Can you save seeds from your garden for planting next year?

By Lloyd Thompson
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener
May 25, 2022

Lloyd Thompson – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

Which types and varieties do best is often heard when discussing seeds to buy. I wish I had an easy answer, but the truth is, it depends.

There may not be a right answer that fits everyone’s needs, it depends on lots of different things.

Is the hybrid plant variety able to resist a pest or disease better, store better, or does grow better, faster or more uniform fruit than a non-hybrid variety? Does the open pollinated or heirloom variety produce a better tasting fruit that makes up for its longer time to reach maturity?

Then, the question often comes up about keeping seeds of fruit and vegetables to save for next year. The easy answer is that you can keep seeds from this year’s favorites for next year, but make sure they are open pollinated, dried properly and kept in a cool dry location until it’s time to plant again. Be sure to label them so you can remember what varieties they are and when they were collected to prevent using old seed, which is less viable.

The problem is trying to keep track of seeds and what all those names — hybrid, F1 hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom varieties —mean, not to mention terms like self-pollinating, cross pollinating and sterile. If you are planning on keeping seeds, you need to know which seeds you can keep, and which ones you will need to buy next year.

A hybrid is a cross between two known varieties. Hybrids are commonly produced to make seed that combines the best characteristics of its parents — usually regarding its productivity, uniformity, vigor, and pest and disease resistance. F1 hybrid seeds refers to the selective breeding of a plant by cross pollinating two different varieties of parent plants. In genetics, the term is an abbreviation for Filial 1. Hybrid seeds will need to be purchased every year.

Open pollination are plants that will develop seeds that are pretty much the same as the parent plants were. They may be pollinated by insects, wind or animals, or self-pollinate, and produce seeds true to type or more simply “like their parents.”

Heirloom plants are also open pollinated but are plants that have been propagated and grown for at least 40 years, and often handed down from one generation to another generation.

Now the really tricky part starts when you decide to keep the seeds to use for the next growing season. If you are growing hybrids, plan on buying new seeds or plants next year.

If seeds are open pollinated, you can save the seeds for next year’s crop. This requires lots of dedication and effort to assure you end up with viable seeds. Not only do you need to make sure the plant is either self-pollinated or cross pollinated by the same variety of plant, but also that the seeds are harvested and stored correctly so they will germinate the next year. This is a really rewarding experience but there are lots of potential problems that may cause you to question if it’s worth all the effort. The seeds may not germinate because they weren’t stored at the correct temperature and humidity, or they germinate and grow, but you end up with an undesirable hybrid that looks or tastes nothing like your intended goal.

Open pollinated plants that can cross-pollinate and are grown near other varieties can produce a hybrid rather than a copy of the original plant. So, you need to grow them isolated, away from other varieties, to prevent cross pollination with other varieties to keep the seeds true to type. It’s awesome when the seeds you saved from last year grow and you can harvest a new crop for your efforts.

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