How do I care for potted apple seedling during the upcoming winter?


I have a 3-4 month old, 5-6 inch tall, apple seedling that I started growing from an apple I ate, and am worried on what to do with this little guy during the upcoming winter. I live in a 5b growing zone if that helps.

Here are the options I’m thinking about:

  1. Should I plant it in the dirt outside and let it do it’s best to survive?
  2. Store it in a garage that isn’t as hot as inside my house, but not as cold as it would be outside. The garage doesn’t have any light however. But if it loses it’s leaves for the winter, it probably doesn’t need light.
  3. Bring it inside my house and keep near a sunny window. This may be too warm for it and not put it into a dormant state.
  4. Make a small DIY greenhouse around it outside and try and insulate the pot as much as possible with bubble wrap.

I’ve read that apple trees need to go into a dormant state during the winter, so I’m thinking it needs to be cold so it can lose it’s leaves, but not too cold that the roots freeze.

Do I still water it during the winter like I have been during the summer?

This is the first apple tree that I’ve taken cared of, and I don’t know much about how to make them happy. Any other tips would be greatly appreciated! Teach me how to raise this.

Then just for fun, here’s some pictures of it over the past few months.




  • Comments (9)

    • 4

      Most apples are sold bareroot and planted in the late fall or early spring, while the plant is mostly dormant.   Looks like that seedling has spent its whole life in that pot, so I’d assume it has a nice root structure.  If it were me, I’d keep watering it and let it go dormant.  Then, before the worst of winter hits, I’d plant it outside and mulch heavily around it.  Plant on a good day and don’t let the roots freeze or dry out.  Shouldn’t be an issue with just one plant but if you were doing dozens, you have to protect the roots of those yet to be planted.  By leaving it outside while the temps gradually drop, you will harden off the plant & let is slowly adjust to winter.

      If you want to wait till spring to plant, I wouldn’t bring the pot inside, as it is too warm.  If you leave it outside in your climate, I’d think the roots would freeze.  There is not enough thermal mass to protect them.  Maybe leave in the garage & only bring inside on bitter cold days.  Don’t let the soil get too dry.  In my climate, I prefer planting in the fall.

      Plants transplant much better while dormant and there is little or no shock to the plant.  Also, a plant that is dormant in the fall, winter, spring is not actually completely dormant.  The roots will still uptake nutrients during this time & store those nutrients.  Come spring, when the plant leafs out again and maybe blooms, it uses this stored nutrients.  That is why in spring, you will see a plant put on a whole bunch of growth immediately, and then pause for a bit.

      You have raised a beautiful baby!

      • 1

        Thank you Redneck for your answer and advice. 

        If I left it outside on my patio until it starts getting close to freezing temperatures, will the leaves fall off? If so, I don’t have to worry about light and can then bring it into the garage.

      • 4

        Yes, I would certainly think the leaves would fall before freezing temps hit.  But if you had an extreme day or so, just bring it in to the garage until that passes.  Once the leaves fall, you don’t have to worry about sunlight but don’t want it to dry out too much.

        It is easier if you can plant it in the ground in the fall.  Less to worry about.  I’d check in your area to see if that is possible.  One way to check would be to check with online fruit tree vendors and see if they would ship bare root trees to you in the fall, or wait until spring.  If you see they would ship in the fall, then I’d plant it.  Apples are tough and do well in cold temps.

      • 2

        Thanks! Sounds like I have a good plan now on what to do. 

        Do you mind me asking a few more questions? You seem to know a lot about apples. In another post you mentioned how even though I planted an Opel Apple seed, it will probably produce something different. Will that be a distinguishable breed like a red delicious, gala, or fuji? Or will it just be some weird mixed apple probably? 

        If it survives, I’ll just use it for the base and then get some grafts that I can put on it. Maybe make it grow two or three different kinds of apples! There sure will be a lot to research though before I get to that point.

        When researching care tips online or if I go to a nursery should I look up tips specifically for an Opel Apple, or are most apple tree care tips about the same?

      • 3

        I have planted over 200 fruit trees, mostly apples, so yes, I have a little experience.

        Odds are, your seedling will produce inedible crabapples… but you never know.  In the old days, before selective breeding by universities, people planted apple seeds all the time, and didn’t worry if they would produce edible fruit.  Back then, most apple production was used in making cider.  A lot of the water was not real safe to drink, so every family drank lots of cider.  Some of the best apple cider comes from crabapples.

        So all these seed were being planted and of course the wild apples were also spreading their seeds.  And every so often, very rarely, a superior tasting apple would appear.  Once they found an apple that had good characteristics & tasted good, they would use that tree to graft onto other seedlings.  The only way for an apple variety to continue is by asexual grafting.

        Think of these named apples that you love to eat, especially the older varieties that occurred naturally, as the Michael Jordan or the Micky Mantle of apples.  Most kids are just average kids but very rarely, an Albert Einstein shows up.  Apples are the same, except with apples, we can take cutting from that Einstein apple & propagate him.

        I have grafted several trees before and I have the best success with branches/trunks under an inch wide.  I find the cleft graft the easiest to perform & works almost all the time.  When you graft a tree, it is a good idea to leave a lower branch alone, called a nurse branch, and graft above it.  The nurse branch will leaf out in the spring and provide food for the plant while the grafts take hold.  Once the grafts have taken nicely & produced plenty of growth, you can remove the nurse branch or graft it the next spring.

        Apple care tips will be the same for all apples.  Believe me, your seedling is not an Opel, no more than your kids are identical to you.  With sexual reproduction, male/female parents, you get a mix of genetic material.  The possibilities are almost endless.  The one possibility that is impossible is for an Opel apple to produce an Opel seedling.

    • 3


      Thanks for your advice on what to do during winter. We aren’t going to be reaching freezing temperatures during the night for some time but I wanted to prepare and have a little greenhouse made that I can put it in as it starts getting cooler. Once it loses it’s leaves, I’ll put it in the garage, but until then if we have a cold night hopefully this will help it maintain it’s temperature.

      I wanted to do this all for free so I just used some garbage that I had around the house. The first thing I made is a little root warmer out of an Amazon mailer.



      Hopefully this will keep the warmth of the soil from dissipating as quickly. I also placed about a half inch of mulch of dried grass on top of the soil (not pictured).

      For the DIY greenhouse, I found a cardboard box about the size that I wanted and cut out some panels for light and lined it with some clear plastic. The little roof is made of clear plastic as well and has a 2″ overhang on all sides so that it will provide a bit of minimal rain or snow protection. The front panel opens so that I can reach in and care for the apple tree.



      I’ll keep an eye on the weather and if it is planning on raining or snowing hard, then I have a giant clear trash bag that I will place over the entire thing.

      Hopefully this will at least keep snow and wind off of the tree and it won’t reach below 32 degrees and hurt the tree. 

      • 2

        I wouldn’t do any of that as long as the lows are above freezing.  Otherwise, you will delay its journey into dormancy.  A simple way to protect the roots when it does get below freezing is to simply bury the pot in some loose soil.  Keep in mind, apples in the ground are good at surviving.

      • 2

        I agree with you and do not want to delay it’s journey into dormancy. I am going to only bundle it up during the night when the lows are below freezing, and only until it does go into dormancy. During the days and when the lows are above freezing though, I am keeping it out bare potted.

    • 2

      Adorable baby tree Olly! 🌳😍 

      I know apple trees like lots of sun, so keep it out as much as you can.