Growing fruit trees from seed

I mentioned growing fruit trees from seed some time ago, and a regular reader asked if I’d write more.

There’s a few reasons why I like to grow from seed.

It’s cheaper. Fruit trees can cost quite a bit; a well-stocked orchard is going to set the garden budget back considerably. For the price of a kilo of apricots you can have a dozen new apricot trees.

You get diversity. Mother Nature doesn’t do grafts or take cuttings. She plants a seed—millions of them. While every apple tree seed will produce another apple (and obviously, not a grapefruit), every apple seedling will be ever so slightly different from it’s brothers and sisters (although the apple is a special case—it will never come true to the parent from seed whereas other species can do). The result is diversity—a slightly different set of genes in each plant, some of which will confer desirable characteristics (for people who want to grow them and for the continued evolution of the species in question). Diversity is the raw material on which evolution works.

So, out of a large batch of seedlings, some might have huge fruit with poor flavour or small fruit with beautiful flavour, or, if you’re really lucky, huge fruit with beautiful flavour. Some might be resistant to disease, or more able to cope with dryness, or whatever. You might even become another Granny Smith (the famous green Granny Smith apple was reputed to have come from a seedling found on a river bank by a Mrs Smith).

There’s always the surprise element which I like—I might get a batch of duds, but I might just get one out of the book.

Having lots of cheap trees grown from seed, gives scope for some creative pruning and shaping regimes, without the fear that you might actually kill an expensive tree by experimental hacking.

To save space, I usually plant 3 seedlings close together (like, say, 18 inches apart). This aids cross pollination and better fruit set, and if one, or even two of them are duds, then it’s easy to just saw the offenders off at ground level. Three together will generally grow as big as one would on its own, because they’re all competing for the same ration of water and nutrients.

There are drawbacks, of course. Seedling trees take longer to bear fruit. In my experience, there’s been about a 5 year wait with the species I’ve grown; this may be even longer with some species. (The tamarillo is the one exception I’ve so far found; it has fruited in its second year from seed with me).

I started growing fruit from seed by accident. A friend gave me some beautiful nectarines from her friend’s tree. The flavour was so good I asked her to ask her friend the name of the variety, so I could get one. She came back with the reply that her friend had grown it from seed of a supermarket nectarine. Right, I thought, if she can do it, so can I. I sowed the seed from that fruit and now have 3 large trees, equally as good in flavour as that first fruit I was given. I’ve since grown more nectarines from those three. That got me hooked on growing from seed. That and the price of nursery trees.

Although I did start by buying nursery trees. My expensive Moorpark apricot variety went to that great orchard in the sky shortly after I planted it. I now have 5 apricots grown from seed, all doing well, 3 bearing and 2 only recently planted. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that my seedlings are put out when they’re small (say, 10” high and planted from straight-sided tubes, where the roots don’t coil). Nursery plants tend to be advanced specimens in large pots, which require an equally large hole to be dug—not easy in my heavy soil—and then a significant amount of root pruning and top pruning to compensate. No wonder they struggle for a while.

Small seedlings are easy to plant and establish very quickly.

Amongst the pome fruits, I’ve gown apples, pears and quinces. For something slightly different—tamarillos, feijoas and strawberry guavas. The tiny Chilean Guava (yet to fruit, but said to be spectacular in flavour). Pepino (not really a tree) and pomegranate. Stone fruits—apricots and nectarines (I’ve yet to get a plum up from seed, though). Citrus also; I’ve grown grapefruit and oranges from seed.

And if we’re not talking trees but fruit in general, then grapes, kiwi fruit and passionfruit are easy from seed, too.

I’ve bought a loquat, which is yet to fruit (it was probably a seedling, too) but I’m told it’s easy to grow from seed. And of course avocado is the classic, easy-to-grow fruit (which I haven’t tried yet).

Have a go; it’s a lot of fun, you can give surplus seedlings away and the money you save can be spent on plants that aren’t so easy from seed.

This weeks harvest:

  • Butter Beans  319 gm
  • Purple King beans  669 gm
  • Snake Beans  55 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes  2315 gm
  • Red Pear cherry tomatoes  277 gm
  • Reisentraube cherry tomatoes  193 gm
  • Burnley Bounty tomatoes  542 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  847 gm
  • Green Grape tomatoes  186 gm
  • Grosse Lisse tomatoes  1316 gm
  • Grub’s Mystery Green tomatoes  829 gm
  • Green Zebra tomatoes  262 gm
  • Plums  2893 gm
  • Dutch Cream potatoes  233 gm
  • Kipfler potatoes  707 gm

6 Responses to “Growing fruit trees from seed”

  1. victor odiyo Says:

    Hi

    My names are Victor Odiyo and am from Kenya.I liked your article,it gave me the valuable information that i needed.I am starting a tree planting/river conservation project back here and i have been gathering as much information as possible on fruiting trees.I have been lucky because i found a lady who started a similar project and she advised that i start with my own nursery rather than buy the seedlings.

    My project is called shadow and chip and the main objective is to plant fruiting and medicinal species that will be beneficial to the residents here.I am committing ten thousand Kenya shillings for a start and i will be giving out 30 seedlings for free to each and every one of the 330 homes earmarked for the initiative.The word ‘chip’ represents the bird population that is going to find a new home here.

    Kind regards

  2. Marie R. Olsen Says:

    I was trying to find out if my plum tree which is about 5 years old and started from seed will ever have fruit. I just read on line an article by a so called “expert” that there is little chance that it will and if it does the quality would most likely be bad. Have you had experience with plums planted from seed?

    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Marie,

      It seems normal for seedling-grown fruit trees to take a few years to produce fruit. After all, the seedling has to put on growth and establish itself before it can start to reproduce itself. It takes energy for this growth and most things put what energy they have into the establishment phase of their lives, before they have enough spare to put into the reproductive phase.

      I’d think it unlikely that your seedling won’t fruit—the whole idea of a seed is to reproduce the plant it came from, but it may not come true from whatever tree was its parent. However, it might even be better!

      I haven’t any experience of seedling-grown plums; that’s the one fruit I haven’t grown successfully from seed, but then I haven’t really investigated what might trigger germination of plum seed. I just plonk it in a pot and wait for something to happen!

      Apricots, on the other hand, are easy from seed. I have 4 seedling apricots. The latest is too small to comment on; two have been excellent specimens with lots of good-tasting fruit, and only one has been indifferent, with small fruit which gets attacked by apricot freckle fungus. I’m planning to remove it soon.

      If you can, I’d wait to see what your tree does. Keep it well-watered and fed and have patience!

      • YWS Says:

        Hi Foodnstuff, I couldn’t agree more with your growing from seeds. The first year I started with seedlings from nursery , spent too much and wasted lots of them when I thin them out, which were difficult and damaged many of them.
        This year I only bought some snow peas, sugar snap, mesclun seeds, tomatoes seeds, lettuces and spinach seeds and get a thick bush of all these, still left plenty of seeds for next use. I’m going to try apricot seed , hope will get the same success.

  3. Growing fruit trees from seed | urbanfarmingtasmania Says:

    [...] They also give advice about cracking the seeds, mine is wear eye protection! This interesting blog, Foodnstuff, talks about diversity and embracing the fact that if you plant by seed it may be weak, strong, [...]

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