Did You Know? Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds


In today’s Did You Know? post, I thought that we would look at the difference in heirloom and hybrid seeds. With all of the concern over GMOs, some people are under the impression that all hybrid seeds are genetically modified. I want to dispel that myth so that when you are browsing through your seed catalogs, you won’t be discouraged to see that the tomato that most appeals to you is a hybrid.

Black Krim Tomato

Heirloom seeds are often referred to as “open pollinated” varieties. Open pollinated refers to the fact that they are pollinated by nature (bees, other insects, ants, etc.) and if allowed to go to seed, they will produce an exact replica of the parent plants. Let me put a disclaimer in here: if you have a Black Krim tomato and a Mortgage Lifter tomato, they will cross to produce seeds that are not like either of the parents. To produce Black Krim seeds, two Black Krim tomatoes need to pollinate each other. Tomatoes require a separation distance of at least 35′ to ensure that the seed you collect at the end of the season has not been crossed with a different variety. Some varieties of plants, like corn, require a separation distance of 600′.

Hybrid seeds are plants that have been bred for increased vigor, disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. A hybrid is what would result from saving the seeds of the Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes used in the example above. Many of the most popular tomatoes such as Better Boy and Early Girl are hybrids. Again, it doesn’t mean that have been genetically modified…it simply means that two different cultivars of plants were bred together to produce a superior plant. With hybrids, there is something known as F1 vigor. It refers to the first generation cross of two different plants which is almost always more vigorous than subsequent generations. This means that if you plant Better Boy tomato which is an F1 hybrid, you will not produce Better Boys if they are allowed to go to seed. The way you get Better Boy seeds is by crossing the parents and most of the parents’ names of these popular plants are a trade secret.

If you would like to save your own seeds, then you need to grow heirloom or open pollinated varieties. If you are more interested in just eating delicious tomatoes, then either heirloom or hybrid seeds will work for you. I personally like to grow heirloom tomatoes because there are so many different varieties available…plus it keeps new genes in the gene pool. Let me know if you prefer heirloom or hybrids by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

January 16, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Reader Question: Last Frost Date


Here’s a reader question that I received this week:

I’m thinking of starting my own vegetable seeds this year and I keep reading about the last frost date. I live in Northern Virginia and I’m not sure when mine is.


This question is relevant to me in so many ways. I’ll cut right to the chase for the last frost dates for the Mid-Atlantic region but then I want to expand on them a bit. The average last frost date for Zones 5-7 is somewhere between April 1 and April 30. It can vary depending on the year but this is a good baseline. In Richmond, VA I always use April 15 as the last frost date and that has served me well for years. If we were experiencing a particularly cool spring, I’d assume that closer to the end of the month would be safer. If you look at this pdf for Vienna in Northern Virginia, it shows that there is a 90% chance that freezing temperatures will occur on March 30; a 50% chance of freezing temps on April 10 and a 10% chance on April 22.

The reason that you want to know your last frost date is so that you can figure out when to start your seeds. For instance, tomatoes need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Many seed packets will say 6 weeks is sufficient but I have found that they need 8 weeks unless you’re starting them in a greenhouse. All the grow lights in the world just can’t compensate for the rays of light that emanate from that golden orb in the sky. With that being said, if you use April 15 as your last frost date, you can count backwards and see that you need to start your tomato seeds on February 19. You may be thinking that seems like forever from now but it’s only 8 weeks away. Unless you already have your seeds for next year, it’s time to get cranking on selecting which jewels you’ll have growing in your veggie garden this year. I’ve found that it takes a week to ten days to receive my seeds so that means that I need to have all of my tomato seeds ordered by February 5 and that is only 6 weeks away.

If you’ll be growing peppers in your veggie garden this year, you need to get moving even faster….those seeds need to be planted 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date. That means they need to be planted February 5 and should be ordered by January 22. That’s exactly one month from today! I hope that you find it exciting and not overwhelming that you can start planning your vegetable garden. If you haven’t signed up for the catalogs that I mentioned in another post, I highly recommend that you do that as soon as the holidays are over. I love seeing my mailbox full of seed catalogs!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ll be focusing on vegetable gardening for the next couple of weeks. I hope that you are excited to learn more about it…I know that I’m excited to learn more about your experiences. I’ll share successes and failures and veggies that I am in love with…there’s just a few! 🙂 Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com and let me know what you’re planning for your veggie garden this spring. Or perhaps you have a cool season garden in the ground right now…either way, let me know! Happy veggie gardening!

December 22, 2011Permalink 1 Comment

Reader Question: Free Plant Catalogs


A reader sent me a question wondering if I had a list of free plant catalogs that I could pass along. It just so happens that I do so that is what we’ll talk about today. Just click on the link and you too can have a mailbox full of free plant information in a couple of weeks! You may think that it’s awfully early to be thinking of starting seeds but in 6 to 8 weeks in Zone 7, it will be time to start tomatoes and peppers! Yeah!


I will be updating this list as I think of other resources. If you know a free catalog that I missed, please leave a comment in the comment section below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy planning!

December 8, 2011Permalink 3 Comments

Gardening Calendar: December


So it’s finally December in the garden…the time of the year when you can reflect on what you really enjoyed about the garden this past year, look at what needs improving for the upcoming year and ponder any new gardening projects. But there are tasks that are perfect for accomplishing in December and that’s what we’ll look at today.


  • By now, most of your deciduous plants should have been taken down by the freezing temperatures. If your perennials have turned into brown clumps of mush, go ahead and remove the foliage and add it to your compost pile. If some of your deciduous perennials still have green leaves, it is best to leave them so that the plant can continue to photosynthesize and add to its stores for next year.
  • Depending on how meticulous you want your garden to be, you can remove any fallen leaves from the bases of shrubs to allow for good air circulation around the stems. If you have had fungal problems on your shrubs, it’s a pretty good bet that the spores are on the fallen leaves so removing them now can save you a ton of headaches in the spring. Unless your compost gets really hot, it’s wiser to bag the diseased leaves to avoid risking spreading the disease around.
  • If you’re like me, I tend to wait until the majority of the tree leaves have fallen before cleaning them up so now is the time to work on this project. I have woods behind me so I am able to blow them into the woods…it also serves as a sort of stockpile where I can go to obtain leaves when I need them for the compost pile or for mulching the veggie garden. If you have a bagging mower, chop them up and then use them as mulch…see my Healthy Soil article for more information.
  • The biggest chore for December is probably pruning. Now that the stems are bare, it is the perfect time to remove crossing branches on trees and shrubs. You can also remove wayward branches on evergreen shrubs such as hollies and osmanthus. If you are looking to shape your hedges, you’re best to wait until we get closer to spring. Severe pruning will often force new vegetative growth that is easily killed by freezes and late spring frosts.
  • The most exciting gardening chore for me in December is poring over seed catalogs that inundate my mailbox beginning in mid-November. My mind races as I read the descriptions of ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes and ‘Mandurian Round’ cucumbers. While the sheer number of cultivars are overwhelming, I still make list after list of those I’d like to try. I try to pare it down to a reasonable number, but I am usually met with failure…last year I grew 13 different types of tomatoes.


The gardening calendar for December is relatively short but this is just the beginning of an ever-growing list of garden chores that need to be accomplished. By no means is it exhaustive…I’d love to hear what your plans are for your garden in December. Please share them in the comments section so that other gardeners can benefit. If you have any thoughts or concerns, please e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!