The Difference Between Seedling, Grafted and Cutting Grown Fruit Trees

Royal gala apples on tree

Fruit trees naturally reproduce themselves from seeds, but most fruit trees that you buy are not produced that way for very good reasons. There are many ways to propagate fruit trees, and each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Whether you propagate fruit trees yourself or buy them from a garden nursery, all fruit are produced by the following methods – they may be grafted, grown from rooted cuttings, produced by air layering (also referred to as aerial layering or marcotting ) or they may be seedlings grown from seed.


Why not just grow from seed?

The difference between growing plants from seed and propagating plants from cuttings off a parent plant is genetic variation.

The seeds of many fruit produce trees that are different from the parent, because seeds themselves are produced by sexual reproduction – they receive genes from a male and female to form. As they are a cross from two sets of genes, many fruit trees are not “true to seed”, that is, their seeds will produce a different variety of tree from the parent. For the botany purists, yes, there are some exceptions, but this is generally the case.

Propagation methods that use material from the parent trees such as cuttings are a form of vegetative, or asexual reproduction, as genes only come from one parent to produce identical genetic clones.

Let’s  have a look at a real life example to better understand this concept. Imagine we want to produce more apple trees, say Granny Smith apples from an existing tree. Apples are not ‘true to seed’, so the seeds from any particular variety apple will not grow to be the same variety as the apple tree they came from. In our case the Granny Smith apple seeds will produce a wide variety of different and unknown apple tree types.

So what you may say? Well, consider that not all the varieties of apple produced would taste good, some may not be palatable or edible at all! If you’re wanting to produce Granny Smith apples, you’ll have the problem that none of the apple tree seedlings will be Granny Smith apples, but something else instead. You won’t know how productive the tree will be, what shape or size the tree will grow to, what part of the season the tree will fruit, how big the fruit will be, or how the fruit will look or taste. There is the rare chance that the fruit will be as good or better than the parent tree, but the odds are stacked against you!

Why do plants mix and match their genetic material and constantly change? Basically to create genetic diversity and variation, as a mechanism to adapt to different conditions and enhance their chances of survival and reproduction. If every seed produces a tree with different attributes, there’s a much higher probability that one or more trees will survive to grow into a mature trees and continue to produce the next generation in the event of a detrimental environment change.

So, if many fruit trees are not “true to seed” and intentionally produce genetic diversity in their seedlings as a survival strategy, what can we do if we want to preserve the qualities of the parent plant to maintain the size, quality and flavour of the fruit as well as many other desirable characteristics?  The solution is simple. We can use propagation methods which produce genetic clones of the parent tree, which we’ll now discuss.


Grafted trees

The reason why many fruit trees are grafted is because they do not grow true to seed. Only by grafting the scion wood (a cutting of a branch) from the original tree onto another rootstock (the base another tree with roots) can you ensure that you get the same fruit each time.

If we consider Granny Smith apples for example, the scion wood of all grafted trees of this variety, all around the world, everywhere, can be traced back to a single tree in one part of the world! Quite amazing when you think about it. in the case of the Granny Smith apple variety. it all originated from a single seedling that came up by chance from a pile of discarded crab apples in Australia in 1868 and was discovered by Maria Ann Smith, who propagated the cultivar. In each part of the world where a Granny Smith apple is grown, scion wood which is a clone of the parent tree will be grafted onto a various different rootstocks to cope with the local growing conditions.

There are a large number of different grafting techniques that are used in different circumstances and on different trees, the diagram below illustrates how basic cleft grafting (also known as V-grafting) works.

Cleft Graft

Since the scion wood is a basically cutting that has the same genetic maturity as the parent plant, a grafted tree fruits much sooner. So, if a plant takes six years to produce fruit when it’s grown from seed, a grafted tree may only take two to three years to produce fruit. This saves a lot of waiting around and avoids having unproductive trees taking space in a garden for many years.

For example, an avocado grown from seed may take 6 to 10 years or more to fruit, while a grafted tree will produce fruit in 3 to 4 years.

Grafting provides the benefit of attaching different roots to trees to enable them to grow in soils where it normally can’t grow. If you were to plant a tree where it shouldn’t be planted naturally, it will have a shorter life. If you graft a tree using an appropriate rootstock, it will be better able to handle adverse conditions. Specific rootstock can be used to cope better with different soil types and soil conditions, such as heavy or clay soils, or resist particular diseases. The general rule with rootstock is that like is grafted onto like, apples onto apple rootstock, pears onto pear rootstock, and so on.

The technique of grafting can be used to control the size of the tree. Grafting is used to produce everything from fully dwarfed trees to full size trees and everything in between. Semi-dwarf and dwarf trees are produced by grafting onto a less vigorous or weaker rootstock. In the worst cases, such as with the fully dwarfing apple rootstocks, such as the M9 rootstock, the root system is so weak that it can’t hold the apple tree up and it has to be staked up for life. These rootstocks luckily aren’t what’s used when you buy a dwarf apple tree from a retail garden nursery, so there’s no need to be concerned.

Citrus is always grafted to specific rootstock such as flying dragon to create dwarf citrus trees or trifoliata to grow full size trees that will be suitable for specific soils. Trifoliata rootstock does well in heavier clay loams to loamy soils in the cooler climates and is resistant to citrus nematode and some species of the phytophthora (a soil-borne water mould that causes root rot).

It’s important to realize that grafted trees don’t live as long as seed grown trees, but both of these have naturally formed roots, which provide some advantages over cutting grown trees.


Cutting grown trees

Some fruit trees grow great from rooted cuttings and will fruit as soon as they have enough roots to support fruit production. Mediterranean fruit trees such as figs, pomegranates and mulberries, as well as climbers such as grapes and kiwifruit can all be grown from hardwood cuttings to produce genetic clones, no need for seedling grown trees or grafting. When you buy these trees. they are most often grown from cuttings.

Black mulberry

Cuttings grown plants typically have a weaker root system than seedlings or grafted trees, but to keep things in perspective, grafted dwarf trees are intentionally grafted onto weaker root systems, which is what makes them into dwarf trees.

If the type of tree has a deep taproot (and not many fruit trees do), this is something that will only be present in a seedling root (and on a grafted rootstock). Tree cuttings don’t develop tap roots, as this is a structure that forms at the seedling stage.


Air layering trees

Some trees are propagated by inducing branches to form roots while they’re still attached to the tree, and cutting them off after they have sprouted roots!

Lychee air layer on a small potted plant (Photo source: Iacopo Lorenzini (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Cuttings produced by aerial layering (also known as air layering or marcotting) grow and behave exactly the same way as cuttings rooted in the conventional way.

With air layering, a ring of bark is stripped off the branch, but the branch is left on the tree. The exposed wood is covered with a moisture retentive medium such as moist sphagnum moss or coco-peat (coconut coir) and wrapped in plastic to keep the moisture in until roots form. Once the roots are sufficiently developed, the branch is cut, and potted up to grow on and produce a stronger root system.

Air layering is used when propagation using regular cuttings doesn’t work well, and is often used on evergreen trees including many subtropical and tropical trees. This method also works on citrus which is an evergreen tree, but citrus are better propagated using bud grafting or shield grafting methods, which are different to the cleft or V graft mentioned earlier.


Seedling grown trees

As we’ve already mentioned there are certain advantages and disadvantages to seedling grown trees.

If a fruit tree is not true to seed, the seedlings will be different from the parent, and they will often take many years longer to fruit, in some cases, well over ten years. That can be disappointing if you wait that long only to find that the fruit tastes nothing like the parent tree’s fruit!

One major use for seedling trees is as grafting rootstock, as they have a strong root system which make them ideal for grafting known varieties onto.

Seedlings grown trees will live longer than grafted trees or cutting grown trees, they are more vigorous and grow slightly larger. They’re also a lot stronger and more hardy, and more likely survive frosts. If a grafted tree is hit hard by frost, the graft will usually die off, but the rootstock will survive. With a seedling grown tree, if the rootstock survives a hard frost it will usually reshoot from the ground.

Apples and pears are never true to seed but tamarillos can be grown from seed.

Apricots, peaches and nectarines grow fairly true to seed, some say plums do too. They wont be exact but often quite close. A good cheap option though if you’re guerrilla gardening around the suburbs in vacant public spaces!

Gardeners often ask whether they can grow citrus from seed, or avocado. The answer is both yes and no, as these require a bit of an explanation…


Can citrus trees be grown from seed?

Most citrus are true to seed because they are in fact polyembryonic, the seeds contain more than one plant embryo, one only embryo is the product of fertilization (sexual reproduction) and the rest are genetic clones of the parent tree. When these seeds are grown they produce multiple shoots, the fertilised one is usually the weakest and is removed.

The following citrus are monoembryonic and do not grow true to seed – Clementine Mandarin, Meyer Lemon, Nagami Kumquat, Marumi Kumquat, Pummelo, Temple Tangor, and Trifoliate orange (also known as Citrus trifoliata, Poncirus trifoliata, Japanese bitter-orange, or Chinese bitter orange).


Can avocado trees be grown from seed?

Avocado seeds may be polyembryonic, but they might not be. It depends on the variety. It can get confusing identifying which is which, because the monoembryonic seedlings (which are not like the parent tree) can produce multiple shoots which can be mistaken for multiple embryos but are a completely different think.

Mangoes such as the Bowen (Kensington Pride) variety is polyembryonic and will grow true to seed, so this may be a better choice



Hopefully, with this understanding of the differences between seedling, grafted and cutting grown fruit trees, you won’t be waiting years to find your seed-grown fruit tastes awful, you’ll know what to grow from seed or cutting, and you might even feel enticed to give air layering or grafting a go!

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Book Review – Pruning for Flowers and Fruit (CSIRO PUBLISHING Gardening Guides) by Jane Varkulevicius

Pruning for Flowers and Fruit (CSIRO PUBLISHING Gardening Guides)

(You can click the image or link above to view product details or purchase this book from Amazon and support Deep Green Permaculture!)


Pruning for Flowers and Fruit (CSIRO PUBLISHING Gardening Guides) by Jane Varkulevicius is a very comprehensive book that every fruit grower should own, I know I’m getting straight to the point here, so I’ll explain. I’ve been teaching fruit tree summer pruning and winter pruning classes for a several years now, and this book is my best reference on the subject that I personally use, and recommend to my students.

This book is packed with lots of useful information in its two hundred plus pages. If you want to understand how plants grow and how pruning works from first principles, rather than having to memorize a long list of gardening rules, then this is the book. Conversely, if you just want to look up your particular fruit tree and figure out what age the wood has to be to fruit, where it will fruit and what to prune, well that’s how this book is written. There’s enough theory to give you a solid grounding and plenty of practical information, just the right balance for a book on this subject.

I like the fact that it conveys all the information you need to prune your favourite fruit tree in an easy to read layout, which saves you having to sift through unnecessary information in order to complete the task at hand.  It’s a very practical quick reference too, it’s easy to refer to this book while standing in front of the tree with the secateurs, loppers or pruning saw in one hand and this book in the other, figuring out what to cut.

It’s not just about fruit trees either, this book also covers the pruning of ornamental plants and  fruiting shrubs in details, and there’s a shorter but still adequate section at the end on pruning the various types of berries.

If I had to pick only one fruit tree pruning book as a reference, this would be it. Why? Have a look at what the contents section covers. Be warned, it’s a huge list!


Acknowledgements ix
Introduction xi
Why prune? xi

1 How plants grow 1
Cambium – the uniting force 1
Hormones and meristems (points of growth) 2
Buds – apical and otherwise 3
How plants make their own food 5
Your site and plant selection 7

2 Plant quality, propagation and performance 15
Choosing the right plant at the nursery 15
Propagation and landscape use 21
Staking plants 24
When to prune 26

3 Techniques and tools 29
So what is the kindest cut? 29
Rubbing off 30
Pinching out, tip pruning 32
How to cut 33
Root pruning 44
Suckers and how to deal with them 46

4 Ornamental plants 49
Trees, shrubs, variegated plants, herbaceous
perennials, grasses and tufty plants 49
Roses 67
Hydrangeas 78
Pollarding and coppicing 82
Hedges 85
Planting a hedge 86
Formal hedges 90
Informal hedges 93
Pleaching 96
Topiary 98
Renovating older trees and shrubs 102
Climbing plants – ornamental and edible 108
Pruning weather-damaged plants 121

5 Fruit trees 125
Selecting fruit trees 125
Free-standing fruit trees 126
Espalier – trees in small spaces 131
Renovating fruit trees 137

6 Deciduous fruit trees 143
Apples Malus spp. 143
Apricots Prunus armenica 147
Cherries Prunus avium, P. cerasum 150
Chestnuts Castanea sativa 153
Figs Ficus carica 153
Hazelnuts Corylus avellana 155
Medlar Mespilus germanica 157
Mulberry Morus nigra, M. rubra, M. alba,
M. macroura 157
Dwarf mulberries 158
Nectarines, peaches, peacharines and almonds
Prunus persica var. nectarine, P. persica, P. dulcis 158
Pears Pyrus spp. 160
Persimmon Diospyros kaki 162
Pistachio Pistacia vera 163
Plums Prunus domestica, P. salicina 163
Pomegranate Punica granatum 165
Quince Cydonia oblonga 166
Walnuts Juglans regia 167

7 Evergreen fruit trees 169
Avocado Persea americana 169
Carob Ceratonia siliqua 170
Loquat Eriobotrya japonica 171
Macadamia Macadamia integrifolia, M. tetraphylla 172
Olive Olea europa 173
White sapote Casimiroa edulis 175

8 Citrus 177
Citrus fruit Citrus spp., Fortunella spp. 177

9 Fruiting shrubs 181
Pineapple guava Feijoa sellowiana syn.
Acca sellowiana 181
Cherry guava Psidium littorale var. longipes 182
Tamarillo, tree tomato Cyphomandra betacea 182
Pepino Solanum muricatum 183

10 Berry fruit 185
Blueberry Vaccinium spp. 186
Currants Ribes spp. 187
Red and white currants Ribes sativa, R. rubrum 188
Black currants Ribes nigrum 189
Gooseberry Ribes spp. 190
Strawberries Fragaria × ananassa 190

11 Cane berries 193
Raspberries Rubus idaeus, R. idaeus var. strigosus 193
Bramble berries Rubus spp. and hybrids 196

Glossary 199
References 201
Index 202


As you can see, most of the edibles that require pruning which grow in a temperate climates are included in this book. For the backyard orchardist, this book is the definitive reference.

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and this book makes excellent use of colour illustrations, diagrams and pictures to get the message across clearly and quickly. as you would expect in a well written instructional book on a practical subject such as pruning.

For those not aware of the publisher, CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. This is a book with serious technical credentials. Yes, it is a book written in Australia, but it’s extremely well written so that it never refers to months of the year, but to actual seasons, making it useful to gardeners in both the northern and southern hemisphere. I actually searched for the names of every calendar month in the eBook version and none could be found. More gardening books should be written this way to make them more universal. I love a well written practical reference text, and this one fits well into that category.


Deep Green rating for “Pruning for Flowers and Fruit (CSIRO PUBLISHING Gardening Guides)” by Jane Varkulevicius” is 5 stars!


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Book Review – All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space by Mel Bartholomew

 All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space

(You can click the image or link above to view product details or purchase this book from Amazon and support Deep Green Permaculture!)


All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space by Mel Bartholomew is a best seller that has sold over 2 million copies for a very  good reason – it’s a book that revolutionizes intensive produce gardening. The Square Foot Gardening method developed by Mel Bartholomew is possibly one of the most efficient, logical and easily understood gardening systems ever devised. It will provide very high yields for a given space, but more importantly, the right amount of produce that you actually need (and can use)!

How amazing is this new way to garden? If you’ve ever wondered what intensive vegetable gardening would look like if you went back to the drawing board, took out all the dogma, superfluous information, and inappropriate practises carried over from commercial agriculture, and redesigned it from scratch as a scalable system that was optimised for home gardeners, which made complete logical sense where everything that was done was done for a good reason, then you would arrive at Square Foot Gardening.

Mel is an innovative gardener who brings his engineering background to the gardening world to do what engineers do best, solve real world problems! He reasons that when you go to the supermarket or greengrocer to purchase a cabbage for instance, you don’t buy a dozen cabbages all at once, yet that’s how most gardeners grow them. Fine if your goal is mass production on a farm, but a very inefficient use of space in a home garden where space is often limited. What Square Foot Gardening does is let you grow the right amount of produce so that what you produce and harvest fairly closely matches what you need (and would purchase) week by week. That’s not all though, this system is designed to save the gardener a lot of time and money.

This system brings a new level of efficiency to home gardening never seen before in optimizing space for vegetable gardening. If you have a small space available to garden, use raised garden beds or self watering ‘wicking beds’ where every square inch of garden counts, or even if you have lots of space but want a more structured and efficient way to garden, then Square Foot Gardening is definitely worth looking into. It basically boils down to this – more produce with less waste, with less work and effort all from a small space. Over time, Mel has incorporated lots of organic gardening techniques into his system as well as vertical gardening. It just keeps getting better. This system will work well for organic gardeners as has a lot to offer. Another ‘plus factor’ is that this system of gardening is useful not just in the US where the writer heralds from, but internationally. It’s a very universal system that works almost anywhere.

Mel Bartholomew really has started a gardening revolution, this system has so much to offer for urban gardeners and this latest edition of his book is highly recommended, in fact I can’t recommend it enough!


Deep Green rating for “All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space” by Mel Bartholomew is 5 stars!


If you are interested in submitting a product for review, please contact us via email at , thanks!

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Permaculture, Politics and Solutions Thinking

Businessman stand with green tree instead his head

Here’s an article I wrote for Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) – “Permaculture, Politics and Solutions Thinking”, which discusses the concept of permaculture solutions thinking, the positive aspect of permaculture’s own political roots which encourage cooperation, and how divisive political thought is detrimental to objective solutions thinking. It’s quite a thought provoking piece which is backed by some interesting research!

Read my article on PRI’s website here – Permaculture, Politics and Solutions Thinking

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A Little Green Goes a Long Way: Plants Perfect for Your Office

Here is a guest article written by Eugene Feygin and provided by!

While your office may not be your sanctuary, a few simple changes can positively affect the way you feel and work. For starters, you can add a little life to your workspace with plants. Office plants not only make a space more aesthetically pleasing, but can also reduce stress, deter illness, remove air pollutants, and improve concentration, memory, and productivity. Thankfully, not all plants require a lot of maintenance. Some plants can also help create natural separation between desks, lounge areas, and meeting spaces. From snake and spider plants to philodendrons and palms, we’ve got the low down on the best plants for your office.


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How to Recognise Praying Mantis Eggs

female praying mantis
A heavily pregnant praying mantis! (photo credit:

Praying mantises are a beneficial predator in your garden, they eat other insects and keep the pest insect population down. It’s important to be able to recognise their eggs so that you don’t accidentally damage them, that way you’ll be rewarded with a garden full of little praying mantis nymphs in spring when they all hatch!

It’s common for them to lay eggs around the garden, and you’ve probably seen them but not recognised them. They’re not actually eggs bur egg cases, called  ootheca, which contain many eggs inside, from 10 to 400, depending on the species.                 

Here are some photos I’ve taken in my garden. Be aware that they do vary somewhat in appearance from species to species.

This is a picture of a praying mantis egg case on a tomato stake, with my fingers next to it to give an indication of size.

praying mantis egg case on a tomato stake


Here’s a closer look. If you find them on your garden stakes or other garden objects after cleaning up your garden, leave the wooden stakes somewhere near plants so when the tiny praying mantises hatch they can quickly find cover from predators and sources of small insects for food.

praying mantis egg case on a tomato stake


Having a densely packed garden, they’re everywhere, here’s a praying mantis egg case on the mortar join of the brickwork on the house wall.

praying mantis egg case on brick wall


Praying mantises also glue their egg cases on painted timber surfaces, here’s the eaves of the garage roof.

praying mantis egg case on wall


I’ve even found praying mantis egg cases attached to steel star pickets (Y-cross section steel  posts) that I use to string wire between to support vines and berries.

praying mantis egg case on steel post


This one is rather odd shaped.

praying mantis egg case on steel post


When the female praying mantis first lays the ootheca (egg case). it’s a soft, frothy structure, which hardens after a few days to create a protective enclosure which will protect the eggs through winter. The baby (nymph) praying mantises will hatch in spring and grow over summer into adults.

Ensuring that these little egg cases are not damaged will guarantee a new  generation of praying mantises, which will contribute to the natural pest control systems in your garden .

Oh, and one more thing, the baby praying mantises  are really cute, they are just super-scaled-down versions of the adults, and they behave in exactly the same way, they’re literally born hunters, hunting tiny insects, doing what praying mantises do best.

Here’s a baby praying mantis! (photo credit:


Happy pest-free gardening!

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Grafting Eggplant onto Devil Plant

Giant devil fig - Solanum chrysotrichum for eggplant grafting

Would you like to grow an eggplant tree, yes you heard right, a tree, that can produce dozens of eggplants, and not die down in winter?

Well, you can if you graft eggplants (or tomatoes) onto a perennial Devil Plant rootstock. In this article (which is probably one of the most comprehensive articles on the internet on the subject of grafting devil plants) we’ll explain how this is done.

Devil plants are used as a rootstock to graft onto because the plants are very vigorous, with a stronger root system, allowing the plant to support more fruit and tolerate diseases that affect the root system of eggplants and tomatoes. In a warm climate or in a greenhouse (or appropriate cover) in colder climates, the plants will produce eggplants year after year.

I’ve just completed a major update on one of Deep Green Permaculture’s most popular older articles, read the full revised article here on eggplant grafting


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