Should You Grow Heirloom or Hybrid Tomatoes?

Learn the differences between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes and decide which tomatoes are the best for your garden.

Do you like to grow tomatoes in your garden?  Have you heard the terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘heirloom’ tossed around and wondered what the difference is?  Gardeners who are passionate about vegetable gardening call this the great tomato debate.

If you love growing tomatoes, then let’s get to bottom of the differences between hybrid and heirloom tomatoes and which is the right type of tomato for you. Learn 7 ways to grow the ultimate tomato crop.

Courtesy Noelle Johnson

Heirloom Tomatoes

  • Varieties have been around for 40+ years without having been crossbred with another variety of tomato
  • They are ‘open-pollinated’, which means that they are pollinated naturally by insects or by the wind
  • Seeds will produce the exact same type of tomato time after time
  • Are more flavorful and delicious with a thinner skin
  • Heirlooms are produced in a variety of colors such as purple, orange, yellow, red, green, white and pink
  • Have less resistance to pests and disease
  • Generally do not produce as many tomatoes
  • Take longer to mature

Courtesy Noelle Johnson

Hybrid Tomatoes

  • Are created from two different tomato plants, each a different variety in order to get the best qualities of each parent
  • Seeds produced by hybrid tomatoes may produce variable offspring that may not have the same characteristics of the parent
  • Taste is less flavorful than heirloom tomatoes
  • Have greater pest and disease resistance
  • Handles stressful growing conditions better than heirlooms
  • Can travel for longer distances without damage to the outer skin
  • Produces more tomatoes that mature more quickly
Courtesy Noelle Johnson
San Marzano tomatoes

So what do these differences mean to you?

Heirloom tomatoes grow true from seed, taste delicious and come in many different-colored varieties. However, they also are more prone to pests/disease, take longer to grow and do not produce as many tomatoes as a hybrid variety.

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Hybrid tomatoes capitalize on the strengths from both parents. As a result, they produce more fruit while handling tough growing conditions. But that comes at a cost with a less-flavorful tomato with tougher skin.

Courtesy Noelle Johnson

It is helpful to note that heirloom tomatoes aren’t organic. What makes a tomato organic is the way it is grown, so you can purchase organic hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. And according to scientists, both types of tomatoes have the same health benefits.

So which side do you fall on in the great tomato debate? I have grown both types in my garden with good results. I love growing San Marzano tomatoes, which are an heirloom variety of tomato that I like to use for making sauce. Here’s how to freeze freshly harvested tomatoes.

In response to consumers wanting more flavorful tomatoes that can handle tough conditions, farmers are now working on improving the flavor of hybrid tomatoes.

For great tomato heirloom and hybrid varieties, check out our picks for the best tomatoes to grow.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.