Backyard adventures in hybridizing daylilies



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Time-saving Tips for the Busy Hybridizer
By Nancy Rold

(Originally published by AHS Region 11 in MoKanOk newsletter and awarded Best Article
about Hybridizing at the 2007 American Hemerocallis Society national meeting)

Your neighbors already know that you are more smitten with gardening than the average homeowner and will probably barely notice you racing through the garden before work with shoebox in hand, so read on and join in the fun of creating your very own cultivars!

For the past few years I have studied the body of knowledge on daylily hybridizing and collected ideas from many sources that I have adapted into a method that helps me make the best use of the limited time I have for hybridizing. I wish that I could acknowledge all those (particularly on the AHS email robin) who have so generously shared their experiences. I hope that readers will further adapt my methods to their own use and continue to pass that knowledge on to others!

Pre-season Preparations

Plan your crosses

Make a list of the crosses that you would like to make. Use photos to remind you of bloom and plant features that you would like to combine. Consider an emphasis on early morning openers, sun-fast substance and extended/nocturnal bloomers to create “commuter” daylilies that can be enjoyed before and after work.

Make your tags

I cut used vinyl mini-blinds into 1.5” lengths, punch a hole near the corner with a paper punch and cut a slit to the hole to create my own “bread-type” tags. I label them in pencil with the planned pod x pollen parents. (These can be saved at the end of the season, washed with a bit of soft abrasive soap between your fingers and rinsed for re-use.) Make extra unlabeled tags for spontaneous crosses in the garden!

Tag whole scapes

As scapes appear, even before bloom, dedicate a whole scape to each planned cross by placing a label on each scape just above a branch, or on a branch if the scape is thick. Having the scape pre-labeled will save you time when making before-work crosses (details below) and result in less tag clutter in the garden. You might leave untagged the best-branched scape in a clump, for potential exhibition at your club show.

Bloom Season Techniques

Create a pollen “bank”

On the weekends during bloom season, collect pollen from the planned pollen parents and save it to use during the coming week so that your crosses are not dependent on running across the garden to see if both parents are blooming on the same day. I use a shoebox as a filing box for standard white paper envelopes (3.5 x 6.5” size). I pick the stamens from my pollen-donor blooms and pinch just the anthers into an envelope. Then I load a cotton swab (Q-tip) with pollen by rubbing it across the anthers in the bottom/corner of the envelope. When the swab is loaded, the anthers are dumped out and the swab saved in the labeled envelope, filed alphabetically in the shoebox. The paper envelopes help to keep the pollen dry and will stick to warn you if conditions are too damp (protect the shoebox from dew-drenched ground). Pollen being kept for more than a few days is best stored in the freezer by placing a handful of envelopes in zip-lock plastic bag. It can be kept in the freezer until next year to pollinate early bloomers with later bloomers. Remember to let the sealed bag acclimate to room temperature before opening it to avoid condensation on the cold pollen (you can set them out to warm while you eat breakfast, etc.) Fresh pollen that is too dry and powdery to stick to the cotton swab is often not fertile and that cultivar may make a better pod than pollen parent.

Make the cross – an unusual technique

Load your shoebox with pollen envelopes, extra tags and a pencil, then head for the garden before work! If you are dressed for work, gum boots will protect your feet/legs from the morning dew, but be careful not to brush against those red and purple spent blooms. An oversized T-shirt or apron may provide extra protection. Remember, the neighbors already know that you are a bit odd. Watch the clock or set a timer, it is easy to get carried away with hybridizing!

Cruise the beds looking for tagged scapes with open blossoms. Take a moment to admire and give thanks for the beautiful bloom and then remove the petals, sepals and stamen from it and with a dry hand touch some pollen from the chosen swab to the tip of the remaining pistil. No tag to write with this time-saving method! Return the dry swab to its envelope for further use.

Why remove the petals? It is hard at first to sacrifice a bloom, but if you only set 2-3 pods (to not over-tax the scape) you should have 75% or more of the blooms left to enjoy. Bees will have nowhere to land and spread their own pollen over your cross. Pod-set may be better on big blooms as there will be no heavy, wet spent bloom to break off the developing pod. You will not mistakenly dead-head a fertilized bloom in the evening because it will be immediately identifiable. If your pods are set early in the season, you can see any subsequent bee pods which will be smaller with a “cap” of dry petals, and easily remove them.

Use your evenings

Because time is likely shortest in the morning, use your evenings to identify pod parents that open before dark, or at least extend their pistils beyond the bud in the evening before bloom. You can attempt to pollinate these, as above, at dusk. I know some hybridizers that use a miner’s head lamp to continue this project after dark! Using a different size or color tag on these scapes would make them easy to identify.

Also, take garden photos in the early evenings to remind you next winter which potential parents look best late in the day.

Make the most of weekends and vacations

I like to take a week of vacation from work during peak bloom, or take advantage of weekends and holidays for the following:

1) use fresh pollen on reluctant pod setters and monitor them for the time of day that they are most receptive, exuding a drop of fluid on the tip of the pistil,

2) tag any re-bloom scapes as needed for further crosses,

3) replenish the pollen bank with fresh pollen and discard old swabs, and

4) admire the swelling pods.

Harvest time

Watch for pod ripening

About 6 weeks after making your first successful crosses, begin to monitor the tagged scapes for pods that are ripe. They will be dry and starting to split. You’ll want to harvest them just before the seed spills to the ground. This is best done in the evening when pods are not wet with dew.

If you will be on vacation during this time you can place a section of nylon stocking or fine netting over the pod and secure it with a twist tie so that the seeds fall into this “bag” for harvest when you return.

To collect pods, I take some spare plastic ice cube trays into the garden with 1” squares of scrap paper and a pencil. I harvest the pod and write the cross on a slip of paper to accompany it in its cube of the tray. Of course, when the last pod on a scape ripens, you can put the plastic tag in the collecting tray with the pod.

Prepare seeds for storage

The trays are set on a shelf to dry further until I have time to shell them some evening later in the week. While listening to the news, I shell the pods onto a small tray, discard any mushy or deformed seeds and pat with a paper towel if they are wet. Then I place them into another set of the white paper envelopes, labeled with the cross, alphabetically, in a cardboard shoebox. When harvesting is complete, I wrap the whole box in a plastic bag and store the sealed seeds in the refrigerator until I am ready to plant them in the spring.

A mid-winter check (remember to acclimate to room temperature before opening the bag) will reassure you that no mold is developing. I have never had this happen because my seeds are not wet and I have been told that the residual bleach used in the processing of white paper envelopes discourages mold growth. My germination rate had been good with this method, whether or not the seeds are pre-soaked before planting.


As with children, the subsequent cultivation of seedlings takes some space, work and patience, but the thrill of seeing your seedlings mature and bloom makes it worth the effort!



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