Growing Your Own Fruit Trees From Seed

One of the interesting things we do here at the farm is grow fruit trees from scratch, as well as teaching other people how to do it, which is lots of fun.

Pear seed ready to be planted to grow rootstock trees
Pear seed ready to be planted to grow rootstock tree

Some trees are grown from cuttings (e.g., plums) and some are grown from seed. We usually grow our own peach, plum, pear and quince rootstocks this way.

These days we look after the Growing Abundance juice press (which in turn is on long-term loan from the generous folk at The Little Red Apple in Harcourt), which means that Ant can use it to juice his apple and pear seconds at the end of the season.

Ant pressing apples for juice
Ant pressing apples for juice

It’s a great press, and being able to juice fruit from apples grown here on the farm (in those years when there’s a good enough apple harvest) yields enough delicious organic apple juice to share around, as well as plenty for Ant to turn into cider.

Lots of lovely apple juice
Lots of lovely apple juice

But it also means we can easily save the seed to grow organic apple rootstocks. We’ve grown all the apple trees we’ve planted here on the farm that way, a tradition which is now being continued by Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery.

Regardless of whether you’re growing trees from cutting or seed, they don’t grow “true to type”. They grow trees called rootstocks, which are used as a base to graft known fruit varieties onto.

Apple pulp full of seeds
Apple pulp full of seeds

Growing your own trees is a year-round process, with different small jobs to do at different times of year – just like all gardening really! We provide a full grafting calendar in our Grow Your Own Fruit Trees for Free course.

This is the right time of year to be:

  • Gathering scion wood from varieties you want to use for grafting in spring, and storing it correctly to keep it in good condition.
  • Gathering plum cuttings and storing them in damp sand over winter.
  • Gathering seed from apples and pears, extracting the seeds and storing them in damp sand.
  • If you’re planning a tree nursery, preparing the soil.
A box of sand for storing seed
A box of sand for storing seed

Does it sound complicated? It’s really not.

Grafting is an ancient method of preserving heritage fruit varieties that has been practised for hundreds of years, and continues to be passed from fruitgrower to fruitgrower today.

Newly emerged apple seedling
Newly emerged apple seedling

We think teaching people how to grow their own fruit trees from scratch is one of the most important skills we teach (through our grafting courses) because that’s where true fruit security starts.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree

It’s nitty gritty time! Time to get on the end of a shovel, dig a hole, and plant your fruit tree.

Digging a hole to plant a fruit tree
Digging a hole to plant a fruit tree

We often see fruit trees tied to elaborate staking arrangements, but if you plant them the right way, there’s no need for stakes at all, your tree should be totally self-supporting.

Let’s assume you’ve already chosen the right site for your trees, and have done some earlier soil preparation e.g., planted a green manure crop, dug in some compost or manure, or even deep ripped the site.

If you planted a green manure crop, ideally you will have dug it back into the soil a week or two before you plan to plant your trees. If not, it’s best to just cut and drop the plants on the surface of the ground, rather than dig in the green manure just prior to planting your tree, as the green manure will often decompose quickly in the ground, and can create quite a bit of heat, which is not good for your young tree’s roots. 

Don’t worry if you haven’t done any soil prep at all – it’s best to get the tree in the ground asap, and then work on the soil later.

It’s great if you can dip the tree’s roots in an inoculant of some sort to populate the roots with lots of good microbes (e.g., bacteria and fungi) that will help the tree get its nutrition as it grows.

Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew
Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew

We often use compost tea, or it’s also possible to buy ready-made inoculants, but unfortunately they usually come in industrial quantities.

Next, dig a hole! If you’ve done any soil prep before, the hole only needs to be big enough to accommodate the roots of your tree (and it’s fine to cut the roots back a bit to fit the hole, or to remove any damaged roots). The hole should be deep enough that when the tree is planted it will be at the level it was in the nursery.

A tree in the hole waiting to plant
A tree in the hole waiting to plant

If drainage is an issue, mound the soil up a bit and plant into this, to make sure that any heavy rainfall will be able to drain away from the roots, especially if you’re planting your tree in heavy clay. 

Add any amendments that you’re using, and mix a bit of soil back in.

Now position the tree in the hole so it’s upright, and hold it while you back-fill a few shovels of soil over the roots. Make sure the soil fills the gaps between the roots, and then carefully but firmly tamp the soil down around the roots. Now finish back-filling the hole.

In most situations you don’t need to water the tree in, unless you’re experiencing very dry soil conditions when you plant.

And finally, prune your tree!

A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree
A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree

Planting is a pretty simple process, though there are a few extra things to consider if you haven’t done any prior soil prep, you’re planting into heavy clay or very sandy soil, or are planting into a heavily weeded or pastured area without doing any soil prep, so we do go into quite a bit more detail about tree planting in the Planting Young Fruit Trees short course.

New fruit trees are a great investment in your garden and your future food security, and will be the beginning of a journey of exploration as you get to know your new tree, and learn how it performs in the location, your climate, and of course the level of care you give it!

Happy planting!

How to tell the difference between fruit buds and leaf buds

This week’s pruning tip is about the difference between leaf buds and fruit buds – a very useful thing to know before you start making any cuts, to make sure you don’t accidentally remove all the fruit buds with overzealous pruning.

Terminal fruit bud and leaf buds on an apple lateral
Terminal fruit bud and leaf buds on an apple lateral

Generally speaking, fruit buds are plumper and furrier than leaf buds, which tend to be slim, flat and smooth. Peaches and nectarines are probably the easiest to see – the photo below shows some lovely fat and furry peach fruit buds.

Fat peach fruit buds about to burst into flower
Fat peach fruit buds about to burst into flower

Peaches often have a triple bud, with a skinny leaf bud in the middle flanked by two fruit buds either side, as you can clearly see in the photo below.

A triple peach bud - two flower buds separated by a leaf bud
A triple peach bud – two flower buds separated by a leaf bud

The buds look a bit different on every fruit type, so it can be harder on some trees to tell the difference.

In these photos of pears above and below, the red arrows indicate fruit buds, and the blue arrows are pointing to leaf buds.


So before you start your pruning, have a close look at the buds until you feel confident you can identify the fruit buds, make sure you don’t cut them all off, and if you need extra support download our Pruning Mature Fruit Trees short online course.