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Can You Harvest the Seeds of Hybrid Plants?

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Fall is the season for harvesting the seeds for next year’s garden.

If you’re into growing plants from seed, especially vegetables and annuals, you’ve undoubtedly been warned you’re not supposed to collect seeds from hybrid plants. But why?!

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Hybrids are generally produced by meticulously hand pollinating one plant with another.

It’s because hybrids are the result of crossing of two different parent plants. Because of their mixed background, the seeds produced by these hybrids will not be “true to the type” (identical to their parent) in the next generation.

For example: when you cross a pure line of white petunias with a pure line of red petunias, the first generation (known as the F1 generation) gives uniformly pink petunias and that may be the desired goal. But if you harvest the seeds of these pink petunias, in the next generation (the second or F2 generation), there will still be pink flowers, but the genes of the grandparents will also show up and you’ll also get a certain percentage of white flowers and red flowers.

And it’s not just the color that won’t be true to type: the plant’s size, the number of flowers, the taste (if it’s edible), its disease resistance and in fact almost any characteristic of the hybrid may show up differently in the F2 generation.

Well, Can You or Can’t You?

So let’s repeat the question: can you harvest the seed of hybrid varieties?

Yes, of course you can… if you’re not stuck on the principle that the next generation must absolutely be identical to the previous one.

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The F2 generation from a strain of F1 petunias: the results are mixed, but most are pretty nice plants.

Often when you sow the seeds of hybrid plants, you end up with some really interesting combinations of characteristics… but also some rather unfortunate ones. But by weeding out the undesirable plants and annually harvesting the seeds of plants that you judge the very best, you can eventually develop your own seed line that will probably, after some years of selection, be true to type.

So the choice is up to you: if you prefer trustworthy results from a hybrid seed-grown plant, buy fresh seeds when you run out, but if you like to experiment, go and ahead and sow what you reap!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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