Are plant mutations bad? And 5 ways expert gardeners avoid them

This is how the experts lower the threat of plant mutation – and promote healthy growth all season long

Plant mutation on red flower
(Image credit: Alamy)

For all their pleasures, it can often feel like your plants have a mind of their own – especially when showing signs of mutation. 

Plant mutations (otherwise known as breaks, sports, or chimeras) occur suddenly – and when they do – the appearance of your plant changes, such as in the white petal of the saxifraga flower above. Or perhaps you have planted a variegated shrub that slowly becomes pure green? 

Plant mutations are often visible through the stem, flowers, foliage, or fruit of any plant that may be a part of your garden ideas. As plant mutations are natural, they can feel hard to control – especially in summer when mutations take place amid high temperatures. And they don't just affect flowers but fruit and vegetable garden ideas, too. 

Are mutations always harmful in plants?

Plant mutations are not always harmful. However, if you are intent on growing the healthiest looking plants in your garden, you will want to keep an eye open for them.

5 ways to avoid plant mutations – according to experts

Whether you're learning how to plant roses or how to grow strawberries for a fruitful harvest, the tips surrounding plant mutations remain the same. Here's how the experts discourage the problem – for reliable plant growth throughout the season.

1. Always use healthy seeds 

how to grow cosmos in pots

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Knowing when to plant grass seed is vital for growing a healthy lawn, but investing in the correct type of grass seed is similarly impactful when preventing plant mutations. 

'It's better to grow from organic or heirloom seeds than those that come from a big brand name seed company,' suggests Maine-based landscape design expert Melody Estes from The Project Girl. This is because some brands 'will often use GMO seeds that may lead to mutations in the offspring.' 

If you're unsure whether your seeds are organic or heirloom, Melody recommends asking an expert at your local gardening store.

2. Grow plants in nutrient-rich soil

companion planting tomatoes in a veg patch

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'The more nutrients there are in the soil, the healthier your plant will be – and the less likely it will be to get sick or develop mutations,' Melody says. 

The expert recommends adding compost or other organic matter into your raised bed garden ideas before planting anything. This will help provide nutrients for healthy growth until harvest. 

3. Avoid radiation exposure

Garden table in window with potted plants

(Image credit: Future)

While it may initially seem unconventional to consider radiation exposure levels in your garden, Melody urges you to think about your best indoor plants, too. 'Plants have very sensitive DNA structures, so if you expose them to too much radiation (such as from an old TV), they can become mutated,' she explains. 

However, avoiding radiation is simple – you simply need to keep your old electrical devices away from your plants. 

4. Stay away from pesticides on your plants 

Some pesticides have their benefits for deterring pests and bugs that may be feeding on your plants; however, they come with a warning:

'Pesticides kill off beneficial insects that help pollinate your crops and keep harmful insects away from your garden,' Melody explains. 'To avoid this problem, try growing organic fruits and veggies instead of using pesticides on them.'

5. Water earlier in the day

Flower and plant beds. Borders of lupins, Inula, Campanula and meadowsweet.

(Image credit: Allan Pollok-Morris)

The question of when to water plants causes debate amongst many plant-enthusiasts. However, with mutations in mind, it is better to care for them earlier in the day. Lindsey Hyland of Urban Organic Yield explains that watering in the evening can encourage fungal diseases and consequently higher the risk of mutation. 

'Watering in the morning prevents the risk of mutation, but it's also best practice for several other reasons,' H&G's garden expert Rachel Crow adds. 'Watering earlier in the morning means that plants can store water for the day, meaning they are less likely to feel parched. It's a tip we all need to remember.' 

How to get rid of plant mutations?

One way to get rid of plant mutations is to prune the mutation out. Your plant will often return to normal on its own.

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.