According to the National Gardening Association, judging whether hybrid seeds are better than open-pollinated is like asking if Democrats are better public stewards than Republicans, or if sweet flavors are better than salty. Opinions on the matter abound, some of which are based on truths and others on inaccuracies. Arguments can resemble political bouts, complete with lobbyists and mudslingers. There are differences between these two seed types that influence plant and fruit growth, and gardeners should know what those are. But the association suggests gardeners grow whatever suits them rather than be swayed one way or another by purists.
In the beginning, all seeds were open pollinated. The term, listed as "OP" on seed packets and catalogs, refers to plants that are either naturally cross pollinated by measures like the wind or insects, or self pollinate via flowers that have both male and female parts. Open-pollinated plants grow more "true to type" than hybrids, meaning the seeds that each plant produces will grow offspring that closely resemble the parent plant. Older heirloom seeds, however, can still result in a wide variety of plant differentiation, and some open-pollinated seeds are actually hybrids that have been "stabilized" over time for growth and production uniformity.
Hybrid seeds are products of plants within the same species, but not the same variety. Plants from which these seeds come from have been deliberately bred to enhance traits involving growth, color, flavor and other physical characteristics. Hybridization took off in the early 1900s thanks to Gregor Mendel and his famed genetic studies with peas. Horticulturalists learned that plants with mediocre traits could be cross pollinated with other so-so varieties to produce outstanding features. These seeds are labeled as "F1".
Open-pollination fans claim that these seeds produce fruit that is superior in taste, nutrition and overall constitution to hybrids, partially because less fruit is sometimes produced than hybrids, forcing the plant to concentrate more on creating quality rather than quantity. Taste, however, is subjective. They also contend that OP seeds offer a wider range of aesthetic variety; not all groceries sell Purple Passion heirloom tomatoes, for instance. Certain modern OP varieties are very disease resistant, many OP seeds cost less than hybrids and many can be saved and grown the following season.
Hybrid seeds are bred to create positive plant and fruit qualities like vigor, adaptability to adverse weather, beefed up production, larger fruit, quicker maturation and disease and pest resistance. While certain OP seeds are finicky and take more nurturing to grow, many hybrids are better at withstanding a beating from Mother Nature and neglect from time-strapped or more absentminded gardeners.
The National Gardening Association suggests growing whatever strikes your fancy and suits your gardening abilities and preferences, regardless of whether they are open pollinated or hybrids. Mix up a routine by growing fruits, vegetables and herbs with interesting colors, sizes and shapes that are different from what you are used to cultivating. Keep planting the same varieties that you love.