Why can’t an apple tree grown from seed have the same characteristics as its parent?

It is not difficult to cultivate an apple seed, and the tree will be quite easy to care for. However, you will not receive a tree that yields the same apple as the one from which you stored the seed. The resultant tree and fruit will be a hybrid of the parent tree that produced the delicious apple and whichever apple pollen occurred to fertilize the seed within the fruit.

It all comes down to the biomechanics of apple pollination, which may be rather complex. The short explanation is that most apple types are self-fertile. This means that an apple flower will not bear fruit if it is pollinated by its own pollen. Apples require cross-pollination—pollen from another apple species—in order to develop.

Crabapples, in fact, pollinate the majority of apples. The resultant apples will be the same as the tree from which they are derived—a Macintosh tree will yield Macintosh apples, and Ida red tree will create Ida red apples, and so on. BUT — the seeds within those apples will be a hybrid of the parent tree. And the pollen species that pollinated the flower in the spring. Just like humans, we are a cross between our parents, not an identical replica of our mother.

As a result of all of this, the majority of apples produced from seed produce duds – tiny, tasteless, bitter, and so on. The apple is edible, but not anything you’d want to eat (but these apples can be used to make hard cider!). The chances of producing the next great apple variety from seed are one in 250,000! This is why apple trees are grafted or cloned to produce a carbon copy of the parent. Sexual reproduction (a seed) will not result in an identical duplicate.

In late October, sow your seed outside. Alternatively, soak the seeds for 48 hours before draining and storing them in the refrigerator for three to six months before planting them outside in the spring. The more seeds you have, the better – apple seeds only germinate 30% of the time. Give the tree at least an inch of water each week for the first three years of its life, and keep weeds at bay by mulching the base of the tree with a 2 -inch to 3-inch thick layer of mulch. The mulch must not come into contact with the tree’s stem!

Enjoy your tree — it will at the very least contribute another plant to the ecosystem and offer food for wildlife. Maybe you’ll be lucky and find the next Honeycrisp apple, but don’t depend on it!