Heirloom Plants vs. New Plant Varieties

Some say heirloom plants are best for vegetable and flower gardening. Others swear by new varieties. Get tips for where each kind grows best.

| March/April 2016

  • Newer varieties of Bee Balm, such as "Balmy Purple," "Sugar Buzz" and "Pardon My" are hardy and disease-resistant.
    Photo courtesy Green Gate Farms
  • Bleeding Heart is a classic heirloom plant that is tolerant of heavy shade.
    Photo by iStock
  • The prairie-style perennial coneflower works well as an heirloom and new plant variety.
    Photo by iStock
  • This variety of coneflower, introduced by Plants Nouveau, is shorter and bushier than other varities, and comes in more colors.
    Photo courtesy Plants Nouveau
  • The "Daisy May" variety of Shasta Daisy has larger flowers than traditional daisies.
    Photo by iStock
  • "Glamour Girl" Garden Phlox has disease-resistant foliage and fragrant blossoms.
    Photo courtesy Wayside Gardens
  • One appeal of heirlooms is their striking appearance. This is an heirloom ‘Dragon’ carrot (Daucus carota), available from High Mowing Organic Seeds.
    Photo by iStock
  • The large, delicate blooms of peonies are best showcased in heirlooms.
    Photo by iStock
  • Salvia's vibrant blooms are long-lasting and heat-tolerant.
    Photo by Chris Brown Photography
  • Information on heirloom vegetables is easily accessible, and it's worth experimenting with different varieties.
    Photo courtesy High Mowing Organic Seeds
  • The flavor of heirloom tomatoes beat out newer varieties, and come in numerous colors.
    Photo by Picasa

“Heirlooms are the only way to go.”  

“New plants have all the benefits.”

If you’ve heard either of these statements from gardeners, take it with a grain of salt. The best method is to mix it up, in both our veggie and flower gardens—sometimes heirlooms are the way to go while other times new varieties give us an edge. Here’s a case for both, along with a few plant suggestions.    

The Case for Heirlooms

If there’s one area where most gardeners can agree to stick with heirlooms, it’s vegetables. Many heirlooms blow their hybrid counterparts away in the flavor department. This is because modern varieties, developed for benefits such as higher yields, often sacrifice flavor and nutrition.

“Heirlooms offer such incredible diversity and flavor to the garden,” says Niki Jabbour, author of Groundbreaking Food Gardens. “I can’t imagine a summer without my ‘Lemon’ cucumbers, ‘Purple Podded’ pole beans or ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes.”

Another advantage to heirlooms is saving your own seeds. Because hybrid plants are a cross of two species, they won’t reproduce similar plants, so you can’t save seeds and use them from year to year. “When I grow the same heirloom tomato in my garden, saving the seeds from year to year, I’m developing a variety that is climatically adapted to my backyard,” Jabbour says.

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