Apple Trees from Seed


There is this story going around that if you try and grow apples from seed, then there is only a 1 in 20,000 chance that you’ll have an edible apple. That’s a pretty daunting statistic. No wonder more people aren’t starting trees from seed.

But what if that wasn’t exactly the case?

That myth is founded in a spec of truth. Actually, there is a 1 in 20,000 chance that you’ll grow an apple that can out-compete MacIntosh or Golden Delicious in the open marketplace. That is a 0.005% chance it will be the next amazing supermarket industry apple.

Growing an apple tree from seed won’t be true to parent. And that is ok. The odds of growing a really good apple is not 1 in 20,000. In fact, it is actually about 20%. There is also a 20% chance that the apple will be a ‘spitter’. A nasty, mealy crab sort of an apple. The remaining 60% will produce apples that are ok. Good for one thing. They may be good for juice, or good for apple sauce. They may be good winter keepers. Or just an average edible apple. Heck — they could even be good pie-baking apples.


Photo by Dave Miller

Now that’s a game-changer. 80% of seeds planted will turn into a few excellent apples and lots of ok apples. And not just apples. These figures are the same for most fruit trees. But what if you plant a seed and an apple tree pops up and you don’t like it? What if it is the ‘spitter’ variety? The kind of apple that as soon as you chomp into it you spit it right back out? No problem. Cut it down and add it to the hugelkultur pile. Seeds are so crazy cheap and easy to come by…there’s plenty more where that came from.

A single apple can have between 5 – 12 seeds. Boy — if we really did an apple a day to keep the doctor away that’s 1825 – 4380 seeds in one year.

Another way to integrate the less than awesome tasting apples is to leave them for the wildlife, pigs, chickens, and cattle. They make a great animal feed especially for paddock shift systems in the winter. They will enjoy them even if we don’t.

Growing an apple tree from seed, as opposed to transplanting, allows the tree to have a taproot. There is a lot of value for a tree to have a taproot. The taproot is the main nutrient conduit. It penetrates deep into the soil giving the tree more access to minerals. The taproot allows the tree to be more drought tolerant because the tree can harvest water from varied depths. And it anchors the plant. Creating an overall healthier, stronger tree that can withstand severe weather conditions. Have you ever seen trees that have been blown over in a storm? Ever notice in those pictures how only a cluster of surface roots are visible, but not the taproot?

Trees without a taproot have all of their roots close to the surface where they are competing with grasses for nutrients.

Besides all of these benefits, planting a tree from seed is only about 1000 times easier than fooling with something in a pot. And don’t get me started with all that grafting nonsense (otherwise known as bloodying your thumb).

Take the next 10 seeds from the best tasting apple and let’s experience apple trees the way Mother Nature intended. Odds are 8 of those 10 are going to be pretty damn good.


Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination from his hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to Make it Missoula here.