Garden Seeds Demystified: Understanding Seed Types

Garden Seeds Demystified Understanding Seed TypesShopping for garden seeds can present challenges for new gardeners.  You may have started getting piles of garden seed catalogs. You may have also attempted to go shopping for garden seeds at your local garden center or supermarket.  The different seed types may have caused confusion or overwhelm. This post will help you understand some of the terms you’ve read (GMO, hybrid, heirloom, and organic), hopefully put you at ease, and possibly help you save some money.

The Different Types of Garden Seeds

GMO Seeds

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. I’m talking about these types first because some new gardeners are afraid of accidentally purchasing these kinds of seeds. There’s no need to worry because it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever accidentally purchase them. GMO seeds are for mass production farming, come in large sacks, and are very expensive. You won’t see these in grocery stores, garden centers or garden catalogs. If you do see the word “non-GMO” on a seeds packet, they are either trying to put your mind at ease or trying to hike up the price. Shop around and be sure you’re not paying too much for seeds just because they included the word “non-GMO” on their packaging.

Organic Garden Seeds

I’m a big fan of organic gardening but don’t be fooled by the word “organic” on a seed package. All it means is that the plants that the seeds came from were grown organically and are compliant with USDA organic standards. Organic gardening is about the style and approach you use when taking care of your garden and raising your plants, not the type of seeds they are. Also, just because the word “organic” is on the packet doesn’t mean they are heirloom or hybrid. Sometimes the word “organic” is used to increase the price of the product and may not have anything to do with the quality of the product. Again, shop around and don’t get fooled by catch phrases.

Related:  The Benefits of Organic Gardening

Heirloom Garden Seeds

The next type of garden seed you’ll find in catalogs and garden centers is heirloom. Heirloom seeds get their name because they’ve been around for many years (50-75 years or more). They’re open pollinated and have proven themselves. Because they’re open pollinated, the seed that comes from this plant will produce the same exact plant going forward. In other words, you can buy one packet of heirloom seeds, grow plants from them, collect the seeds and you can replant over and over again without ever having to buy another packet. Your plants will be predictable and you’ll also save money. To learn about the many other benefits of heirloom seeds, visit Mother Earth News.

Hybrid Garden Seeds

The 4th type of garden seeds is hybrid.  Sometimes nature creates hybrids, but often plant breeders create them.  Hybrid plants are the product of two different types of plants which have desired traits.  For example, one breed of plant might be tolerant to certain disease while another breed will grow well in hot climates. A plant breeder could cross breed these two plants so that the result will be a brand new plant with both of these traits. One of the differences between a hybrid and an heirloom seed is that the seed from a hybrid plant will not necessarily produce the same plant. If you want the same exact hybrid plant, you’ll have to buy the same seed packet over and over again. This will cost you money.


I hope this clears up some of the differences amongst garden seeds. Many organic gardeners prefer heirloom seeds, not only because you can save the seeds, but because of their great taste and low cost. Let us know what kinds of garden seeds you use and why you prefer them.

Want to read more?  Check out other related content from our site:

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