Overwintering apple tree seedling/sapling


Hello all,

I’ve tried doing google searches for an answer to my question but have found highly different responses so thought I would ask my question here given the folks responding here are in my area. I live in Toronto and have just started to grow an apple tree from seed. I already know that apple trees don’t grow true from seed but out of four that I planted this one survived and is thriving so I have to see if I can keep this wee one going. :-) Who knows… maybe I’ll get the next big thing in apples. LOL

So my question is… how do I overwinter this seedling? Currently it’s about 6.5cm (2.5″) and I’m assuming by fall might be at least 15cm (1/2′) or more if it keeps growing at its current rate. The conflicting results I read were 1. Let it go dormant (keep it outside to allow this) then bring it indoors and keep it cool so it doesn’t break dormancy and 2. Bring it indoors and keep it growing and that dormancy is only needed to get fruiting to happen which of course this seedling is too young to do regardless.

Should I do either of these or should I plant it come fall? I am a bit concerned it might not survive especially if we get a winter like we did last year.

I came across this response here: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/askagardener/apple-tree-seedlings/ but again this talks about setting buds and the chilling requirement which I don’t think is applicable to a first year seedling but correct me if I’m wrong.

I would like to be as sure as possible that I’m doing the right thing. This seed actually germinated in my fridge over this past winter so I’d hate to lose it this coming winter by not doing the best thing possible for it. :-)

Thanks for any advice possible.



What a lovely project!  As you know that apple trees do not produce apples that are true from seed I won’t repeat those cautions.  I assume that you just want to see if you can actually grow an apple tree.

I agree with the response to the earlier post to Toronto Master Gardeners and suggest that you do not try bringing your seedling inside for the winter.  If you were to do so you would want to keep it in either an unheated garage or a cold cellar.  There is always the risk that it will dry out (or get overwatered) as happens with many woody plants that are brought indoors.  Instead keep it outside.  I suggest that you plant it in a spot where it will be protected from the worst of winter winds.  You could do this either in the pot or directly in the ground.  If the location is not where you ultimately want the apple tree to grow, I suggest burying the pot in the ground, making sure that the soil covers the top of the pot.   You want  creating conditions which will protect the roots, to the extent possible, to ensure that they do not dry out and are protected to the extent possible from the freeze/thaw cycle.  Make sure that you water well before freezeup.  You could mulch the buried container, or the young seedling with sawdust, wood chips or leaves to insulate against freeze/thaw.  Try and make sure that mulch is not right next to the stem of the seedling as otherwise you will have created cozy conditions for any mice, rabbits etc. that might chose to nest under the mulch for the winter and nibble on your seedling.  Your greatest risks in wintering outdoors are the roots drying out, rodents and freezing/thawing.  Taking steps to mitigate against these risk should let your seedling  survive and thrive outdoors throughout the winter..

Should you consider trying to grow your seedling on in a pot, here is a link to a very informative article from Orchard People who gave a workshop at Evergreen Brickworks on how to overwintering fruit trees https://orchardpeople.com/preparing-your-potted-fruit-tree-for-winter/

Good luck with your seedling.