Apple rootstocks

I see a lot of talk about Antonovka seedlings, but what about seedlings from any other random apple variety I might have? How do seedlings from random apple varieties perform as rootstock, particularly in comparison to Antonovka seedlings (which seem to be the common source for seedlings apple rootstock.) I’ve got to assume that random apple seedlings were the norm for rootstock for many centuries until relatively recently, no?


I believe random seedlings were rarely used. The results will be random.
In many places it was common to use Northern Spy seedlings.

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A friend of mine used seedlings that came out of pomace for a cider from a variety of apples. I don’t know if any are producing for her yet, but they are doing well otherwise. The upside is cheap and plentiful rootstocks; the downside, as @ribs1 points out, is high variability. Most of them will probably yield standard size trees and take a while to bear, but beyond that, they will be highly variable as to habit, hardiness, disease resistance, etc.

Worth a shot if you’re frugal, have a lot of space, or just like experimenting.


I have read that seedlings can add bitterness/astringency to the scion. It is probably highly variable. We planted a Honeycrisp seedling, and it turned out to be a canker magnet.


Useful topic.

Most people don’t live on the farm anymore…so having acres for large trees could be the limiting factor. Also, lots of people are lazy in comparison to 50 or 100 years ago. And “no-ladder” trees have been heavily promoted by the nurseries. (You also can squeeze more dollars per acre out in a quicker amount of time with dwarf trees…and in our world patience isn’t common anymore.)

Having said that, I’m no expert on seedlings, just a “dabbler”.
But, as I crossbreed some varieties, I’ll be growing out more and more seedlings. (Or grafting them to dwarf roots or simi-dwarf “frankentrees”).

Fuji has a pretty high % of seedlings that look healthy, at least from scab and CAR.
Antonovka is tried and true for cold areas…and can also reproduce fairly true from seeds.


I’m in zone 7, so I assume any seedling apple I grow from any random apple variety I might be growing or otherwise wind up with would be more than hardy enough here, so hardiness doesn’t seem like an issue that would affect me or most other people, even if it is an issue in extremely cold zones.

I wonder if random seedlings would all produce more or less full standard size trees, though. If some random seedling would tend to be somewhat dwarfing, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for me, but it’s a curiosity at least.

As to habit, are you referring to the form of the tree itself? I’m talking about just using seedlings for rootstock, not growing them out, so I assume the habit of the grafted portion of the tree wouldn’t be affected by the rootstock (other than any dwarfing tendencies, if that ever even happens with seedling rootstock.)

And with disease resistance, similar to habit, we’d only be talking about root (and maybe lower stem) diseases, right? What would those specific issues (if any), be? And is there, in fact, significant variability between apple seedlings with regards to those diseases?

Would canker be an example of one of those things in my last question?

Really? Does anyone have any personal anecdotal (or other) evidence to confirm that potential issue? And if we’re comparing random apple seedlings to Antonovka seedlings, isn’t there plenty of variation in Antonovka seedlings, too?

Antonovka seedlings are less variable than seedlings from other varieties? Does it not cross-pollinate like other apples?

I’m just trying to understand what makes Antonovka seedlings so special and figure out what I’d really be forfeiting/risking if I just planted random apple seedlings instead of Antonovka seedlings. I have a clear (but limited) understanding of the differences and advantages/disadvantages between various dwarfing, semi-dwarfing, and seedling rootstock, but I’m not clear on the extent of differences between different seedling rootstocks from different varieties, especially for zones that aren’t extremely cold or with highly unusual (e.g. alkaline) soil. I want to think that there aren’t any differences that would matter in my circumstances, and I can just not worry about it if I decide I want a full standard tree.

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I am too lazy right now to look up the sources. I found several references to off flavors when grafting to seedling apples. I was looking up root grafting, if I recall correctly. I was wondering why root grafting was a thing, when it seems easier to graft to seedlings.

First I had read of flavor being affected by rootstock… All the EMLA and Geneva and other rootstocks are just seedlings which happen to have particular traits aren’t they? At least that’s what I thought…

Similar to OP, I plan on trying out some seedlings as rootstock next year. I only planted a few but will graft on a dwarfing interstem piece and desired scion a foot or so above that. I did a bunch on M111 like that this year, and figured a seedling should be awfully similar. Will bury them above that first graft union so the dwarfing interstem piece will form roots as well. Seems like some/many potential negative traits of the seedling would be mitigated by doing so?

Antonovka and Northern Spy seedlings are less variable (more true to seed) than other varieties because their genes are more homozygous and dominant than other varieties. You can try to plant seeds from random apples if you like to experiment, but your results will be highly variable. Some will grow to standard size, some will be runts. Some will be disease resistant, most will not.
If you want to grow seedling rootstock your best bet is Antonovka or Spy.
I can’t think of any reason to do so since you can purchase rootstock for about 3-4 dollars each or propagate clonal rootstocks yourself. You will know exactly what you are getting.
I can think of no good reason to graft onto random seedlings only to wait 5-10 years to get results.


Emla and Geneva rootstocks were once seedlings when they were developed but are now clonally propagated.

Is a runt just a more dwarfing tree, or is the more or something different to being a runt than being dwarfing?

If I wanted to avoid runts it seems like it would be pretty easy just to plant extra seeds and cull the runts, or is there a problem I’m not seeing with that approach?

What diseases are there that would affect the rootstock portion of an apple tree and how much variation is there in resistance to those diseases?

And all these various concerns about differences between different strains of seedling rootstock makes me think that either the concerns are exaggerated with apples or they’re greatly neglected with all the other fruit species where random seedling rootstock is common. Or is there a reason to be very particular about the the source of seedling apple rootstock that wouldn’t find parallels in other species?

@ILParadiseFarm aren’t you growing seedlings and don’t you graft and sell them? I forget what all you’re growing seedlings for rootstock, of. Haven’t seen you for a while, either.


Anybody here recall reading that Winesaps grow fairly true from seed? Also, they’re supposed to be a fairly orderly, well-behaved tree, IIRC.

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Duchess seedlings were widely used in the NE US in the past. They were known as borowinka at that time.

I have several trees growing on “common domestic apple” rootstock. Some I grew myself from seed, some from CDA rootstock that Lawyer Nursery used to sell. I also have grafted to wild seedlings a number of times.


Root diseases include woolly apple aphid, fireblight, crown and root rots, and replant disease.
The concerns are not exaggerated. There is a reason clonal rootstocks have been developed.

These concerns are not neglected with other fruit species as most other fruits are also grown on clonal rootstocks.

No, not selling any trees, but I give some away to friends and neighbors here and there. The growing season is pretty busy for me, so I get more involved in fruit discussions in the colder months.


And seedlings grown from random apples like I might have would often enough be significantly more susceptible to these diseases (just in the rootstock portion of the tree) than Antonovka seedlings?

Yes. Apples grown from random seeds would have a high likelihood of disease susceptibility. There is a reason clonal rootstocks have been developed.
Antonovka grows true to seed. Almost all other apples do not since their genes are very heterogenous.

Hey Dax, how have you been? I haven’t been on the forums for quite some time. I appreciate the call out, feels good to be missed.

I started out grafting my first trees back in 2015. I didn’t have access to rootstock so I threw a bunch of seeds in the ground, both apples and pears. Looking at my notes, I still have my very first grafted tree growing; 2015-A001 (Empire) growing on seedling rootstock. I have suffered some root disease and some random deaths of my seedling grafted trees.

Deaths from my seedling rootstock is nothing like what I have seen from the new Geneva rootstock. G41 and G969 have been some of the most fragile and weak trees I have ever seen. A lot of them died before I could graft them. The difference between them and the seedlings though is the seedlings are grown from seed already in the nursery bed and the Geneva rootstock were ordered and planted. Still, I have ordered Bud 118 and Antanovka in the past and transplanted into the nursery with little problems. This is only the second year with my Geneva trees and will be planting them this fall, so data is still out on how they will perform.

My seedling rootstock grafted trees do have some variability in growth and production but so do all my other trees, no matter the rootstock. They are all planted in different locations and the soil health plays a huge role in how the tree will live. All trees, no matter the rootstock are happy and healthy in the good soil locations and likewise all trees no matter the rootstock are very poor in the bad locations. Long term I cannot tell you beyond the 5 years that I have been growing them.

If you are an expert at pruning, branching and keeping disease under control on your trees, I see no reason seedling rootstock trees won’t work for you. A lot of rootstock diseases can be cut out when found. I’ve had a lot of disease crop up on my Antanovka seedlings. It floods here where I live in the spring and the trees sit in wet soggy soils for quite some time. Nothing I can do about it. This is a killer of a lot of rootstock.

An idea popped into my head after that first year of grafting in 2015. I’d purposely plant seeds in horrible spots; muddy clay soil that would struggle to grow. From those seeds, I’d let the strongest trees survive and only choose those for grafting. I had hoped that those rootstock would yield outstanding results wherever I planted them on my property. 5 years isn’t long enough for test results but so far I really don’t see many setbacks. It can be done but that doesn’t mean that 10 years from now I won’t see an otherwise healthy tree die from crown rot that I missed. You can say the same thing for standard production rootstock though. Nature is unpredictable and always will be no matter how researchers try and breed rootstock that produce predictable results.

I have had large productive peach trees die for reasons I could not figure. Cherry trees struggle to survive here, no matter the rootstock I use. Currently I am trying to get a Forester to come out and examine some trees on my property. I have White Oak trees dying and word touched my ears that it was the Air Tractors spraying the fields around me that was drifting onto the trees and causing disease to set in. So, many of my fruit trees may be hit from the same cause. Trees normally die from the top down losing leaves in the summer when they shouldn’t be.

When selling trees you want to ask the customer everything about the site they will be planting and try and get them the best rootstock that is recommended for their location. Just because it should work on paper doesn’t mean it will work out that way. However I would not sell a seedling rootstock to someone unless they knew what they were getting and wanted it. Planting trees for dear, for instance, is often done on seedling rootstock. So I would always recommend named cultivars when selecting rootstock to start the customer off on the right track.

If you like some chaos thrown into your life and have plenty of room on your property to play around, give seedling trees a chance. I wish I could tell you what varieties each seedling was grown from but I don’t keep that kind of data. I bet it does have something to do with the final results.


I don’t think it has much to do with the final results. These guys in this discussion do and they have obviously read from other posters or papers on research whereas I haven’t.

You said it yourself and I find it to be true, ‘crappy soil is crappy soil no matter what rootsotck is used’. Not only on my six acres are fruit trees affected by my soil, so are seedling ornamentals or grafted ornamentals. Same with fruit trees: seedlings and/or clonal roots for cultivars to grow on.

I give you a lot of credit for what you wrote. That was eloquently displayed.

Thanks and great to see you again.


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