Using seedling apple as rootstock

I grew some seedling apples this year to use as grafting practice. Assuming the grafts take I will probably give them away. I want to be upfront with whoever gets them about what kind of trees they will grow up to be.

What characteristics do you usually see in a grafted apple on seedling rootstock? If it makes any difference I have Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, and Winesap so the seedling DNA is some combination of those.

If you grafted known verities onto seedling rootstock you would end up with the variety you grafted if that is what you are asking? And most likely a full sized tree.

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An 80-year-old Golden Delicious on seedling rootstock. The world needs more of these glorious trees.


What chartman said, you’ll get a full sized tree (20-30’ or more).

I think the tree sizes will vary and could be highly unpredictable if there is a lot of diversity with pollenizers in the area. Apples grow wild here and there are all kinds of shapes and sizes. The smallest mature tree I’ve seen is about 12’ x 12’ with 8" trunk diameter. On the other hand, some have multiple trunks 18" or more in diameter and are easily 30’ high with a 40’ spread.

Environment will play a role in size potential. Shorter growing seasons translate to smaller trees. I’m not sure if arid regions will dwarf a tree as well. It seems like constant pruning could keep a tree from reaching its full potential, but most people want a fruit tree that doesn’t need much maintenance.


So it sounds like I can expect it to be big. I was worried there was some other big downside, since most of the trees I see for sale are on named rootstock. What about excessive suckering? Do they take extra time to start bearing fruit? Disease problems? Any other negatives I’m likely to see?

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Seedling trees are mostly what was planted in this country until about 70 years ago. How big they get depends on many factors. First, a seedling tree can run the range of sizes as was stated already, nursery men would use seeds from a specific clone in an effort to get more consistent sizing and none of your clones are especially vigorous. I wouldn’t be surprised if the seedlings ran at about the vigor of 111, but that’s coming from an educated guess and you can’t know for sure how the genes will express themselves.

The next factor, almost as important as the rootsock is the relative vigor of the scion. Almost as important as that is the type and depth of soil. Almost as important as that is your climate- length of the season, temps and average rainfall.

Seedlings often create tough trees capable of flourishing in adverse conditions, such as in wet or dry soils.


Amen to that. I actually like the size and shape of the one applenut has pictured. Below is another picture of the apple tree shape I like. It is about 13’ high with a spread up to 34’. The branches are low enough that deer can’t get under the tree. Despite the wide spread, the scaffolds are big and solid. I never have to thin for weight reasons. In fact, I’ve stood on the scaffolds when it had a full load of apples. I wish I had other varieties with this form. Unfortunately, it’s hard to train them low like this without interference from deer. Deer aren’t a problem once it is established.


[quote=“Bigdoug03, post:6, topic:2476, full:true”]
What about excessive suckering?
[/quote]Many I’ve seen do send out sprouts very profusely. I’ve seen trunks on some unattended trees completely covered with suckers and water sprouts. It is one case were I don’t mind a little pruning from rabbits and deer.

[quote=“Bigdoug03, post:6, topic:2476, full:true”]
Do they take extra time to start bearing fruit?
[/quote] Yeah, I’ve heard 7-10 years. I’ve never planted one before, so I don’t really know. I consider myself fortunate to have number of full size trees already established from before.

[quote=“Bigdoug03, post:6, topic:2476, full:true”]
Disease problems?
[/quote] Crapshoot

[quote=“Bigdoug03, post:6, topic:2476, full:true”]
So it sounds like I can expect it to be big. I was worried there was some other big downside, since most of the trees I see for sale are on named rootstock. [/quote] You could try a dwarfing interstem. Look for a mature apple tree that is about the size you want (or a little smaller). If it isn’t a grafted tree, you can collect grafting wood from any place on the tree in late winter. If it is a grafted tree, you can try to get suckers from the rootstock for the interstem. Someone else might be able to send you some interstem pieces if you can’t find anything in your area.

All of the above appears to me to be great information about seedling tree habits. My opinion is that the big plus for using a known root-stock like M111 and a known scion is for more consistent results like tree size/disease resistant etc. I have a few seedling root trees and I am looking forward to seeing how they perform in a few years. Best of luck, Bill

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I have a site where I’ve grafted over to clonal varieties dozens of seedling trees and another where I’ve grafted over a dozen or so. This doesn’t really equate as the same as starting trees from seed and grafting to them.

The trees I grafted to were already proven survivors having succeeded without any human interventions- presumably these were the few who could overcome the challenges of the sites.

I also once planted seedling rooted apple trees I ordered from Millers Nursery- over twenty of them to create an alle. `18 years later I still manage these trees and they produce copious quantities of fruit although not all of the varieties are what they were supposed to be.

They mostly began bearing after about 6 years or so- not all that much different than the lack of precosity I find with 111. I planted them at 18’ spacing, which may be too close, but with aggressive but educated pruning they can be kept in their space without pushing them from being productive trees- even without summer pruning.

The difference in vigor in these trees are as if I used both seedling and semi-standard rootstocks because of the nature of the different varieties.

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Here’s a Fuji on seedling roots. Probably about 7 years old. I find it about as vigorous as a peach. I need to prune this one badly. Fuji is supposed to be a slower growing cultivar, so that probably helps. I’ve been planting quite a few apples the last couple years on seedling rootstock.

It does cut into yield to have to prune so much. My guess is that this Fuji only has about 2 bushel (80 lbs.) of fruit, maybe a little more. The Chinese scar up the trunks to slow growth on seedling apple rootstocks. Not saying that’s the best practice, just what they do.

Weed control is terrible under the tree (I know). But I have some seedling rootstocks under that tree which are grafted, so I haven’t used any herbicide under the tree. I need to pull the bindweed off the seedlings, again!

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Fuji is a difficult tree to manage on vigorous rootstock- it’s a real brush maker. That is energy that is not going to fruit production. Given the tree is only 7 years old on that roootstock, I’d say it is doing extremely well. It will calm some with age as I suspect you know.

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Here is one way to keep a vigorous apple tree low to the ground. I’m not sure it will win any landscaping points. The average trunk diameter at the base was 16"-18" range. Could it be an M25? It looks like they trained them by bending over branches and cutting off all upward growth.

I prune certain varieties to a weep sortof like that, but usually higher to keep the fruit form deer. I also keep them more open. Fuji works well trained that way and in general it seems to promote annual bearing.

Just curious, peaches trained like what AJ shows will sunburn on the tops of the scaffolds and have a lot of bark die back on top of the naked scaffolds here. Do apples do that in hot summer climates?

Olpea; yes, it is certain death, usually the demise of old trees. A storm or bear opens up the canopy, exposing formerly shaded branches to the sun. The top of the branch gets sunburned, allowing borers then termites to infest it. The tree declines after that.

Exposed branches need to be painted white for them to survive.

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Here it all depends. Sunburn is not so much about exposed bark, it seems, as about excessive removal of buds that pull sap in early spring when the burn seems to occur. Not enough sap being pulled through by evaporation through a trees first leaves and the cambium overheats where it is exposed to strong sun.

A sunburned bark is far from a death sentence here, however, and many of our ancient trees have huge scaffolds with no bark on the sunny side from sun burn several decades ago. Such branches are more prone to breakage, however.

Where I lived in CA there were no extremely old apple trees to study, but the old timers here also talk about painting the bark to prevent sunburn. I have learned to avoid it by judicious but still aggressive pruning and I have no fear of exposed bark. But we have humidity to go with our heat (when we have hot summers) and our sun is not so strong as in CA.

I never read in the trades about fear of sunburned wood- just sunburned apples in the west and they use more or less the same pruning schemes as are used in the east. Maybe their trees cast adequate shade by mid-spring to protect them.

The pictures above are trees at a U-pick farm in the Finger Lakes region NY (zone 6). If I understand correctly, these trees were planted in the 1940’s. They are classic NY grown varieties in that time frame, such as Macintosh, Cortland, Empire, Macoun, N. Spy, Yellow and Red Delicious. Unfortunately, all I could find was seasonal help that didn’t know much about the tree details. The place was packed so I didn’t push inquiry too much.

Where do the named rootstocks come from? I assume they are seedlings that were the result of a controlled cross much like what I assume they do when developing a new Apple for its fruit.