Breeding Daylilies

If you are among the amateur gardeners who take delight in growing daylilies you would find it immensely pleasurable to produce their own daylily hybrids. Developing your own daylily hybrids is not only very simple, but highly exciting too.

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To begin with, you need some fundamental knowledge regarding the reproductive organs of a flower. At the same time, it is important that you possess some knowledge regarding the daylily ploidy (the number of homologous chromosome sets in a cell) selected for parenthood. This is necessary, as diploids as well as tetraploids are basically mismatched owing to their different sets of chromosomes.

As the daylily flowers contain the male as well as female reproductive organs together, some threats of self-pollination do exist. Therefore, when you are undertaking hybridization programs it is common to emasculate the flowers. In other words, the stamens of the flower that is selected to serve as the pod parent are removed to avoid self-pollination.

If you are planning to undertake hybridizing program with daylilies and create your own daylily cultivar, it is essential that you have some patience. This is important because while it takes just nine months from sowing the seeds to the flowering of daylilies in the hottest climatic conditions, this process may take as long as two to three years in the cooler regions, subject to the respective growing conditions. The bud count, flowering as well as branching may increase or change considerably after two or three seasons.

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Choosing your parents

Initially, you will be tempted to place the pollens from one beautiful flower onto the stigma of another attractive flower and watch what happens. If you are fortunate enough, this simple method of artificial cross-pollination may actually yield wonderful results. However, it is always better if you have particular objectives in mind, for instance a desire to improve the form or color of any chosen species or cultivar. You may also wish to develop new and unusual patterns or try to refine the edges of the flowers. When you are selecting your first parent pod, you should try and choose a daylily that is closer to your objective or one that is ideally promising and subsequently try to find another parent that will harmonize with the first. It is advisable that you choose the second parent keeping in mind that it possesses the qualities lacked by the first parent selected by you - for instance, the aptitude to produce flowers on elegant scapes that rise higher than the plant's healthy foliage or produce scapes that are healthy and evenly branched capable of bearing numerous buds so that the flowering season of the new variety you develop is extended.

Several breeders working on an amateur basis and even some professional breeders develop the knack of finding a high-quality breeding plant, also known as a bridge plant, which will not be satisfactory for being introduced on its own, but possesses the ability to transfer specific outstanding qualities to its progeny.

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At the same time, you need to be careful to avoid some downsides in cross-breeding. Notwithstanding their beauty and attractiveness, you should never cross two daylilies having similar weaknesses. For example, if you desire ruffling, "Dance Ballerina Dance" would seem to be perfect to add to this attribute, but it would not be wise to cross this daylily with another plant that also has the weakness of opening completely where the climatic conditions are cooler. Hence, it is advisable that you should always cross "Dance Ballerina Dance" with another daylily that not only opens up easily, but, if possible, also quite early on in the morning. The new variety developed in this manner would certainly be attractive as well as exciting.

As your understanding regarding the ancestry of the daylily cultivars improves, you will be able to employ newer breeding methods like line-breeding, which involves successive crossing of two parents and their ensuing seedlings with each other one generation after another. Outcrossing is a technique involving the crossing of seedlings with cultivars that are not related to one another in any way. Breeding via this process helps to make the lines stronger and, at the same time, move the grower's aims forward. These days several study books on breeding daylilies are available and they will be of great help in learning new techniques.

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Storing pollen

Occasionally, it is essential to store pollens and use them later in order to produce specific crosses. This is usually done when the pod parent does not bloom simultaneously. Storing pollens is not a difficult task. It involves scraping downy, dry pollens from the anthers of the flower donating pollens and storing them in a china egg cup or any similar container. While scraping the pollens you should be cautious not to include any fleshy parts, as they will rot. This type of collection should be undertaken very early in the day with a view to avoid insects mixing with the collected pollens. In case you only require keeping the pollen just for a few hours and use them on the following day, it will be enough if you simply cover the container and store it in your refrigerator.

On the other hand, if you need to store the pollens for a longer time, for instance about two weeks, it is essential to keep them in properly sealed gelatin capsules and store these capsules in a bigger uncovered container - the kind of plastic tubes that are used to store throat lozenges or pain killers are perfect for this purpose. Subsequently, keep the container in an air-tight covered box along with some silica gel - the substance that is widely used for drying fresh flowers. Next, place the box in the fridge. When you store the pollens in this manner the pollens remain viable and do not undergo any deterioration.

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Alternatively, you can also keep the pollens in a frozen state for preserving them for a prolonged period of time. Frozen pollens remain viable for about a year, provided you undertake the same initial drying processes. When the pollens have become dry, you can place them in an air-tight polythene bag. Any other proper container like a pill box or a contact lens case will also serve the purpose well. Once you have placed the pollens in a sealed polythene bag or pill case, paste a label with the name of the cultivar. It is advisable that you place the pollens on a small piece of paper towel, as it will help to soak up any residual moisture when you take them out of the fridge. You can apply the pollens from the paper towel directly to the pistil for fertilization.

Making a cross

The easiest form of cross-pollination involves putting the pollens collected from anthers of one desired flower onto another selected flower's stigma. Before you undertake the artificial cross-pollination, you need to ensure that the pollens are dry as well as fluffy and having a golden-yellow hue. You should bear in mind that hard pollens having a creamy-white hue are infertile. If possible, pollination should be undertaken very early on a cool and dry morning. This is especially crucial when you are dealing with tetraploids, which are usually trickier. On the other hand, pollination of diploids can be successfully undertaken till midday or even a little afterwards.

Transfer the pollens using a small paint brush that is used by artists. Ensure that you wash the brush using soap and water to cleanse it completely before each cross you undertake. Make use of your fingers or flat-ended tweezers to hold the stamen and anther, and subsequently stroke the pollen over the pod parent's stigma. Many amateur hybridizers then cover the pistil ends carefully using a small cap of foil after having made a cross to avoid any unplanned or undesirable pollination during the period needed for fertilization to be complete.

After the cross is made, you need to mark the pod parent to ensure that the flower is not removed by mistake while deadheading the particular daylily plant. To start with, it will be sufficient to use a colored wool piece, but for people who are smitten with hybridizing it is essential to maintain records and, hence, the first step involves marking the pod parent using a small tie-on label. You can write the details about the cross number, the two parent plants used in making the cross, and the date on which you made the cross. Usually, the name of the pod parent is written first on the label. Of course, the details related to the cross should always be written with an indelible garden pencil or pen. Subsequently, the label is fastened carefully to the plant's stem just below the flower and all crosses made should be noted down on a pad and later the details can be transferred to a computer or record book.

You should not be disappointed even if some crosses do not succeed. You should know that pollination is not successful always and several hazards are involved with the process. There are many reasons why a cross may not take. Occasionally, a parent may turn out to be infertile; the weather conditions may be extremely hot and humid resulting in the pollinated flower to wither or drop on the ground; or a seed pod may wither even after initial growth, especially if the weather condition is extremely cold and changeable.

On the other hand, when the pollination is fruitful, you will notice that the pistil's base will swell, while the flower sheds, exposing the small green-hued seed pod. However, you should never be tempted to remove the withered flowers surrounding the emerging seed pods, because when you do this, the entire thing may snap off easily, making your efforts futile. If everything goes on well, the seed pod will continue to grow and it will ripen in approximately six weeks' time. Eventually, the ripened seed pod will spring open at its top. This is the right time to remove the seed pods from the plant and take out the seeds. Subsequently, dry the mature seeds and place them in small paper or self-sealing plastic bags and store them in a container. The container should be kept in the fridge till you need the seeds for use.

Sowing & growing on

Provided adequate light and heat are available, you can sow daylilies throughout the winter months. However, most gardeners usually like to wait till the onset of spring, thereby ensuring that the vulnerable seedlings are not exposed to unfavourable weather conditions by planting them quite early on in the year.

The seeds will have become dried having lost their moisture and look somewhat wrinkled when you take them out from cold storage. Therefore, it is prudent to soak the seeds in water for a couple of days prior to sowing and change the water every day. Subsequently, you should sow the seeds about 5 mm to 10 mm (1/4 inch to 1/2 inch) deep in open-textured compost. Cover the seeds lightly and compress the soil gently using your feet. You should use individual pots, deep trays, or select self-watering seed trays made from polystyrene and place them inside a mildly heated propagator, a ventilated cupboard or on any warm windowsill till the seeds germinate. If you have not placed the trays in a covered propagator, it will be necessary for you to cover them using a polythene bag with a view to retain the moisture inside. You will be able to know that the seeds have germinated successfully when you see robust grass-like spears beginning to sprout in roughly seven to ten days from sowing the seeds. At the same time, you need to ensure that the containers are kept in a place receiving enough light and are free from frost till the seedlings have become resilient enough to be planted outdoors after the threat of the last frost in your area has passed.

While planting the young seedlings outdoors, you need to transplant them into a properly prepared patch in your garden that receives enough sunlight. Plant the seedlings at a distance of about 22 cm (9 inches) from each other, providing each young plant with sufficient room to increase over the next two to three years. You should water the seedlings adequately and provide them with mulch during the summer to help them grow an excellent root system ahead of their first winter outdoors. When you have done these, you have very little to do apart from waiting with the expectation to see a scape emerge from the foliage and see the plants bear their maiden blooms.

Seeing the first seedlings germinate from the seeds certainly gives great pleasure and excitement. Nevertheless, it is necessary to examine the seedlings critically, as many of them may be of inferior quality and not worth retaining. However, don't eliminate any such seedling immediately. On the other hand, give them sufficient time to grow up and then be very selective and try to examine the entire plant. When you are undertaking a hybridizing program ensure that you do not make numerous crosses. It is true that professional hybridizers usually produce thousands of seedlings every year. However, you cannot expect this from someone who is undertaking hybridizing only as an enjoyable hobby. Precisely speaking, armatures will never be able to undertake hybridizing on such a large scale or handle such huge number of seedlings. It will be enough for them to produce about a hundred or two seedlings from cautiously selected parents.

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