Ever wonder why you can’t just pull out the seeds from an apple at the store and grow your own tree? Well, you can, but the tree will never replicate the apple you removed the seed from! Here’s why…
Most apple trees are not self-fertile; they need another apple variety to pollinate the blossoms and produce fruit. So if you had a Honeycrisp™ apple tree, you would need something like a Golden Delicious variety to cross-pollinate it. From one tree to the other, the male flower pollinates the female flower (usually helped by bees, insects, wind, etc.). This is called sexual reproduction. And should a tree be self-pollinating, it’s still receptive of other pollen and has tree-family history.
The fruit of the Honeycrisp™ tree will be actual Honeycrisp™ apples, but the seeds carry the traits of the other parent tree (in this case, Golden Delicious), plus the genetic history of all past generations in its family tree. If you were to plant a Honeycrisp™ seed, the resulting apple tree could display dominant or recessive characteristics from this lineage. It will not be a true Honeycrisp™ apple tree, and it won’t bear true-to-name Honeycrisp™ apples. In fact, it might not even produce fruit worth eating!
For this reason, seed-grown trees (seedlings) are unreliable to be true-to-name. Even when deliberate crosses are made by plant breeders, the results never come out exactly the same. Breeders select plants to cross-pollinate that show the most promising characteristics for new varieties. It is said that Luther Burbank made 700 deliberate crosses of Orange Quince and Portugal Quince just to produce the selection Van Deman Quince!
Then we have grafted fruit trees. Grafting involves taking a scion or bud chip from the desired parent tree (say, a true-to-name Honeycrisp™) and literally placing it onto another tree or a chosen rootstock. The grafting piece (scion) and the rootstock are calloused (or knitted) together. All suckers are removed from the rootstock, and the Honeycrisp™ scion is allowed to grow, thus maintaining its true identity. This process is called asexual (apart from sex) reproduction. Since only one parent is involved in this process, the grafted tree will be true-to-name. And a true-to-name tree bears true-to-name fruit!
Most rootstocks are grown from cuttings, which makes them also true-to-name. The rootstock determines the final, mature size of the tree. We can graft a true-to-name apple to different rootstocks and can end up with 5 or 6 different mature tree sizes. (This is where dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard sizes come in.)
Most Stark Bro’s trees are either propagated through grafting by splicing the scion and rootstock together, or budded by placing a single vegetative bud onto the side of the rootstock and wrapping it with cellophane tape. The results of grafting and budding are the same.
So what’s the practical difference between a grafted and seed-produced tree?
In short, you really don’t know what the outcome will be.
A grafted tree is consistent, with a reliable history of characteristics. It has a track record!
Because of these differences, I will always recommend you plant trees that were propagated through grafting or budding methods. It’s worth the investment to know exactly what you’re getting!