I've been reading a bit about this and there is a fairly strong suggestion that most commercially produced trees don't have tap roots because of how they are cultivated. I want to establish half a dozen large fruit trees in a semi-wild area (currently a crazy mix of self-seeded willow, thistles, grasses) but will definitely not be able to irrigate or otherwise nurture these trees (they are too far from the main garden area).
Rather than buy commercially produced trees on known root stocks I was thinking about growing from seed, then grafting preferred scion wood once the roots are established in place. Am I right in thinking that this is more likely to produce a deeply rooted tree capable of reaching deeper water? I could probably do a mini-hugel in the planting hole, chucking in some rotten wood and bark. I can wood chip mulch around the area to suppress weeds and give them a fighting chance.
My method would be something like:
Collect a whole bunch of apple seeds
Germinate them in the fridge (plastic bag + damp paper towel)
Plant out the germinated seeds (say 3 per hole in case some don't take)
Graft with scion wood in the first winter and thin to one tree per hole.
Allow to grow on to full standard size with minimal pruning (we need to occasionally get vehicles through so the canopy will need to be lifted)
I may throw in a few other species - perhaps a couple of plums and a mulberry or two?
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Not helpful but I have been amazed by tap roots lately. I was hired to weed some long neglected beds and besides crabgrass, a few chestnuts and maples had started to grow. With only six inches or so above ground there would be an eight to ten inch tap root. I can definitely see the benefits of growing trees from seed now, just requires a bit more patience.
I've been contemplating something similar and your plan looks almost like mine. i plan on starting with three sprouts per spot, with a smaller spacing than I intend to have finally, and making sure to evenly distribute the seed from each type of apple collected, i.e. seed from apple 1, seed from apple 2, apple 3, apple 4, apple 1, apple 2, and so on. At the end of the first growing season I'll thin to the healthiest plant per spot. I'll then wait at least till the second fall, if not the third, and decide which apple type produced the healthiest plants, remove all the others and then graft that winter.
Remember one of the main reasons to graft is so that you can get the healthiest roots while still getting the variety you want, not all seeds will be suitable for root stock and to me it seems like one year of growth isn't going to give you enough of a chance to see which are the most vital and disease free. But admittedly I'm just starting to learn about growing fruit trees so I could be totally wrong on any part of this.
My experiment with growing apples in the garden is ending in a lot of dead trees. Something is coming in at night, I think, and uprooting them, others are being swamped out by grass/weeds (I do chop and drop), but the ones that are most likely to die are the ones NOT hidden in a protective cover of weeds.
IMHO if you want trees, plant a lot more than 3 seeds per hole, or maybe plant them in a row that you've previously cleared a bit to give them a chance. I have read to grow chestnuts you plant 2-3 seeds in place then protect them with a metal can that has both ends cut out. By the time the trunk is big enough to be crowded by the can it will have rusted away (unless it's a soda can then it's best to cut one side before using it).
From my reading by people who have actually tried apples grown from seed, they're often pretty good, so it may be worthwhile to graft some but leave some of the tree to grow as well, in case you actually get better apples from the seed! I wonder if the whole thing that you can't grow apples from seed is a myth perpetuated by the professional nurseries who sell the trees for $30 each!
Not only do they have deeper roots, but apples grown from seed and not grafted nor pruned have higher brix and according to some research, much higher nutrition! It makes sense - the shallow roots cannot draw up nutrients from the depth that the deeper roots can, and trimming makes scar tissue, wounds, etc. that can inhibit the flow of sap.
If you want your seeds pre-sprouted, look for "Pink Lady" apples in the spring - they often have seeds already sprouting inside of them!
I have been saving seeds from all of the fruit I buy. I try to buy as many different verieties as I can find. Each month I take them out and broadcast seed them in my forest and meadows. Not sure if any of them will come up. We will see in a few years.
I wish I knew where this misconception about taproots came from. Trees (99% of them, excluding oaks and pines) do not have what most think of as a tap root that will stretch many feet under the soil reaching groundwater. Yes, seedlings punch down a 12" root which will seem dramatic in proportion to the aboveground growth, but it does not continue. This is a survival mechanism for seedlings to get a deeper root system than most weeds so they can compete and survive in their first few years.
If you have even looked at a tree blown over in a storm you can see there isn't normally a taproot, just roots spread out laterally. Most trees roots are in the upper 2-3' of soil (including the 'taproot', extending out well past the drip line. Here's some info from the University of Florida extension service: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg089.
I'm not sure what your climate is like in England (I hesitate to say my knowledge is the stereotype that it is always raining, maybe that's just London?), but in Pennsylvania where I live orchards are normally not irrigated in any fashion after establishment, so using seedling rootstocks for better access to soil moisture isn't going to be any better than a purchased rootstock unless you are in a dryland, and even then I'm not sure. I guess that the advantage to using seedling rootstocks (since it will be a semi wild area) is the dwarfing factor shouldn't be too strong, but will exist as grafting naturally dwarfs to some degree.
If money isn't too much an issue, I'd look into getting rootstocks that impart disease resistance over starting your own from seed. Starting from seed will also put you 5-7 years from fruit instead of 2-5 years from a purchased rootstock.
On a semi-related note, the reason it's not recommended to start fruit trees (especially apples) from seed is that you can plant 100 seeds and maybe get 1 variety that is good, 5 that are mediocre at best, and 94 that are basically crabapples. Modern fruit breeding gears itself towards mechanization and shippable fruit, but the basic fact that there are many, many duds before a good variety remains true.
Kelby Taylor wrote:I wish I knew where this misconception about taproots came from. Trees (99% of them, excluding oaks and pines) do not have what most think of as a tap root that will stretch many feet under the soil reaching groundwater. Yes, seedlings punch down a 12" root which will seem dramatic in proportion to the aboveground growth, but it does not continue. This is a survival mechanism for seedlings to get a deeper root system than most weeds so they can compete and survive in their first few years.
I've found it interesting that Jujube trees grown on Indian rootstock from suckers seem to (re)grow a huge taproot. I've cut these roots again while in pots only to have them regrow into the hard ground. Talk about a survivor.