Do Fruit Tree Seeds Need A Chilling Period Before Germination?

Planting fruit trees from seeds can be a challenging process. For one, harvesting seeds from existing fruit trees could result in fruit that contains a combination of DNA as a result of pollination. Then, you also have to consider the climate before deciding to plant a fruit tree in your backyard or even to plan and plant an orchard. Finally, you may need to introduce a chilling period for the seeds before germination can occur; this depends on the type of tree you want to plant. Different seeds have different rules regarding the chilling period, also called stratification.

Some of the most popular fruits do require a chilling period. These fruits hail from a northern climate where they'd naturally go dormant during winter. A chilling period will help replicate this dormancy. Such species include apple, pear, peach, and cherry. The dormancy allows the seed to develop its embryo so it can germinate when the temperatures warm during the following growing season.

How to provide a chilling period for a fruit tree seed

You can use a few different methods to replicate a fruit seed's chilling period. Perhaps the easiest cold stratification method is to store the seeds in your fridge. To do so, remove the seeds from your fruit (or from a seed packet) and clean them of any remaining flesh with water. Then, spread the seeds out individually on a moist paper towel. Wrap the seeds inside the paper towel and place them in a bag or container. Store the seeds in your refrigerator (for consistent temperature during the chilling period). Leave the seeds undisturbed for at least three months and hope for germination by spring.

If you miss autumn stratification, you can speed up the chilling process for your fruit seeds, starting as late as mid-January. Instead of the dry method, mix the fruit seeds with damp peat moss, sand, or shredded paper towels and then place them in the refrigerator for at least 60 days. You then can plant them in moist soil.

Alternatively, you also can chill fruit tree seeds inside the soil of your garden. During autumn, prepare the soil where you want to plant the seeds. Dig a shallow furrow and cover the fruit seed with about 1 inch of soil. Then, add 1 to 2 inches of sand over the planting to prevent the soil from forming a crust when the ground freezes. Finally, place a wire screen over the area of the planting, burying it at the edges, to prevent animals from digging up the seeds. When you see a sprout in the spring, remove the screen.