Skip to main content

Hybrid versus heirloom plants: What you need to know

Hybrid and heirloom are two categories of plants, each with their own pros and cons. What do hybrid and heirloom really mean, though, and how do they stack up against each other? Since both edible and decorative plants can be hybrid or heirloom, is one better for edible plants and one better for decorative, or is one better overall? We’re here to lay out all the facts so you can make the decision for yourself. We’ll cover the plant type’s predictability, taste, appearance, and availability.

Ripe tomatoes on a vine



Hybrids tend to be less true to seed than heirlooms, but there are a few factors that can impact this. The seeds you get to grow initially should grow into the plant you expect them to be. However, any seeds you then collect from that first plant have a lower likelihood of being the same as the first plant.

This isn’t always a bad thing, and it can lead to some interesting surprises in your garden. However, if you want to increase your chances of your hybrids being true to seed, then planting several of the same variety close together or hand pollinating your plants will help. It’s also important to remember that just because they’re less likely to be true to seed doesn’t mean they’re never true to seed.

Taste and appearance

There are a lot of hybrid flowers that have been bred specifically for unique appearances. This can mean brighter colors, colors that are unusual for the flower in question, or bigger blooms. There are also some hybrid vegetables and fruits that are bred for interesting patterns, especially vegetables that are often used for decorative purposes, like pumpkins and other gourds.

However, most hybrid vegetables and fruits are bred for increased harvest, bigger fruits, disease resistances, and traits that make them easier to machine harvest and store, like thicker peels and increased water content. This sometimes means that flavor takes a backseat for hybrid fruits and vegetables. Hybrid vegetables also tend to have a more standard, store-ready appearance.


Hybrid plant varieties are often readily available, with only the newest hybrids and less popular hybrids being at all difficult to find. In fact, unless the tag or bag explicitly states that the plant is an heirloom, most of the plants you’ll find in stores are hybrids. This is especially true of larger stores and chains. Additionally, hybrids are fairly easy to make in your own garden, without any special training or tools.

Assorted heirloom tomatoes on a wooden background



Due to the long time it takes to create an heirloom variety, coupled with the open pollination method, heirloom plant varieties are extremely true to seed. The seeds collected from the first plant will grow plants that are very similar to the parent plant. This makes heirloom varieties reliable, but it also removes a certain element of chaos and surprise that some gardeners find entertaining. It also means that heirloom varieties don’t always make for the best choices for parent plants to create hybrids, since they’re so stable.

Taste and appearance

Since heirloom varieties take a long time to create, you won’t find quite as many trendy and new flower colors or patterns. In fact, some of the heirloom flower varieties out there may seem old fashioned, because, well, they are. That doesn’t mean that heirloom flowers aren’t beautiful, it just means that progress is slow. Heirloom vegetables can sometimes appear less attractive, since they don’t always have the classic appearance of the vegetable we’ve come to know in stores.

Two places where heirloom varieties really shine, however, are smell and taste. Heirlooms, due to the length of time it takes to create a variety, are not usually developed for the purpose of mass production. This means that rather than focusing on how well the fruits can be machine harvested or how long cut flowers can last in storage, the taste, texture, and scent of the plant can take precedence.


Unlike hybrids, it’s more difficult to create your own heirloom variety at home, since it takes at least 50 years to create one. The most popular heirloom varieties can be found easily online and in specialty stores, and occasionally in larger chains as well. However, if you want an older, less popular heirloom variety, you may be out of luck. When large scale crop production became more common, home gardens became less so, and heirloom varieties that had been passed down like family recipes went unplanted. Some of them were lost entirely, and others nearly went the same way.

Still, some heirloom varieties were rediscovered, often thanks to individuals and families who saved seeds from their gardens year after year. Growing these endangered heirloom varieties can help keep them alive, but the seeds are harder to get ahold of.

Ultimately, the choice between hybrids and heirlooms comes down to what you’re looking for in a plant. Any garden would do well with a mix of hybrids and heirlooms. Hybrids are easier to find, but not as great if you’re hoping to save the seeds and grow the same plant. Heirlooms often have more pronounced smells and tastes, but many varieties are more difficult to find. No matter which you choose, there are some great options out there for you.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
The low-maintenance vegetable garden: 5 unique perennial vegetable plants that produce year after year
Amazing perennial veggies to plant in your vegetable garden
Person holding produce in a bowl over vegetable garden

If you're looking to plant a vegetable garden that's low maintenance and sustainable, incorporating perennial vegetable plants is a great idea. Many of them are packed with nutrients and can offer visual interest and other benefits to your garden. Let's explore the upside of growing perennial vs. annual vegetables, discuss which ones to plant, and the delicious recipes you can make with each of them.

Benefits of perennial vs. annual vegetable plants
Perennial vegetable plants are plants that live for more than two growing seasons and continue to produce edible parts year after year. There are a ton of benefits when it comes to perennial vs. annual vegetable gardens:

Read more
What is landscape fabric, and why would you need it in your garden?
Everything you need to know about the pros, cons, and uses of landscape fabric
Person planting into landscape fabric

Landscape fabric — it's a tool that gardeners and landscapers either loathe or swear by. While landscape fabric can be limited in some respects, it definitely has uses in a garden, and there are different types of landscape fabric. If you're deciding if it can be helpful for your outdoor space, here's what you need to know about using and installing landscape fabric before you order it online or pick it up from your local nursery.
What is landscape fabric, and what are its benefits?
In its simplest definition, landscape fabric is a physical barrier that prevents weeds from growing. When people use landscape fabric, they're often using it for perennials rather than annuals — annuals need to be replanted each year, so removing the landscape fabric every season can be a hassle. Here are some advantages to consider as you're deciding to use landscape fabric for your garden.

Helps with weed control: It can be helpful for allowing water to pass through but will inhibit competing weeds. It can also keep soil-borne pathogens out of your crops as well.
Keeps soil warm: During the colder months of late winter and early spring, it helps keep soil warm.
Helps with water retention: For particularly thirsty crops, the fabric aids with moisture retention.
Reduces the impact of erosion: During rainy seasons, landscape fabric may be helpful for keeping soil from moving around. Erosion control can especially be important if you have plants sitting on a hill.
Makes it easy to transport gravel: Those who have gravel in their gardens may find it easy to remove gravel later down the road by simply pulling up the fabric underneath instead of scooping up the gravel.

Read more
How to grow better tomatoes: This TikTok tip will help your garden thrive
Grow stunning tomatoes with this simple trick
Ripe tomatoes on a vine

There are tons of places across the internet you can go to for great gardening tips, and TikTok is quickly rising through the ranks. While not every video is a winner, we’ve found one we think you’ll love! The TikTok video below from GardeningSimplified explains how to grow tomatoes more easily through the use of companion planting. Not sure what companion planting is or how it works? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

@gardeningsimplified Tomato plant tips I’ve learned along the way #gardening #gardening101 #gardeningtips #gardeningtipsforbeginners #gardeninghacks #growingtomatoes ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show Tomato plant tips I’ve learned along the way #gardening #gardening101 #gardeningtips #gardeningtipsforbeginners #gardeninghacks #growingtomatoes
What is companion planting?
Companion planting is simply the technique of planting veggies and other plants near each other. Plants that have similar preferences for things such as water, sun, and soil type typically make good companion plants. Pairings, where one plant provides a benefit to the other, make exceptionally good partners. These benefits could include adding nutrients to the soil, providing shade, or even keeping pests away.

Read more