Harvest time is the best time to think about saving seeds and preserving garden diversity in next year’s flower or vegetable garden. I’m Lisa Hilgenberg from Chicago Botanic Garden with gardening tips for the week.

It’s easy to save seed from favorite annual plants like tomato, beans, and marigolds. Knowing the difference between hybrid seeds and heirloom seeds will simplify the decision on the best ones to save.

Heirloom varieties are often linked with nostalgic stories of seeds being passed down through generations of gardeners. They are open pollinated by wind or insects or are self-pollinating. Heirlooms reliably reproduce themselves year after year, often having been in cultivation for at least 50 years. When planted the following year these seeds will produce plants with the same characteristics as the parent plants.

Hybrid varieties are plants that have been bred for specific traits such as disease resistance, early maturity or color. Hybrids typically grow uniformly in the garden and produce consistent flowers and crops. But seeds saved from hybrid plants will likely lack those desirable characteristics that they were bred for. Next year’s offspring will not grow true, so it’s best it’s best to buy new hybrid seed each year.

Lisa Hilgenberg is the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist. She teaches classes for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentors interns from the Garden’s urban agriculture programs in the summer. Lisa draws on a rich family farming tradition, having spent many summers on her grandparents’ farms in Iowa and Minnesota. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @hilgenberg8.

Want more gardening tips?  You can read other online articles or listen to previous podcast episodes from WBBM Newsradio’s Gardening Tips segment.