Growing Fruit Trees From Seeds

You can save big bucks growing peaches, apricots and nectarines from seeds. Growing fruit trees from seeds is remarkably easy on you and your wallet!
By Lee Reich
June/July 2008
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You can grow delicious peaches on your own trees that you start from seeds.
Photo by William D. Adams
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Most fruit trees are best grown from grafted trees that cost $25 to $35 each. But with peaches, nectarines and apricots, you can cut your cost to zero by growing fruit trees from seeds.

Because cross-pollination between varieties produces variable results, apples and some other fruit trees are usually not grown from seeds. (Instead, cuttings or buds of the best varieties are grafted onto rootstocks to produce trees that bear fruit just like the parent tree’s.) But the almondlike seeds in pits from peaches, nectarines and apricots do a good job of carrying on the desirable traits of their parents. You can simply sprout and grow a seed from a great-tasting specimen, and you have a good chance of sinking your teeth into sweet, juicy fruit from your own tree in only three to five years.

Summer is the best time for growing fruit trees, because you can seek out mid- or late-season varieties grown in your region. The best seeds come from fully ripe fruit. Avoid seeds from early maturing varieties because their seeds may not develop enough to sprout. Locally grown varieties are more likely to prosper in your garden compared to varieties grown a thousand miles away, and looking for likely candidates is tasty fun! Eat lots of peaches from farm stands and farmers markets, and save the pits from those that taste like peach heaven. And if you live where you can get local apricots and nectarines, you can try growing them from seeds too.

Cracking In Safely

Let the pits dry on your kitchen counter for a few days. Drying allows the seed inside the shell to shrink slightly so it’s easier to get out. The shell also becomes more brittle and easier to crack as it dries.

When the pits look and feel dry, you can crack them open to harvest the actual seeds, which look like almonds, a close botanical cousin. You can hold pits on edge and tap them with a hammer, which works well for a few pits but can cause high casualties in terms of accidentally smashed seeds (and fingers). You will lose far fewer seeds by cracking the pits with a vise, lodging both sides of the pit’s long seams between the opposing jaws. (See photo in the Image Gallery.) Crank the vise closed slowly — be careful for your fingers! — until the pit cracks.

If you don’t have a vise, try a nut cracker. Or you might get enough pit-cracking compression from another type of screw clamp, including the one that holds your food grinder, juicer or hand-cranked grain mill to your kitchen counter — you never know until you try! After you get the seeds out, put them in a closed container in your refrigerator or other place cool enough to store raw nuts.

Strategic Stratification

The time for vegetables and flowers to sprout from seeds to transplants is measured in days or weeks, but with peaches and most other temperate-zone tree fruits, the pregermination process adds two to three months to the timetable. Natural sprouting inhibitors present in the seeds must be deactivated by exposure to cool temperatures for a two- to three-month period. In nature, this chilling period occurs naturally as winter cold comes, fluctuates and invariably leads to spring.

To trick seeds into sprouting when you want (usually early spring), use a method called stratification — a nursery term that basically means exposing seeds to cool, moist conditions. You can simply plant them in pots and bury the pots in a corner of the garden. Seeds that are not discovered by marauding squirrels, curious dogs or other vagaries of the great outdoors will probably sprout in spring. If you’d rather not take chances, your refrigerator will make a perfectly satisfactory stratification chamber because ideal stratification temperatures range between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. To help your seedlings hit their best growing schedule, start the chilling period about four months before your last spring frost date. Varieties from warmer regions often require a shorter chilling period.

To start the process, soak the seeds in room temperature water overnight, then pop them into a jar of slightly moist potting soil. Close the jar and put it in a not-too-distant corner of your refrigerator where it won’t get frozen or forgotten.

Begin checking the contents of the jar after about a month. It never ceases to amaze me how almost all the seeds sprout (as if a switch had been turned on) after they’ve spent enough time being cool and moist. Depending on the particular seed, that time might vary from one to three months (apricots take only four to six weeks), but after the chilling requirements for those particular seeds are satisfied, they’re ready to grow. When you check the jars, the fat, white rootlets will stand out visually against the darker potting soil.

Now you have to do something with those young sprouts, which are eager to get on with the business of growing. If it’s still freezing outdoors, keep the sprouting seeds in the refrigerator a bit longer. A month or so before your last frost date, either pot the sprouts or plant them where you want them to grow. Keeping the seedlings in containers for a couple of months makes monitoring their progress easy. Waxed paper milk cartons with drainage holes punched near the bottoms work well, because when it’s time to plant, you can merely cut away the cartons to minimize any root disturbance.

Growing On

The better the growing conditions, the sooner your tree will bear fruit. Good growing conditions for peaches and their kin mean fertile, well-drained soil with a near neutral pH. If you must plant where the soil tends to stay wet after rains, haul in some well drained soil and build up a 3-foot wide mound at least a foot high for each little plant. Mix in lime if a soil test shows the pH is too low.

Pruning will delay bearing, so trim your seedling trees only to remove dead, diseased or broken stems, as well as those that grow low on the trunk or are crowding others. Most seedling peach trees will grow to 20 feet or so, while apricots typically grow 12 to 15 feet with annual pruning. Pay attention to weeds, water and nutrition. An organic mulch such as compost, leaf mold, leaves or straw goes a long way toward taking care of all three needs. Create a circle of mulch over the root zone that’s a couple inches deep and 3 feet or more in diameter. Keep the mulch a few inches from the trunk to avoid rot and rodent damage. A better solution for keeping rodents at bay is to surround the trunk with a cylinder of quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth. Various insect borers can be deterred by wrapping the trunks with scraps of garden row cover to prevent them from laying eggs in bark crevices.

Peaches self-sow so easily that naturalized peach groves became extensive in America not long after peaches were introduced. Early botanists assumed peaches were native to this part of the world, though their origin has since been traced to China. Sow a few peach pits around your homestead, and before you know it you’ll have a lovely tree that covers itself with beautiful pink blossoms every spring, and homegrown, tree-ripened fruit with flavor to die for.


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Post a comment below.

 

GardenGuy
1/16/2014 6:31:58 PM
Here in NE Kansas (zone 5) we can grow peaches, apples, mulberries, grapes etc.. with no special care. I would strongly encourage everyone to grow seedlings if you have the room and the time because that is how we get new varieties. Grafting is great to and we do that here but keep in mind we only graft over the fruit that tastes bad

Marianne
10/22/2013 2:47:23 PM
I have 1 inch high mulberry tree seedlings in a pot and live in Ontario, Canada what do I do with them in winter? We are in zone 5.

iraqvet08
7/30/2013 1:12:29 AM

Not all paw paws are tropical fruit. The pawpaw Asimina triloba  is the largest edible fruit that is native to the United States. Pawpaws are indigenous to 26 states in the U.S., in a range extending from northern Florida to southern Ontario and as far west as eastern Nebraska. 


JoDoc277
7/29/2013 5:27:11 PM

I am looking for advise. Am I better off planting peaches from seed or seedling root stock.

I am leaning toward seedling so I can be shure I get a good dwarf variety, that will thrive in zone 5 or 6.

Any advise??


gary.evans.71271
5/8/2013 8:35:47 AM

I saved, and dried various pits last fall, and kept them in the fridge over the winter. Should I still follow the steps above? Ie; crack, soak, plant, and re-refridgerate? There is not than much room in my fridge . . . If I decide to just plant them, should I keep the jar closed and in a dark, coolish place in my apartment? Thoughts, anyone?


Sandra Warren
11/19/2012 5:56:52 PM
I live in northern Indiana, where paw paws grow wild in the woods. what kind of paw paws do you have?

Sasha Densikoff
11/18/2012 9:12:56 AM
for Kathleen Fritz: Paw paws like two main things. Well drained soil and warmth. many other people have the best success by growing them up against a brick wall, as it absorbs the warmth from the sun and radiates it back at night, keeping it warm, and it can help with too much water due to the warm, dry bricks and concrete beneath it. if you are in a frost zone, forget ever growing paw paws. They're a tropical fruit only.

WolfsTeddi
8/28/2011 4:57:04 PM
I was wondering; can you do the same process with cherries.

Faith Britton
8/27/2011 7:56:48 PM
Drying and cracking the pits is not necessary. Tonight, I transplanted 24 peach trees to my new orchard area from pits that were thrown into my flower bed during last falls canning season. Each was about 2-ft tall with nice root systems. Other than a wind blown covering of fall leaves, nothing special was done to the pits. I just tossed them out the back door and that was it. There are also about 15 freestone trees around the henhouse from the year before. Hopefully, I can get them transplanted in the next couple weeks.

Kathleen Fritz
8/27/2011 8:53:58 AM
Do you have any tips for growing pawpaw trees? I have tried several times to grow these. After the tree gets started then they just seem to die. I have even tried putting them in a pot for awhile but that doesn't seem to do any good. Can you give me some tips on this? Thanks.

mit ailbu
7/5/2011 1:16:22 AM
Wanda, I love mullberries, but you should look a little closer. I haven't been able to put one in my mouth since I saw how many worms are in them. If you pick them and put them in a bowl of water an let them sit awhile, you will have little white woms floating everywhere. Yuck! Birds do love them, and then they poo purple goo all over everything. They are very messy. If you have a big piece of land where you can plant it away from your house and you don't mind eating little white worms, I say go for it.

mit ailbu
7/5/2011 1:11:16 AM
I have a nectarine tree and a peach tree growing next to one another and they cross polinate every year. The nectarines are like mana from Heaven. If I plant a pit from one of those nectarines, will the fruit on the new tree be like the fruit I love, or will it go back to the normal parent nectarine tree?

Brian Whary
6/11/2011 1:11:04 PM
Regarding the peach tree fruit question, once your tree is of bearing age, you must limit the amount of fruit that sets on each branch, especially if it's thinner than a pencil. I usually start with a thinning of 4 inches between peaches, then I increase it to 6-8 inches after the annual June fruit drop. Peaches are so prolific fruit bearers that they will often set 40 peaches or more on one branch. If you leave it all on the branch the tree won't be able to ripen all that fruit. Thinning also red78uces thae opportuinity for diseases or fungus to spread from peach to peach.

E
5/21/2011 9:41:02 PM
I have a peach tree I assume its self pollinating and I started from seed its is about 8-9ft tall and is 4yrs old. This is the 2nd year it has beared fruit lot of it. The peaches get a little bigger than a golf ball but never seems to mature big enough to be eaten. Is there something I can do so I can get the fruit to fully mature. I reside in Charlotte, NC

Katy_6
9/2/2010 7:09:43 PM
I have a peach tree question. About a year ago, I was eating a peach and surprisingly the pit was already sprouting! Well, I stuck it in the fridge for a week, then planted it in a paper cup. I've transplanted it as it's grown and now it's about three feet high and lives in a pot on my porch. I'd like to get it in the ground eventually, but because the climate and the wild life around my home, I'm reluctant to put it in the ground just yet. It's going on fall now, and I'd like it to winter over in it's pot. Do I need to do anything special for it this winter? Does it need a period of time where the temp is cold, or can I just bring it in the house?

The Herbangardener
8/1/2009 8:27:18 PM
This is a great article, and it's what prompted me to save seed from local peaches and plums last year, and grow my own fruit trees! I followed the instructions outlined in the article, and it worked perfectly! I ended up cracking the seeds with a hammer on the sidewalk (just hammer the edge of the seed to crack it in two). I had tried cracking them with a nut cracker, and the nut cracker BROKE! My seeds took about a month longer in the fridge to sprout, so I was getting discouraged...but lo and behold, they eventually did sprout, and now I have 18 peach trees and 35 plums! The Herbangardener www.herbangardener.com

James Beistle
4/26/2009 12:19:37 AM
Mullberry trees grow to be quite large. They are found all over the souther USA and great for shade and birds love them ... fruitless mullberrie trees make for great shade ... http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/mulberry.html even diabetics can throw a few of these wonder berries into a bowl of cerial. We need to know about care to deal with bores in fruit trees without strong chemicals that may linger in the soil or be passed to the fruit or eco system niches "birds" thanks ... Mother Earth has been my source for over thirty years ... can remember but I at one time had the first issue ... the good ole days ...

nikky
9/11/2008 2:00:31 PM
wanda, there are several different kinds of mulberry trees there are also fruitless and fruited the fruited ones have varigated edges and they come in black, red and white fruit around where i live the best way to get starts ive found is by digging up a rooted sucker of the kind u like and planting it. they can grow very tall very fast so you have to be agressive with your triming other wise they will be a bigg messy shade tree. they really dont have showy flowers and the flowers tend to look llike those that come on a birch tree in the spring. thats what turns into the fruit.if u have any more q i can try to answer what i know p.s. they originated in china

Wanda_1
8/2/2008 6:26:35 PM
I would like to know what a Mulberry Tree looks like, and where to get them and how to care for them and where they come from....and do they have to be a male and a female to produce.....The berries are so sweet, if I remember correctly.....and I do not remember what they look like or if they had flowers in the spring....Mother Earth News can you help me with this information and possibly others like myself...








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