Heirloom vs. hybrids

Monday, June 28, 2010

Should one grow heirloom or hybrid plants? This is a discussion that keeps coming up between local gardeners and horticulture professionals.

There is a lot of confusion about both types of plants.

Heirloom plants can be defined in many ways, but there are some characteristics that many of the definitions share. Heirloom plants are always open pollinated. This means that the seeds from this year's plants will grow to be just like that of the parent plant. That true-to-seed characteristic makes Heirloom seeds able to be harvested and saved year after year.

Heirloom plants are usually varieties that have been around for a long period of time. Some believe that heirloom plants are those that have been around for longer than 50 years. This period of time can vary depending on who you talk to. Some people believe that Heirloom plants are those that have been handed down over generations of seed savers; they feel that Heirloom plants are a part of their cultural heritage.

Hybrid plants are developed by taking two different plants and cross-pollinating them to try to create a better plant. For example, scientists may take two different tomato plants, one that has big fruit and one that is disease resistance. These two plants are cross-pollinated in hopes that the resulting offspring may be a plant that has big fruit and is also disease resistance.

The advantage of heirloom plants is that they are known for excellent flavor, color or fragrances. Heirloom plants come in a large variety or shapes and sizes which are fun to have in the garden. They have a strong cultural connection for many gardeners.

However, heirloom plants also have some disadvantages. They can be less hardy or disease resistant. Some seeds may take a longer time to germinate. The germination rates for heirloom seeds may be low or erratic. The growth habit of heirloom seeds can seem wild or unruly. Heirloom plants may not produce as many fruits or flowers as hybridized plants. They can also have traits that are undesirable such as thorns or ugly fruit.

The advantage of hybrid plants is that they are very dependable for producing flowers or fruits. They tend to produce more fruits or flowers. They generally have better and faster germination rates than Heirloom plants. Some hybrid vegetables will produce all at once so it is easier to predict when the crop is ready to be harvested. Hybrid plants also have a more predictable growth habit.

One of the big disadvantages of hybrid plants is that sometimes one trait is sacrificed for another. For example, flavor is sacrificed for disease resistance. Also, if you find a plant that you really like, you will have to buy new seeds year after year. Hybrid plants may also cost more.

Most gardeners raise a combination of heirloom and hybrid plants, desiring traits from both types. Because there are so many exceptional varieties of both Heirloom and Hybrid plants it is worth experimenting with growing both types to decide what works best for you.

For more information on heirloom or hybrid plants, call Ann V. Delchambre at 653-8411 or e-mail adelchambre@purdue.edu or Facebook Putnam County Agriculture or Twitter AgAgent.

New Master Gardener class

A new Master Gardener class will be starting on August 17. I want to invite all the people who are interested in becoming Master Gardeners to contact me soon so I can set aside a place for you in the class. The class has limited space.

The purpose of the Purdue Master Gardener Program is to teach people more about growing plants and to more effectively extend information related to plants. Its specific aim is to provide information and technical assistance in the areas of gardening and home horticulture through the use of trained and certified volunteers.

After acceptance into the Master Gardener Program, participants receive training in the following areas: plant science, plant nutrition, soil science, plant disease, insect pests, weeds, pesticide safety/pesticide alternatives, woody ornamentals, vegetable gardening, herbaceous ornamentals, home lawns, animal pests, principles of landscape design, home fruit production, indoor gardening and yard waste management.

To be part of the next series of Master Gardener classes, contact the Putnam County Extension Office and say that you are interested in the Master Gardner Class for the Fall 2010. You will have to complete an application form and return it to the Putnam County Extension Office. The classes meet every Tuesday night from 6-9 p.m. The classes will last 12 weeks from Aug. 17 to Nov 3. Contact Delchambre for more information.

Upcoming events:

June 28: Fair Board meeting, Fairgrounds, 7:30 p.m.

June 29: 4-H Electric Workshop, County Annex, 9 a.m.

June 29: Fashion Revue Workshop, Fairgrounds, 6:30 p.m.

July 1: State Fair Cat, Dog, Horse & Pony, Goat, Poultry, and Rabbit forms due

July 1: Purdue Weed Day, Throckmorton-Purdue Agricultural Center

July 5: Extension Office closed for Independence Day Observance

July 6: Junior Master Gardener Informational Meeting -- Court House Annex

July 12: Leader Lesson "Get the Skinny on Healthy Eating" Ext. Office Classroom 7 p.m.

July 22-31: Putnam County Fair