In apple breeding, how do you save the new variety? Does the seed produce a tree that tastes like the parent fruit?

Something I don’t understand. If you hand pollinate an apple and you get fruit, can now claim you made a new variety? If you can, what do you save to get the new variety again? I thought if you plant the seed you don’t get the parent fruit. So, what or how do you keep the new variety going past that one apple variety you made?

Edit:. When you hand pollinate aren’t you only getting the new taste in that single apple?

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No, the pollen doesn’t change much* (or anything?) about the fruit, that’s determined by the “mother” tree’s genetics. The fruit will all look and taste the same regardless of the pollen source. The pollen only contributes to the genes in the seeds, but you can’t know what that will mean until you plant those seeds and grow them into mature trees.

Once you have those seedlings large enough to fruit, you pick which ones have the characteristics you want, and “save” them by grafting them on new rootstocks.

*I don’t know enough about apples specifically to say for sure that pollen parents don’t impact fruit at all. In avocados, I know it can impact seed size and shape, which can impact fruit shape and flesh-to-seed ratio. Since apple seeds are small, it seems unlikely changes in seed characteristics could have any noticeable effects in the fruit.


Does that mean it takes decades to make a new apple, with most being a total loss because they were horrible tasting?

Edit:. If that’s the case, how does the skillcult guy know what apples are any good? I don’t think YouTube has been around long enough.


Decades might be overstating it a bit, but I’m not sure how long apples take to fruit from seed. I’d guess a handful of years to fruit and another handful to evaluate. But remember that people on YouTube today may have been doing this work with their orchards long before there was a YouTube.


People sometimes graft a new seedling to an existing tree so it produces earlier. Still there is a wait. I think most seedling apples would probably actually taste OK. @SkillCult mentions in his videos the trees are many years old already. They are also planted in high density and many together with the hopes that only a few are exceptional.


Yes, every seed is an individual new variety, recombination of genes. Might not be one you want to keep, that’s why some breeding programs have 1000 seedlings for each new variety. In a commercial orchard full of trees of the same variety of fruit, pollenizer might be Dolgo or other crab-type. May be the parent you want, may not be. Many off spring keep aspects of the parent varieties, some don’t. And some varieties throw very similar apples from the pistillate ‘mother’, like Antonovka or Northern Spy. That’s why they are used as rootstock, or Dolgo as wildlife tree.
To propagate a new variety, graft it. Lots of it. Dwarf rootstocks get fruit faster, or adding to an older tree, to see if you want to keep and name it. And grafting is how you distribute the variety.
Someone like Skillcult is looking at varieties to cross, and yes, getting rid of trees that don’t work out. Some will throw similar tasting trees, but not close enough to be the same for rootstock, etc. So his choice of Wickson, for instance. Also, lots die and take the decision away from you. Not everything is going to make it in your environment - that is one selection criteria.


The large fruit companies give lots of money to certain universities to study/breed…apples,
and certainly other fruits, too. It may take 1,000 seedlings to get a superior apple, or even 10,000 to find just one apple that they think they can patent and make millions of dollars from.

But, a much smaller sample of seedling trees can still produce some very good apples.
Some my be more sour than the parents, more juicy than the parents, not have pretty coloring like the parents, have far more or far less disease resistance than the parents…for all these reasons and many more, university breeding programs reject thousands of seedlings.

But, as Skillcult is proving to the ‘youtub’ folks, you can get some very good apples by planting a dozen or three seeds and hoping for some good results.

So, it’s incorrect to say it takes thousands of seedlings to find a good apple.
Somebody invented that thought to protect their investment and to keep the little guys from getting into fruit breeding seems to be the situation. (Be nice to ID the person that started the nonsense that you get one good one out of thousands of seedlings.)


My observations over 11 years are that most apples from seed are quite edible, some are terrible (unless you’re a ciderist :wink: and a few are somewhere between exceptional and worth propagating.The variability of apples is both advantage and disadvantage. It makes the genetic territory and possibilities huge, but you could end up with all kinds of stuff, good, bad or in between. That is what makes it so intriguing and fun. It is probably more common to see some traits of both parents show out than not. The common, overstated ideas that most apples from seed will be horrid, sharp, inedible things and that it takes thousands to one to get an apple worth eating are completely wrong. They took on a life of their own by the common mechanism of people repeating juicy factoids that they actually know nothing about. Information is not knowledge.

It can take a long time to get fruit. I have gotten fruit in as little as 4 years, but only two or three times. More often it’s 5 years or more, more likely 6 or more. I still have a few on dwarfing stock that have not fruited yet at 11 years. I have put some onto established fruiting trees. Some have told me that if the branches are fruiting, I will get fruit sooner. None of them have offered any substantial information on why they are so sure that is true, though I’ve asked all of them. Data, detailed personal experience, anything? The jury is out, but my general impression is that hasn’t been true. I asked Freddy Menge about that and he said no before I finished asking the question. I did one tree with many seedlings on it using all kinds of crazy experimental graft approaches. I grafted most literally onto fruiting spurs. I grafted loops from a fruiting spur back to the same spur and to other spurs. I grafted them backwards. Some where a long strip is grafted to the side of a fruiting branch, or both ends of the scion are grafted into the branch and some of those are backward, with the tip of the scion pointing to the base trunk. So we’ll see. This is only the second growing season for most of them, so we’ll see.


Here’s a tale about the patenting of the Honeycrisp™ variety that delves into many of the issues you raise:


Thanks. I was watching one of your videos the other day, don’t know how old it was. I think it was new. Anyway, you were going through and tasting all the apples, one you might like ok, or nothing special, or one was “woody.”

But, there were at least a couple of good ones from your new variety. What did you do next after you found the apple you liked? The seed won’t be the same, so how do you get a tree of the new apple. You could hand pollinate and possibly get the same fruit again on another tree, but aside from that, how do you go from that good apple to something reproducible in and of itself.

Sorry if that is in another video. I can go search. I could ask the same to tomato breeders, though. How do you go from a hand pollinated anything to a full on plant, if the seed will not be a duplicate. Is that scion affected somehow after hand pollination (I know that sounds dumb.)

You asexually propagate the tree giving the fruit you select, i.e. graft, bud, tissue culture. Think about it as cloning a sheep vs finding a set of parents.

The pollination doesn’t change the fruit. That fruit that he was tasting was growing on a tree that he grew from seed. All the fruit from that tree will be the same no matter where the pollen comes from, and if you cut off branches of that tree and graft them on a rootstock, they make a whole tree that is identical and produces the same fruit.

So on one that tastes bad, the experiment for that variety is over? Pull up the tree?

Like the one that was “woody.” That was a scion from a seedling that he got from the seed of hand pollinated varieties?

Hypothetical. If I have a Fuji and pollinate with tree x, some crabapple maybe. The first fruit will be a Fuji apple. The seed will be a Fuji and that crabapple. I grow that seed, then eventually get a seedling, and I graft that new apple scion to maybe a dwarf.

When that grafted scion gets a flower, I pollinate again, doesn’t matter what as long as it is compatible. The fruit will be from that scion and those two parents from before. If I like the fruit I clone that branch. Right?

Or graft something else onto it! Maybe the next little seedling you want to test out can get a big old set of roots.

Creating a successful new variety is akin to winning the lotto. It rides mostly on luck. Still, you have to play in order to win!!!

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Yeah grafting on a mature tree, can get your fruit in as little as probably three years from seed. Maybe two…but that would take more work, growing the seed in the winter after stratifying in order to get bud wood you could use to produce growth in the same season that also got some fruiting buds on it. Or just plant the seed, let it grow a year, dormant graft and wait another year.

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Technically, is it possible to take an apple, say a Fuji from the store, plant the seed, graft it onto a mature tree, and luck out with something that is good? I know there’s no way to know, and who knows the parents and so on. The lottery was mentioned. Other than incredible odds, is that good apple possible (instead of something horrible)?

Could you then claim you had a new apple variety?

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Yes. And yes.

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I think it’s pretty likely you’ll get a decent apple. You may end up with the absolute perfect tasting apple, but the tree may be so susceptible to disease you couldn’t grow it. Most seedling apples test decent though. I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but there is a whole lot of apple seedlings that end up growing around here either from people throwing out cores or animals spreading them around. Most taste fine. The same cannot be said for pears though. Every one I’ve tasted is atrocious.


Look up “clonal fruit tree propagation”. That will give you tons of ideas for the many ways which an apple can be propagated while maintaining the same characteristics.