Plant breeding is one of those topics that gardeners don’t often consider. Although they have probably heard about selective breeding and its uses before, many don’t consider doing it in real life. After all, only farmers and scientists make new species of plants, right?
Well, not exactly.
While lots of these professionals do breed and create hybrids for their own experiments, the truth is that almost anyone can create a new species of plant — with no scientific equipment required.
Whether your garden is huge and sprawling or just a couple feet long, there are quite a few ways you can learn to breed your own plants. Let’s cover some of the most important basics:
- What plant breeding is
- What it’s normally used for
- Different methods of plant breeding
- Interesting examples of bred plants
What Is Plant Breeding?
Plant breeding can be defined in many ways, but the best working definition is the process of creating a new hybrid plant from multiple other plants. Plant breeding can be done sexually (using pollen) or asexually (grafting branches). We’ll get into all these specifics later, but for right now, just consider it to be the manufacturing of new plants.
People have been breeding plants for thousands of years, since long before agriculture looked like what it does today. According to historical reports, it could have been started the by Egyptian settlers of the Nile, or even Native populations in North America, Africa, and China. Maybe the most famous plant breeder of all was Gregor Mendel, who outlined the principles of hereditary, genetics, and inherited traits.
Plant breeding is sometimes known by a different name: selective breeding. In this process, the gardener chooses two or more varieties of plants with favorable characteristics, crossing them together to create a child plant with new genes. The difference between selective breeding and umbrella plant breeding has to do with plant type. Selective breeding focuses on creating better types of singular plants, while plant breeding creates new plants by crossing different kinds. In either case, a new and more unique plant is born!
All this to say: plant breeding is nothing new. And it was all started by regular gardeners just like Mendel!
What Is Plant Breeding Good For?
Plant breeding is particularly important for the creation of new plants and scientific experiments. In the modern world, most plant breeding and hybrid creations are done for the following reasons:
- Fruits and vegetables are more affordable (grown without much effort)
- New crops for supporting farm animals, bringing us healthier products
- Creating more sustainable energy, such as better varieties of corn
- Reduces pollution and the need for dangerous pesticides
There’s no question that this practice is paramount to the success of modern agriculture. But why exactly is it important to try it for yourself? Great question!
There are a couple of reasons why:
- Plant breeding allows you to create new hybrid plants all of your own
- Crossing plant varieties is a fun science experiment that helps you understand gardening better
- The creation of new plants could lead to unique flowers, fruits, and vegetables
- Breeding plants makes you a more well-rounded gardener
Love it or hate it, plant breeding is an important part of the gardening process. It’s worth giving a try—even if you aren’t very familiar with its foundational principles. You might be surprised how much it teaches you about your gardening skills!
How To Breed Plants In Your Garden
Breeding your garden plants is a lot easier than you may think. In fact, you could start harvesting new plants of your own by the end of the summer! There are three types of breeding processes you can try, each of which require a slightly different procedure:
1. ‘Selection’ Method
This planting method requires you to find, test, and isolate the plants you want to breed. Once you’ve found your parent plants, isolate them from pollinators and exposure by wrapping them in a large plastic bag. Don’t worry: your plant will be fine!
Next, gather some pollen from the male plant, and pollinate the just-opened flowers of the new plant. Use Q-Tips or a small brush to gently transfer the material. Once you’ve applied everything, you’re done! Just wait for the seeds to ripen, and collect your new species! You can plant it in any pot or greenhouse to monitor for interesting changes.
2. The ‘Cross-Pollination’ Method
Maybe you’re more interested in altering the varieties of plants you already have. Cross pollinate two plants of the same species by following the above method. Continue to sow their seeds and continuously cross pollinate for up to two years, then reap your rewards!
3. The ‘Vegetative’ Method
If you already have a unique plant you want to breed, or if you want to make more of the same plant, why not try using the vegetative method?
In this process, take extremely green cuttings from your young plants, preferably during the springtime. Use a cutting that is close to the base of the plant, and free of flowers, leaves, or buds. Dip the cut end in some rooting hormone, and place it into a pot for growing. You should start to see some growth within the next few weeks!
Interesting Examples Of Bred Plants
To encourage your plant breeding escapades, check out these interesting plants that resulted from ongoing breeding efforts:
- Some cruciferous plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage were all bred from the same mother: the wild mustard!
- Tomatoes are actually domesticated wild plants from tropical rainforests.
- Interesting fruits like Quince are crossbred from pears and apples, making a unique flavor profile.
At the end of the day, plant breeding (and plant cloning) are fun side projects for the growing gardener. Whether or not you try your hand is up to you, but keep in mind that it’s a fun side project with few supplies needed. Who knows? Maybe you can pioneer a new plant, breed, or hybrid of your own!