When looking through a seed, you would often see the term hybrid (F1) or open-pollinated. But what do these terms mean? This post will explain the difference between hybrid vs. open-pollinated seeds so you can select the right seeds for your garden.
What Do Hybrid, Open-Pollinated, and Heirloom Actually Mean?
Open pollinated seeds are seeds that will produce plants genetically similar to the parent plant. If you plant Tomato Yellow Grapes and save the seeds, you will get Tomato Yellow Grapes when you plant the seeds next year. The one caveat is that some varieties need to be isolated (planted away from other varieties) so they don’t cross-pollinate themselves.
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation. Some seed companies have decided on a set number of years old a plant has to be to be considered a heirloom. Others base the designation on just the history of the variety.
Hybrid plants are created when two open-pollinated varieties are crossed to form a new variety of the same plant. While the seeds of hybrids can be saved, they will not necessarily produce the same variety of fruit/flower the next year. Actually, the majority of the time they will produce an inferior product. Hybrid seeds are often designated as F1 seeds in a garden catalog.
I want to stress that HYBRID is not the same as GMO (genetically-modified organism)! A hybrid crosses two VARIETIES of the same plant (two carrot varieties for instance) while GMO means the genetic makeup of the plant has been modified in a laboratory. It may mean that a plant has had genes from animals included. This is not the cross breeding that occurs in nature.
Benefits to Choosing Open-Pollinated Varieties
First, you can save seeds from year to year, thus reducing your gardening costs. By keeping the best seeds each year, the plants gradually adapt to your particular growing conditions and climate. As each year passes the plants are better able to resist the stressors of your area. Even if you are purchasing seeds, open-pollinated varieties may be cheaper as only one distinct strain of genetics has to be maintained.
Another benefit to OP varieties is that the flavour of many of these varieties is vastly superior to their hybrid kinds. Many hybrids were bred for commercial production so they were selected to be uniform and hold up well during transport.
Benefits to Choosing Hybrid Seeds
Hybrid seeds can be a good choice, especially for a new gardener. Hybrids generally produce more per acre than OP varieties. So they are usually the best choice for gardeners with limited space available to grow a garden.
They also offer disease resistance that a lot of OP varieties don’t have, so new gardeners may find more success using hybrid seeds. (And for new gardeners, having success is important)
And if you have a short growing season, there are hybrid varieties of some crops that are bred to reach maturity faster. By using hybrid seeds, you can sometimes grow crops you wouldn’t otherwise be able to!
Hybrids also come in colours and sizes that you just can’t always find in open-pollinated varieties.