as a central leader. So, there is at least one crabapple branch per tree to provide pollen.

    All,

    Just a quick update. I checked them again this morning. I was able to transplant 9 more Wickson crab seedlings into 18s. That makes 48 Wickson seedlings total so far.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
    broom_JM likes this.
  4. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    The count of seedlings as of tonight:

    Diploid (all Wickson Crab): 54
    Triploid Total: 8
    Winesap: 3
    Suncrisp: 3
    Arkansas Black: 2

    I planed approximately twice as many triploid seeds (2 flats verses 1 flat) as diploid seeds all collected, stored, and planted the same. It is amazing the difference in seed production between Diploid and Triploid apples.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  5. CAS_HNTR

    CAS_HNTR A good 3 year old buck

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2014
    Location:
    Central, Ohio
    My biggest issue with growing apples inside is their (relatively) fast growth and enormous amount of leaves.......they really are prone to super "weak legs" when compared to pretty much any other tree I have grown.....although sawtooth are also pretty bad.

    Anyways......I grow a dozen or so each year and I routinely get about 1/4 of them that grown GREAT! The batch this year have a few that reached 6 ft as a whip in 6-7 months! that's damn impressive to me.

    My biggest issue is what to do with them. should I let them grow and see what happens......plant as a "browse" tree.....or graft and move on
     
    Neahawg likes this.
  6. CrazyEd

    CrazyEd 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2014
    Location:
    Zone 4B
    "for the long-term growing from seed will more likely yield a disease resistant tree."

    How do you figure?

    I disagree, because you never know what you'll get. There is an old farm converted to a park near my house. There is a huge area that is probably 20-30 acres that is totally over grown. There are probably 100+ apple trees there ranging from over 100 years old to smaller ones that are only a few feet tall. It's an awesome science experiment that shows you just what happens when you grow apples from seed. There are apples that range from pea sized to just over the size of a baseball. Some trees show signs of disease resistance, others do not.

    Good luck with your experiment. I hope you get the kind of trees you are looking for. I did try something similar about 6 years ago but found it far too resource and time consuming. For me it's just easier and faster to buy rootstock and clone, rather than wait 10 years to see what you get then start re-grafting to a more practical variety. By grafting I have some 2 year old trees that are 7' tall producing fruit that i know is resistant to disease. 5-8 years more likely. I have cloned a bunch of the trees I have found in the above mentioned park. If you ever want some scions let me know i'd be happy to send you a variety of different crab apples, just let me know what characteristics you are looking for.
     
  7. Neahawg

    Neahawg A good 3 year old buck

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2016
    Location:
    Arkansas zone7b/7a
    If you wanted to see what tree you were going to get graft on to the top of the tree leaving one branch of the rootstock, you will have a known variety for 99% of the tree. Then if you get something you like on that one branch you can graft it.
     
  8. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    I have that problem of fast growing trees with "limp trunk" syndrome with chestnuts and other fast growing trees. I do several things. First, I have a fan on a timer that provides wind stress for 15 to 30 minutes per day from the time they germinate. It is also important to rig your fluorescent lights so you can adjust them to be a few inches from the trees. Light energy diminishes with the distance squared. While you'll never reach the intensity of the sun, the lower the light level the more trees reach. There is another thread that shows major issues with starting trees in a greenhouse in the winter without supplemental light. It also affects the root system. All this helps with strength to some degree, but they grow so fast with good indoor conditions many are still limp.

    What works pretty well for me with both the few crabapples I've grown as well as other fast growing trees is safety flags from TSC. The wire is stiff enough to work well as stake, but flexible enough to allow bend in the wind. I use the tall ones. I roll the flag part around the wire and use electrical tape to secure it. I use twist ties to very lightly attaché the central leader to the wire. This keeps the tree growing in the right direction. After they have been outside for a while and begin to harden, they do pretty well.

    One more step I take is in the field. I use tubes on chestnuts with PVC as a stake but for apples I use cement wire (remesh) cages. I take a section of larger diameter inexpensive rope I get from Harbor Freight. I thread it through the cage near the top, run it past one side of the central leader and then through the back side of the cage. I then go across a square or two and run it back through the cage past the other side of the central leader and out the front side of the cage. I tie the ends together. I then go 90 degrees to one side and repeat the process. This ends up forming a square of rope around the central leader about 6"-8" square. The central leader can blow and flex in the wind but is limited by the rope. This also keeps a deer from pulling a branch sticking out of the cage and getting at the central leader.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  9. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Keep in mind that I'm growing for wildlife not human consumption. Here is my theory, for what it is worth. Nature is genetic competition. Each organism changes over time with sexual reproduction. Both the underlying genes and the expression of those genes change as they are recombined. If the expression of the genes in an individual advantage them in terms of passing those genes forward, they continue in the population in greater percentage and genes that don't are eventually trimmed. Whether an organism is advantaged in passing on genes depended on the environment it is in including other organisms.

    What we have done with many apples is to freeze the genetics by asexual propagation. As other organisms like disease and pests continue to change. We then must apply methods to protect trees from these. Native crab apples that grow and propagate themselves by seed probably don't have many of the characteristics we desire for human consumption, but they are well suited for their environment or wouldn't exist.

    So, I would contend, that in the long-run sexually propagated trees will be lower maintenance. Having said that, I'm not putting gall my eggs in one basket. I will be letting some of these trees grow out. Many I'll be grafting with know varieties when young, but high enough that I can keep a nurse branch or two from the original tree. If I get one I like, I have a source for scions. I'm also using M111 for some trees.

    Thanks for the scion offer. I ordered a bunch from GRIN for the trees I'll be grafting next spring but if this project works out I'll have a bunch to graft the following spring.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  10. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Not yet....
     
  11. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Good videos! It may be that pome for wildlife and pome for human consumption are not a good mix. There may be differences in objective between the orchardist and the wildlife manager.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  12. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Here is an updated picture of the seedling from the Wickson Crab seeds:

    [​IMG]

    Most of them seem to be doing very well and they are well ahead of the rest of the varieties.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  13. chickenlittle

    chickenlittle 5 year old buck +

    Given the wealth varieties available for grafting, whether heirloom selections, modern varieties selected for disease resistance, the tremendous genetic variety from USDA GRIN, or wild trees you can observe and sample, it is really difficult to argue that starting apples from seed has any advantage for wildlife. But if you did want to breed better wildlife apples, I think you need to more purposeful and diverse in the genetics you start with, have a firm definition of what characteristics a wildlife tree should have, and select for those characteristics. Then start growing a large number of apple seedlings.

    The path outlined by Crazy Ed is the easier, (possibly) cheaper, faster, and provides a sure success with apples and crabs.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2016
  14. Neahawg

    Neahawg A good 3 year old buck

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2016
    Location:
    Arkansas zone7b/7a
    It will be interesting to see how it all turns out. I've never done anything like this at least on a large scale hopefully you will get trees great for your goals.

    I will say that on another forum someone did something similar planting 100 crab apple seedlings and of those 100 only 3 or 4 ended up being useful to his habitat management goals.

    The great thing though is if the trees don't work out saw them off chest high and graft with known varieties at that time!
     
  15. Turkey Creek

    Turkey Creek 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2014
    Location:
    South-Central Nebraska
    Jack it seems that your experiment would have met your goals better if you would have obtained your seeds from crabapple trees growing completely in the wild. I personally dont give any credence to crabapples as a whole being genetically superior to non crabapples in terms of disease resistance. I am a little confused as to how the seeds you collected from the orchard will contain the "stronger" traits you were looking for? Those seeds from the orchard were gathered from trees (and pollinated by trees) that have been chosen by man for certain traits, that werent necessarily bug or disease resistance. I am also interested in new varieties that may excel as wildlife trees, but may have no value as a producers for human consumption. I am going to cross pollinate varieties with know desirable traits though. Seeds from those crosses will then be grown until large enough so that the seedling becomes the scion to graft onto trees that are already producing apples. There by decreasing the time to fruit production of the new variety. Still no guarantee with that the new varieties will be worth continued propagation, but seems to be the fastest road to the final product.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2016
  16. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    I'm using all those approaches as well. Keep in mind that the seedlings are only part of my plan. As for defining characteristics for wildlife trees, there are several possible goals. One is to attract deer to a specific location. Another is as part of a permaculture project that along with other wildlife trees actually feed deer. To achieve this objective, I want a high volume of trees that have very low maintenance and still produce fruit. The apples need to be attractive to and eaten by deer. Some crabapples are not. Higher production is better. Size, color, taste, visual qualities, etc. are unimportant. A longer life span is also important. I would like some of the trees to produce fruit soon and can wait for other trees to mature. I would like trees to be full sized, but can accept semi-dwarf for some trees if it means early production.

    Folks trying to grow wildlife apples to attract deer to a specific location for harvest my well benefit from an approach that uses few well maintained trees. Keep in mind that growing seedlings is only part of a much larger permaculture project. In fact it is only part of the apple part of that project. For the apple part I'm doing a variety of things:

    1) I had at least one crabapple grown from seed (out of 7) produce crabapples in the second leaf. So, I'll let some of these trees grow out to see what I get.
    2) I will graft many of them to named varieties in the field but keep one or two nurse branches. I'll use a mix of scions from named varieties of DR domestic apples, crabapples, and wild trees with known wildlife characteristics. I'll save those nurse branches so I can determine the fruiting characteristics of the seedlings. Those that I like will be a scion source for grafting.
    3) I'm also grafting the same kinds of scions to M111. These will be the semi-dwarf trees for early production. While the seed grown crab root stock will be the long-lived full sized trees.

    Everyone needs to figure out how apples fit into their program. In my case, they were very low on my list because of the maintenance. Threads from guys like Maya and Crazy Ed have convinced me there is a place in my program for them. They may or may not work-out in the long run. I don't have all my eggs in the apple basket or even all my apple eggs in one approach basket.

    My purpose for this thread is to document the "How to" of starting apples from seed indoors with a root pruning container system, not to advocate this approach for others. If folks decide seedlings are part of their approach, they will be able to look at this thread for one way to have success at it. Lots of things can go wrong...Time will tell.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  17. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    I'm not saying that the seeds collected from the orchard have stronger traits. In fact, I would have rather used seeds from local wild apples but have not found a good source. I'm saying that any apple that has been clonally propagated for many years has been stagnant genetically over that time period while disease and pests in the environment have had generations to adapt. Clonally propagated trees are typically grown in larger groups allowing disease to move fast once it adapts to the trees defenses. I would contend that many "Vintage" or "Antique" apples are considered disease resistant because they were commercially overtaken by more modern apples that had "better" commercial characteristics. Because they were then grown in lower volume and concentration, they became a less attractive target for disease adaptation. My contention is that any apple grown from seed has more genetic diversity than clonally propagated apples. While they may or may not be "better" by some criteria, they will be genetically unique.

    I think your approach is better than mine from the perspective of finding apples with wildlife value. My goal is to add low maintenance apples to my permaculture project and look for good wildlife apples along the way. I don't have the time or skills to try to crossbreed myself. Maybe some day...

    In the past, folks have used two general approaches to finding "good" apples. One is to grow from seed and stumble on one with qualities they like and then graft from the tree. The second is to bag and cross-pollinate two varieties with known characteristics in hopes that an offspring will have an even more favorable combinations. I'm taking the former approach and you are taking the latter.

    Thanks,

    Jack
     
  18. yoderjac

    yoderjac 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2016
    Location:
    Zone 7A - Central VA
    Two more notes: The experimental part of this is not growing seedlings or using them for rootstock. This has all been well proven. The experimental part is comparing the diploid seedlings to triploid seedlings. Also, Disease Resistant may mean something different to me in a wildlife context than it does to many. I'll use American Chestnuts and Allegheny Chinquapins as an example. When an American chestnut gets blight, the tree my continue to live, may die back and regenerate from the roots, but it is very rare for it to produce chestnuts. Allegheny Chinquapins are just as susceptible to the blight. However, they die back, regenerate from the root system, and continue to produce nuts. So, from my perspective, an American chestnut is not disease resistant, but an Allegheny Chinquapin is. Since nut production, in this case, is my goal, I have no issues with a tree that is infected by disease as long as the mast production is still reasonable in the presence of the disease.
     
  19. Turkey Creek

    Turkey Creek 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2014
    Location:
    South-Central Nebraska
    So are you saying that "antique" apples with good disease resistance are only so because a relatively few of those trees haven being grown over the history of that variety? Where as say something like "Honey Crisp" will eventually be devastated by disease unless better ____icides are developed due to the shear volume of the trees being grown?
     
  20. Turkey Creek

    Turkey Creek 5 year old buck +

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2014
    Location:
    South-Central Nebraska
    I think from the disease perspective in terms of wildlife trees most of us are probably on the same page. If the tree produces good amounts of fruit, and the tree stays healthy enough to produce yearly crops of fruit for decades then it is a winner.
     

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