Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

Hybrid or Open Pollinated (page 3 of 6)

by Ben Watson

Rating Hybrids and OPs

It is all too easy to make hasty, and usually erroneous, claims concerning hybrids and OP varieties. As every gardener knows, the way different plants grow relative to one another depends upon a wide range of variables, including the vitality of the seeds, the structure and fertility of the soil, the seasonal weather conditions, the local climate and the skill (or luck) of the grower.

Still, we can draw some useful parallels between hybrids and OPs. The following sections briefly cover some of the more important qualities that gardeners (and seed companies) look for in their vegetable varieties, then compare hybrids and OPs to see how they stack up against each other.

Vigor

One of the chief claims made for hybrids over OP varieties is their superior vigor or growth. The offspring of two different plant varieties often exhibit this increased vitality, which is known as heterosis or, more commonly, hybrid vigor. (The term was coined by Charles Darwin in the 1800s.)

John Navazio maintains that hybrid vigor can prove especially valuable to gardeners who live in extreme climates. "The seeds emerge more vigorously and uniformly," Navazio says. "They are stronger, and the plants perform better under a wider range of adverse climatic conditions."

Although Garden City Seeds is committed to breeding new OP varieties and making them available to gardeners, Navazio values certain hybrids, too, for what he calls their "resiliency and instant adaptability." The difference between hybrid and OP vigor, he says, appears most strikingly in specific regions of the country like the Pacific and Mountain states and northern New England, where early-season cold snaps can slow the growth of heat-loving vegetables. In such conditions, many OPs will go into a "holding pattern," but the increased vigor of hybrids helps them grow through the unseasonable weather.

Some vegetables seem to gain more hybrid vigor than others. In the case of broccoli and sweet corn, the advantages of hybrid vigor are readily apparent. For other plants--like squash, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes--the difference between hybrid and OP vigor is generally less noticeable.

Yield

According to Burpee's chairman, George Ball, Jr., "The Burpee customer puts a premium on yield." Hybrid vigor, Ball maintains, can translate into double the yield over OP varieties in the case of some vegetables. And higher yields per plant are crucial for people with smaller gardens, something that Ball sees as a continuing trend.

For gardeners who do have plenty of growing space, getting the maximum yield per plant may be less important than other, less tangible, qualities like taste and uniqueness. A lot depends on your individual needs and expectations. Some gardeners would swear by a favorite heirloom tomato that produced only six or eight ripe fruits per season. Others would be more likely to swear at it.

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