B. Rosie Lerner
Extension Consumer Horticulturist
From the Garden
Collecting seeds from garden plants to plant next year may seem like a good way to save money, but you may be in for a surprise. Some seeds can be saved from year to year with good results, particularly the old-fashioned cultivars. But modern hybrid cultivars rarely breed true from collected seed.
To get that disease-resistant tomato or frilly double petunia, two or more plants with desirable characteristics were crossbred. The seed from these hybrid plants will produce variable results due to recombination of different genes. Thus, the resulting plants may not be as productive, attractive, disease-resistant or flavorful as their parents. Seedlings could be quite different from the parent plants and from each other.
As long as you're prepared to accept this variability it can be fun to experiment. You never know, you might actually stumble across an improvement!
Some gardeners are tempted to propagate fruit trees from seed - either from fruits grown in the backyard or from purchased fruit. If you're interested in serious fruit production, resist the temptation. Most fruit trees are grafted by splicing a piece of the desired fruiting cultivar onto a seedling rootstock. It is usually the rootstock that contributes disease resistance, hardiness, vigor, and early production and dwarf habits. Plants grown from seeds of grafted plants may not only produce inferior fruit, but also huge, unmanageable trees for the home landscape. Also, they can take 10 years or more to become mature enough to fruit.
In recent years there has been renewed interest in old-fashioned varieties, including those that are open-pollinated by insects, birds, wind and other natural methods. Because these plants have a non-controlled, more diverse genetic makeup, they tend to breed true to type. Although open-pollinated, heirloom plants may not have many of the advantages of hybridization, such as disease resistance, heat or cold tolerance, and uniformity, some gardeners find the vegetables to be better flavored and the flowers more fragrant. The sustainability of being able to save seeds from year to year is a plus.
Many seed companies specialize in open-pollinated garden vegetables and flowers, and most of the larger seed companies carry both hybrid and open-pollinated seed. For those who want to learn more about open-pollinated seeds and preserving old-fashioned varieties, the Seed Savers Exchange offers seed-trading programs and an excellent selection of publications. If you are interested in saving seed from your garden, check out the publication "Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners," available from Seed Savers Exchange at http://www.seedsavers.org.