Growing apple tree from saved seeds of 100 + year old apple tree from father-in-law's farm

Asked October 20, 2018, 12:01 AM EDT

Hi, My husband loves the apples from the apple trees he grew up with on his father's farm. The trees are easily over 100 years old and are believed to be a type of crabapple - someone who tasted them said that they tasted like a Whitney Crabapple but that's just a guess. The trees are in Kalispell and were planted by my husband's great-great-grandfather when he settled the farm outside of Kalispell, MT. This year my husband brought back from the farm 50 lbs of apples. I've watched several videos on YT about growing apples from seed and I understand that there may be a problem of not growing true to type - but because of where these apple trees are located, and due to the age of the tree I don't think that should be a problem. So, my first question is, is that going to be a problem? Also, as it's currently fall, should I begin germinating these in the fridge? Finally, along the same lines - I saved some seeds from some particularly successful crops that I had this year - including one tomato plant that I particularly liked. 75% of the seeds germinated in the process. Do I need to discard those? Can I assume that germinating seeds are not good seeds to save? Thanks, Sara

Hennepin County Minnesota

1 Response

It's often difficult or impossible even for experts to identify unknown apple varieties. University of Minnesota apple expert James Luby explains it this way:

"We can not positively identify a cultivar visually though we can sometimes make a guess. The history of the plant is very important and unfortunately, people often don't know it. However, you can read about the plant especially if they know it's a University release and narrow down your fruit ID to 2-3 cultivars based on size, color, fruiting time. etc. Here are some resources to help:

Also, here is a nice discussion about identifying apple varieties. Though it is written about English varieties, all the principles are universal.

If you want to pursue more conclusive testing, UC-Davis will accept samples for DNA fingerprinting. Cost is $345 per sample."

The Whitney crabapple, developed on the 1850s, was widely grown in the early 20th century so your tentative ID may be correct. Do the apples look like this?:

In any case, it will not be possible to grow trees that will produce apples identical to those on your father-in-law's farm by planting seeds taken from the fruits. Grafting scions taken from those trees to suitable rootstocks would achieve your goal but most gardeners, including master gardeners, have not mastered this skill.

If you want to grow some of the seeds for fun, this website explains how to do it:

We don't know why the tomato seeds you saved germinated. Perhaps they were not dried or stored in suitable conditions. Seeds in overripe tomatoes sometimes germinate inside the fruits.

Under the circumstances, it's unlikely that any of the tomato seeds you saved will be viable.

Go here to learn how to save the seeds of tomatoes and other garden vegetables: