Understanding the various types of seeds can be confusing for a new gardener. I’ve done my best to keep it simple and give a really basic (and quick) overview so you can choose what’s best for your garden.
If you would like more beginner gardener tips and tricks, there’s plenty right here: Garden Tips.
It’s mailbag time!
Dear Your Royal Highness,
Can you please help me understand all of this seed terminology? I’m really confused.
Yes, Enid, it can get confusing! But help is here. I’m going to do my best to keep this as simple as possible. I realize that you don’t need to know how the entire plant kingdom reproduces itself (although it is fascinating reading): you simply need to know which types of seeds are best for your garden.
There are 3 basic seed groups
1. Open-pollinated (OP) seeds (also includes most Heirloom seeds)
2. Hybrid (F1) seeds
3. Genetically-modified seeds (GMO)
How do you know which type of seeds you are getting?
Seed companies list the seed types in their catalogues and on the seed packets. I highly encourage seed packet reading. It’s one of the most overlooked resources a gardener has.
If you want to grow plants from seed and save the seeds for future planting choose
1. Open-pollinating (OP) seeds including heirlooms
If you want more plant choices, and don’t mind that the future seeds may not be useful, also choose
2. Hybrid (F1) seeds
Hybrid seeds grow many wonderful plants but only the first generation of seeds (F1) produce the intended plants. This simply means you would need to buy new seeds each year instead of saving seeds for planting. Seeds saved from F1 plants are sometimes sterile or produce unreliable results.
If you don’t plan to save seeds
Choose open-pollinated, heirlooms, and hybrids. But I bet if you keep gardening, you’ll catch the seed-saving bug. We all do. Mwah-ha-ha!
1.The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Seed Saving & Starting by Sheri Ann Richerson
2. Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner
Should I plant GMOs in my garden?
No. Never. First of all, most GMO seeds are manufactured for large-scale agriculture. They are patented and it is illegal to save or use these seeds (unless you have a contract with a GMO seed company).
Also, if you live near farms, check if they are growing GMOs. Some gardeners have to protect their own plants (open-pollinated and hybrids) from accidentally cross-pollinating (mating) with nearby GMOs (which ruins your own plants and future seeds). It’s a very serious issue and does not please Her Majesty one bit.
How to I choose the best seeds for my garden?
1. Find a local seed company that grows the plants (that produce the seeds) in your region. This will give you seeds that are already adapted to your growing conditions.
- Here’s some favourite seed companies.
2. Ensure they grow the seeds organically. Organic growing practices are best for the environment (of course) and produce seeds that perform better in natural conditions (pesticide-free gardens).
3. Choose open-pollinated (OP), heirloom (most are OP), and hybrid (F1) seeds.
4. Learn about pollination and how plants interact.
- It’s not only totally amazing but it will help you learn how to prevent unwanted cross-pollination of your OP crops.
- This way, your saved seeds will be true to the parents (a nice quality in any child), and grow very similar, reliable plants the next time.
5. Learn about best seed saving practices. You may even want to contribute to a local seed library. And seed saving and starting is totally fun and addictive, in a botanical kind of way.
- I like the book (despite the name): The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Seed Saving & Starting by Sheri Ann Richerson.
- The number one tip is, mark your best plants while they are blooming and save those seeds for best results next time.
I realize many new gardeners don’t think about seed saving at all, and that’s fine! Usually it takes a few seasons of gardening before the cost-saving measures and intrigue of seed saving take hold. So be ready.
And I hope this helped!