I have a crude understanding that planted seeds should be non-hybrid non-gmo open-pollinated in order for their offspring to be as good as the parents.

If I try to use organic produce from the grocery store to start different varieties of plants which of them would create quality offspring?

Any root vegetables like potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, beets?

Any vegetables that still have their roots intact like scallions or watercress?

Also what different seeds would work? Chia seeds? Flax seeds? Wheatgrass seeds? Other seeds?

For fruit, I assume that many fruits have sproutable seeds, but that few if any would grow a new generation as good as the parent? Is this correct?

Also my local market has tomatoes labels as "heirloom tomatoes". Are the seeds in these really "heirloom" and replantable or is this just a marketing gimmick?

By the way, I am not asking if it is a good idea. I am not planning on starting a garden this way, I am more interested from an educational perspective.


7 Answers 7


You're better off buying seeds from the rack in the front of the store.

  • Potatoes are often treated to prevent sprouting.
  • If you buy organic potatoes, they may sprout, but they may also be carrying diseases. Normally you'd want to buy certified disease-free "seed" potatoes.
  • Garlic might also be treated to prevent sprouting, but planting the cloves might work. You'd probably be better off to purchase a variety that is known to do well in your area.
  • Onions, carrots, and beets are all biennial. You'd have to store them overwinter, plant the root back in the ground in the spring, and harvest seed. If the vegetable you purchased was a hybrid (they probably are), then the seeds you'd get from this method will not be true to the parent.
  • I don't know about the seeds (flax, etc). If they haven't been heat-treated (e.g. to kill bugs), then you may be able to plant them. Again you may have the hybrid issue.
  • As far as "other" seeds, I might mention dry beans, again with the heat treatment and hybrid caveats.
  • Tree fruit (apples, pears, stone fruit, etc) are normally propagated vegetatively. The seed may be viable, and would grow into a tree, but it is unlikely to produce fruit that tastes like the parent (and, I've heard, is unlikely to be worth eating at all).
  • Vegetables that are really fruit (e.g. tomato) and are sold mature (e.g. pumpkin and other winter squash -- not zucchini and other summer squash), and are truly "heirloom" will probably contain seeds that will viably produce another generation. The issue you may run into here is that the vegetables were produced without paying attention to the things that are important for seed saving: roguing, maintaining genetic diversity, and avoiding cross-pollination. Some plants (squashes) cross very easily, so you may get odd results if your heirloom pumpkins were grown nearby some other squash family plant. Most producers selling at market will probably have a large enough population to maintain genetic diversity, but if you don't then the plants that you grow may be weak. Finally, the producers aren't roguing off-types, so your plants may have undesirable genetic variations.
  • 1
    man, I must be doing something wrong, because I'm always forgetting about produce I buy and ending up with sprouts. Potatoes, garlic, ginger, onions, &c.
    – dwightk
    Apr 16, 2014 at 15:41

I know I start nearly every garden from store leftovers.

I buy organic rainbow carrots and an "Alaskan-grown" orange variety I don't know. Right before the time they get old and rubbery, most sprout a little more green. I whack off the top and plant it.

Nearly all varieties of my lettuce and celery grow from a store cutting.

All onions, potatoes and garlic, I grow from the bulb leftover of my store purchase. I also grow my garlic this way. I've recently moved onto avocado, that's about 50/50. My starfruit, de-husked store coconut and pineapple (Dole, non organic) are all growing as well.

My peppers (all kinds) are from inside a purchased pepper, my melons are from store melons (took a million tries but got 1 honeydew and started grabbing those seeds). I start my peas from a bag of dried bean soup mix, and my corn is from a specific kind of popcorn mix (it's cheaper than seeds).

I buy a 50lb bag of barley chicken feed for my barley, that's about $9 for up to ½ acre.

All in all, I only use seeds for radishes, extra lettuce, tobacco and trees. But a lot of my trees and berries are clipped as well.


Here is a good infographic that describes using scraps to regrow onions, celery, ginger, garlic, mushroom, potatoes, and pineapple:



I just put the seed in the ground, and if they turn out to be really good I save the seed. I have store bought garlic I have been growing for 20 years.


There are four main problems I see with planting seeds from grocery store produce.

  1. They might be genetically engineered, unless they're certified organic.
  2. They might be patented or protected by plant breeders rights of some kind. If they're genetically engineered, odds are extremely high that they are patented, unless they're over 20 years old.
  3. You really don't know what they are, because even when they label a tomato Roma, for instance, that doesn't mean it's necessarily a Roma tomato.
  4. It could be illegal, depending on the form of produce and where you live, due to state or other laws.

I recommend contacting the grower to find more information about whatever you'd like to grow, but try not to let them know you're wanting to grow them, and either way, don't expect a useful, thorough answer.

For people who are selling fruits marketed as heirlooms, you're really just trusting them to be selling what they say they are. Ask them what variety they are. They probably are heirlooms, but if you're going to grow them you'll probably want to know the variety. Lacking the variety, you'll want to know where they were grown to make sure they'll grow in your climate.

GMO seeds should normally be as fertile as heirlooms, and they'll likely breed true. However, since they're probably patented they might cross with your other stuff and give you serious legal problems that I don't recommend you want to deal with. Also, they may produce Bt toxin and/or such (e.g. Bt corn). Bt is not botulism toxin (I state this because one person who suggested an edit thought that I meant this), but rather it's a fairly harmless toxin (to humans) by comparison, and it isn't produced by the same kind of bacteria. Plants, such as corn have been purposefully genetically modified to produce Bt toxin to keep insects away, as Bt toxin has an insecticidal influence.

Hybrids are often fertile, depending on what kinds of plants you're talking about, but it's very statistically unlikely that they'll breed 100% true. It helps if you know the parentage of your hybrids. Then you'll be likely to know if they had differing numbers of chromosomes or such, or if there are any definite undesirable traits from parents that might show up in the F2+ generations.

It's also good to know that some forms of grocery store produce in the form of bulbs, tubers or such, constitute a misdemeanor to plant in some states (e.g. potatoes, garlic, and onions in Idaho), unless maybe they were grown in the state they're being sold in (but don't quote me on that last), or unless they're certified by a certain process or some such (which grocery store produce is very unlikely to be). The idea seems to be to reduce the spread of diseases.

Grocery store produce is often capable of growing, but it may (or may not) be diseased or weakened by chemicals, it may (or may not) be true to type, it may not be used to a climate like yours, it may be genetically modified, and it may have legal and ethical issues. In summary, you can probably do it, depending on what it is, but I don't recommend it at all in this day and age (unless maybe you get it organic from a farmer's market, and actually know the breed). You'll most likely have a more enjoyable experience if you get forms that are intended to be grown.

It is a bigger issue when people who save seeds to share and/or who breed plants grow plants from grocery store produce, because they might be illegal, and they might cross-pollinate their other stuff (and/or their neighbor's stuff), or be used in their breeding programs (and then they might share the seeds with or sell them to people who don't know they're illegal and/or of questionable origin). Growing them is one thing (still a questionable and potentially illegal thing, though), but allowing them to potentially or purposefully cross with other crops is another.


A bag of whole coriander seeds from the asian market will generally sprout and give you a nice pot of tasty cilantro. It'll grow back through a couple choppings, but eventually flower and go to seed. Freeze excess chopped leaves to preserve flavor.

Heirloom tomato seeds can be preserved and planted from storebought. Be aware though that different varieties of tomato love to cross-pollinate. When I save Black Krim seed from my own garden, which always includes several types of tomato, I get about 3 total years crop that looks and tastes vaguely like krim. Then it's time to get new seed. You'll do better if you buy your tomatoes from a farm that has 50 acres of exclusive Krim, or whatever, production, and only plant the one variety yourself. Of course then you have to worry about the neighbor's tomato pollen, and risk disease wiping out your whole crop. Squashes from the store seem to breed reasonably true. Obviously I haven't tried them all, but Acorn and butternut.

Grocery store Cherimoya will readily give you nice little trees. Sadly, they're not cold tolerant.


I've heard that most grocery vegetables have been made sterile to prevent just this thing, forcing you to rely more on purchasing from the major growers.

  • 1
    I removed most of your post because it doesn't address the original question. Please see the tour for an overview of how this site works, and How to Answer for what we expect in an answer. Also, some citations to back up your statement wouldn't go amiss. Thanks, and welcome to the site.
    – Niall C.
    Dec 30, 2015 at 23:56

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