Fruit Breeding for the Home Garden

Good morning, my fruity friends.

I’m being inquisitive, yet again. So let me ask the list a few related questions:

Inspired by SkillCult and his apple breeding video series (and his effort in making pollen available), I’m curious:

Who out there is breeding their own new varieties? Not just of apples, but fruit in general?

What sort of success have you had? Where do you get new genetic material to add to your program? GRIN? Swapping? Buying commercially grown stock?

What are your breeding goals? Pushing the envelope for a given fruit in terms of zone? Flavor? Disease resistance? Other factors that make a variety desirable in a home garden, but might not be useful in the commercial setting?

Which major breeding programs are either breeding FOR the small/home market, or make it a point to release varieties that would have appeal to them - instead of hunting the Next HoneyCrisp™? I know UofSask has a reputation for working with less common fruits. And even for releasing varieties more suited to small orchards. OTOH, my alma mater (Michigan State) has pretty much set their sights entirely on the commercial setting.

Has the permaculture/homestead movement had any sort of effect on demand for specific varieties? (Ex. - are heirlooms more desired than they were 10 years ago?)


That’s a pretty broad topic. But an interesting one.
I’ve been collecting apple varieties for 6 or 7 years that I desire for crossing.
First couple of success stories ended badly as I lost the seedlings of an intentional cross.
Also growing out some gooseberry seedlings.

For better or worse, I’ve collected 120 apple varieties and I meant to stop at 75 or so!

Red fleshed apple crosses are my primary interest.
(SkillCult has focused on the Etter apples, but
now seems to be veering into using apples from the East.)

Home growers do not need to be growing what the big orchards are.

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Exactly. Commercial orchards tend to view, for example, a tree or bush that doesn’t ripen all at once as undesireable. Myself, I’m delighted NOT to have to suddenly deal with 6 bushels of something all in one go!

Curious - were these an intentional cross? Or just to see what you get? I sigh, because I’m in a restricted county and can only grow varieties that I can convince the Dept of Ag are White Pine Blister Rust resistant.

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Seedlings of gooseberries, serviceberries…just random seedlings.

But the apples I intend on doing hand pollination. (But if time and space permits, I’ll also groW seedlings of red fleshed apples that are not hand pollinated. For fresh eating, for cider, and for ornamental value)

It is a numbers game. In the good old days most new varieties came from home gardeners, nurseries were too busy reproducing and selling as much as they could to gamble resources. That was until the 90’s or so when it dawned upon a bunch of them that if you managed to market the living crap out of a named variety, you had the patent to ensure 20 years of exclusive sales or licensing, plus pretty much perpetuity on the name.

But it is still a numbers game. A nursery may start with 2,000 cross pollinated saplings, end up grafting 200, and 20 of those may show enough potential where 2 are selected for propagation. With home orchards is the same; you can have 2,000 hobbyist watching chance saplings, of which 200 will make it alive to be put on the ground, of which 20 can be actually interesting enough from which 2 may be worth naming.

With the nursery well you know they are going to end up with those two interesting trees or bushes, the backyard hobbyist, you don’t know which one will end up with the better tree.

That is a myth. You can trademark the name of a product line or brand name, but not an individual product. Trademarks do not take the place of patents. Prime-Ark can be trademarked because it is a product line, but the name ‘Freedom’ can not. They can trademark a specific design for the name ‘Freedom’, but not the name its self.
Copyright protection does not apply either, even though the nurseries strongly imply it does. There are no protections beyond the patent. It is a scare tactic to keep people from legally propagating their stock. The nursery no longer pays royalties, so the product becomes more profitable if you believe the lie.
I am trying my first interspecific Rubus hybrids this year. I may try a white currant hybrid next year, just for fun. My space is limited, so smaller plants that reach maturity faster are a better choice for me.


Google up apple varieties trademark.

You can patent a plant. Patent protection last for 20 years. You can also put a trademark name on your apple. McIntosh, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady are all apple trademarks. Their patents may have expired which means that you can reproduce them, but their name trademark lives on, they can go after you if you try to sell apple trees under their trademark.

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Heck Honeycrisp is a funny example. The university of Minnesota screwed up and used the same name for the patent and for the trademark, pretty much invalidating their trademark as it is ok to refer to sell a tree by their patent name.

HoneyCrunch? Well that’s another trademark name for the exact same apple, but these are grown in New Zealand.

I get the games the nurseries play. And all the legal machinations give me a headache.

I’m more interested in who’s bucking the system. Breeding at home, or making a point to breed for the home market. I strongly suspect that the retail nurseries (for all that they like to show off photos of their testing and breeding nurseries) actually do much breeding themselves. They’d rather buy the rights to something and just propagate - if they can get exclusive rights to do so.

I do realize that really great new varieties are pretty random. But I wonder if you couldn’t get some pretty cool things from someone who just likes to putter with something on their own time and agenda.

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Is not that random; two great apples are very likely to give you at the very least a decent apple. Aiming for more specificity; breeding a given apple with more fire blight resistance, earlier fruiting, less tannins, more crunch, it takes thousands of saplings and selections. Or it takes a sport, an apple tree you just notice that unlike all others of the same breed it has something different going for it.

The thing is that with 7,500 apple varieties and 2,500 being grown in the U.S. alone, all proven performers, there is no shortage of great apples. But it cost us nothing to cross pollinate, grow a sapling, and graft it into another tree to see what happens. My all time favorite Prairie Magic was a chance sapling. The Franklin Cider I’m trying to see if it can grow in Alaska was a 60 year old wild tree until “discovered” and marketed. Clair #9, great apple! Here in Alaska it would be recognized by most orchardist as it was the creation of Clair Lammers who spent decades growing and breeding apple trees in Fairbanks (home of -40f winters).


Nope. Those are product lines as well. They sell multiple patented sports under the name ‘Pink Lady’. Same with other varieties.

I take it you didn’t bother to google up “Apple varieties trademark”.

Here you go:

McIntosh apples are not trademarked. Many companies have lost their trademarks because they became the proper name of the product. Freon is an example.

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nil, I appreciate what you are trying to say but my understanding is that a patent expires after the 20 year period and a name trademark is in perpetuity. So for example, I have recently purchased both Cripps Pink AND Pink Lady apples from the grocery store. Same apple (yes they could be different sports as you pointed out, Macintosh has many too) but one seller has paid the royalty for the trademark and one did not and uses the cultivar name instead of the trademark name. It is still illegal for ME or anyone else to sell Cripps Pink as Pink Lady unless you have purchased rights to the trademark (assuming the trademark was kept valid in the USA in my case).

I put a pretty good explanation link on this thread from a nursery that goes over the nuances in detail Beginner Grafting Guide

That’s a whole different conversation altogether. Point being made is that an apple variety can be trademarked, and can be protected for as long as the trademark owner sees value in it. If they screw up their ownership that’s part of that other conversation.

I wanted to point out that breeding efforts vary greatly based on the species you are interested in. Apples are a “good luck with that” scenario as has been pointed out. Pawpaw, on the other hand, is know to reproduce fairly close to the parent plants by comparison. As such I plan to intentionally cross Mango with Chapell to select for faster tree growth (which should fruit faster too). I’ll also be looking for some interesting combinations like Al Horn’s White x Kentucky Champion or Summer Delight to try to get an earlier season white fleshed fruit. My other idea is to cross the Freestones (Marshmallow, Honeydew, Cantaloupe) with Benson and others with thick skin/longer shelf life to try and produce a cultivar that ships well and is easy to remove the seeds from, which I see as the proper direction to make the fruit more commercially viable for mass markets.


Say rather, you can breed for specific traits, but wild success is somewhat random.

You might want to give a look at Michigan State’s new cider apple program. They’re just starting to really go for that market.

Also watch the progress of this gentleman:

This was the sort of thing I was asking about. :slight_smile:

I think it’s also somewhat easier to work with species that have a shorter turn-around time from seed to fruit, so you can tell what you’ve got.


I had seen in a thread from @scottfsmith that he was cutting buds off of seedlings and putting them on established trees to expedite the fruiting process by a few years to see if he had any “winners”. I’m not sure how many other people do this but it’s a very viable method in my opinion if you have established “rootstock”.

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I think the idea is that the name can be trademarked. The plant and fruit, when the patent expires, can be sold, propagated etc… just not using the trademarked name. For example, if you are a fan of Pink Lady® apples one might suggest that you plant a Cripps Pink tree.