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So you decided you wanted to try saving seeds. You followed all the steps, stored the seeds properly, and planted them in the garden come springtime.
But, when your saved seeds finally reached maturity, the plants looked nothing like the plants you grew last year. What happened? Well, you probably saved seeds from a hybrid plant.
Yes, you can save seeds from hybrid plants. But, likely, they won’t grow true to type in the next season leaving you with a plant that you probably weren’t expecting.
Understanding plant breeding and hybridization can be a bit confusing because it’s so complex. But don’t worry! This article will break it down for you so that it’s much easier to understand.
What are hybrid plants?
Hybrid plants are those that have been bred for specific traits through the cross-pollination of different varieties. Hybrids tend to produce higher yields and be more disease-resistant.
Almost all garden crops have hybrid varieties available. You’ve probably noticed on your seed packets or in seed catalogs the symbol F1. This tells you that those seeds are hybrids. F1 simply means “first generation”.
You may be wondering where this first generation comes from. Well, seed breeders will oftentimes create hybrid seeds in isolation or inside of a greenhouse. This helps to prevent any chance of cross-pollination from other, non-desired varieties.
Here’s a basic example of how an F1 seed would be developed:
In the greenhouse, one variety of pepper with desirable traits would be used to pollinate another pepper variety with desirable traits. The now cross-pollinated second pepper variety would produce seeds that carry the desirable traits from both varieties.
The resulting seeds are the first generation of this hybridization. Thus, you have your F1 seeds.
The alternatives to hybrid plants are heirloom plants. An heirloom plant has not changed for many generations and has remained true to type throughout the years. Heirloom varieties can be hundreds of years old!
If you’re a beginner at seed saving, these are the plants you’ll want to save seeds from. That way you know what to expect when you plant them in the next season. Here are some articles to help get you started in your seed-saving journey.
- Saving Zucchini Seeds- A Step-By-Step Guide
- Saving Eggplant Seeds- A Step-By-Step Guide
- Saving Pea Seeds- A Step-By-Step Guide
Can you save seeds from hybrid plants?
The short answer is yes, you can save seeds from hybrid plants. But don’t be surprised if those seeds grow into something you weren’t expecting. Plants grown from saved hybrid seeds tend to not grow true to type.
This means that seeds saved from hybrid plants could look like any combination of the previous three plants, the two cross-pollinated parents and the hybrid offspring.
That being said, if you were to save seeds from your hybrid plant every year for many years and kept replanting the next generation, the hybrid would eventually stabilize and become an heirloom variety.
Although, it can take hundreds of generations for a hybrid to stabilize so there’s a good chance it may not even happen in your lifetime.
Some hybrid plants are even bred to be seedless (think seedless watermelon or seedless grapes). While these fruits are not completely seedless, the very tiny and undeveloped seeds inside are likely not viable and wouldn’t grow at all.
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Creating your own hybrid seeds
Hybridization is something that can also occur naturally in your garden due to cross-pollination among your plants. If you’re growing different varieties of the same crop near each other, there’s a good chance that they will cross-pollinate with the help of pollinators and the wind.
If you think cross-pollination has occurred in your garden, it might be fun to save the seeds and plant them in the next year to see what they created.
I had some summer squash that I thought had crossed with some of my winter squash and I decided to save the seeds anyway. I planted them the next year and ended up with not-so-edible winter squash.
I couldn’t tell you what two varieties crossed to create this hybrid because I wasn’t paying that close of attention to the pollination happening. But, I ended up using this squash as an ornamental on my porch in the fall and grew to like it.
All of this to say, it can be exciting to mess around with cross-pollinating different varieties in your garden to see what you end up with the next season.
Pros and cons of growing hybrid seeds
As I mentioned before, hybrids are created to select for certain desirable traits. High yields and disease resistance are just two of those traits.
Other desirable traits include:
- Insect resistance
- Color selection
- Larger fruit or leaf sizes
- Quick maturation
But, it’s also important to mention the drawbacks of hybrids as well. Hybrid seeds tend to be more expensive because of how much work goes into creating these varieties.
Flavor quality can also be lost in hybridization. I’m sure we’re all familiar with how much more flavorful an heirloom tomato is than a non-heirloom variety. The difference is significant. Of course, this doesn’t mean that food from hybrid crops isn’t delicious. The flavor profile is just different.
If you can, I recommend growing both heirloom and hybrid plants in your garden so you can decide what your preferences are and what grows the best in your space.
What plants grow better as hybrids?
While I grow plenty of heirloom plants in my garden, there are some veggies that I just prefer to grow as hybrids to make my life easier. Here are some of them:
Growing tomatoes can be tricky because they require lots of attention and take a long time to grow and produce fruit.
A lot of people want to grow heirloom tomatoes because they are much more flavorful than hybrid tomatoes. But, heirloom tomatoes can quickly be lost to diseases like tomato blight.
Growing a hybrid variety like Cherokee Carbon is my solution to this issue. This variety is a cross between two heirloom varieties, Cherokee Purple and Carbon. It still has that heirloom look and flavor but is also much more resilient than its individual heirloom varieties.
Most corn on the market these days are hybrid varieties. By growing hybrid corn in my garden, I get much higher yields than I would from growing heirloom variety corn.
Some hybrid corn varieties are also bred to have stronger stalks, making them less likely to fall over due to strong winds. Varieties like Enchanted or Packout have been favorites in my garden.
Summer squash is already a high-yielding plant but you can never have enough I say. I especially like growing hybrid summer squash varieties because they tend to have resistance to common squash diseases like powdery mildew and mosaic virus.
Some hybrid squash varieties are also bred to be more compact and take up less space in your garden which makes them easier for harvesting. Varieties that I’ve grown include Spineless Perfection, Pantheon, and Zephyr.
A problem that people often run into when growing spinach is how quickly it bolts. Spinach is not heat tolerant and will start to bolt as soon as the weather gets too warm. Once the spinach has bolted, it tastes very bitter.
A lot of hybrid spinach varieties are bred to be slow bolting, giving you more time to harvest. Some varieties that I’ve had success with are Flamingo, Emperor, and Lizard.
Why is seed saving important?
To me, seed saving is the first step towards self-sufficiency and helps to build a resilient food system within communities. It’s something I’m very passionate about and wish more people would do.
A lot of places in my area have set up local seed banks where people can donate their own saved seeds for others to use in their gardens. It’s an awesome system that has proven to be a good way for people to share their abundance with others.
Seed saving also saves you money. If you do it right, you won’t have to buy new seeds every year. This is why it’s important to grow a mix of hybrid and heirloom varieties in your garden. That way you have some plants to save seeds from and some that are just for your growing pleasure.
Hopefully, this article helped you in understanding a little about how hybrid seeds work. Understanding the complexities of seed breeding can be a challenge, but at the end of the day, there’s no harm in saving seeds from hybrid plants if you’re curious about what they could grow into in the next season.
Just don’t depend on those seeds if you’re looking for them to grow into something very specific.
While creating your own new varieties can be fun, I like to leave that up to professional plant breeders. But hey, maybe you’re more adventurous than me. After all, gardening is just one big science experiment.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!