Gardeners frequently receive advice not to save seeds from hybrid plants. The reason typically given is that the resulting plants will not come back true to type, producing vegetables that are inferior in quality compared to their parents.
But does that mean gardeners should never save seeds from F1 (first-generation) hybrids, ever? Of course not.
So what actually happens when seeds are saved from hybrid vegetables? Some of the F2 plants (second-generation hybrids) will typically resemble one of the original parents in appearance, while some will resemble the other parent. However, it would not be entirely accurate to say that the F2 plants completely revert back to the original varieties, as they now have an added element of variability caused by the unique combination of genes from both varieties.
This variability can be either good or bad, depending on what you are wanting. If you are dedicated to developing a new plant variety, this variability will give you plenty of genetic material to choose from. If you grow ornamental plants and are okay with some odd-looking flowers, you may enjoy the experiment. If, however, you just want to plant proven seeds that will come back true to type every time, then hybrid seed-saving is not for you.
A few caveats for those who are interested in saving hybrid seeds:
First off, some hybrids are developed to be either seedless or otherwise sterile, either to improve eating quality or to help the seed company protect their intellectual property. Obviously, seeds from these varieties, if present, will not be viable.
Second, before saving seeds, be aware that some hybrids are granted either a patent or a Plant Variety Protection (PVP) certificate that allows the original breeder to enjoy exclusive rights to the propagation of the variety for 20 years. When purchasing protected seeds, the grower agrees to grow a single crop from the seeds, thus foregoing rights to save them. While this is a standard practice in commercial vegetable growing, it is rare for home garden seeds to be protected. Still, it never hurts to take a quick look at the seed packet before collecting any seeds from hybrids.
Finally, be forewarned that it takes time and effort to establish a new plant variety. Careful selection will be necessary to select positive traits and cull negative traits. After roughly six or seven generations of hybridizing, you will notice that your plants will start to become more uniform. At this point, you will have created a stable variety of your own.
The Breeding Toolbox: Crossbreeding
While this post focuses on breeding animals, the genetic principles at play are identical.