Simple Daylily Hybridizing for Us Simple Folks- Part 4 (un-edited)

Originally published in the Winter 2001 'AHS Journal' as "Daylily Hybridizing for Everyone"

By Tom Rood, Penn Yan, NY

(All daylilies in these articles are Hemerocallis )

Another year has come and gone and it is time to reflect upon what we did last bloom season and begin preparing for the season to come. Last summer was a severe drought season for large parts of the country. If you were lucky enough to be able to avoid the drought or have water to irrigate then your hybridizing efforts may have been much more rewarding than those who suffered through the extreme hot and dry weather. Heat and drought combine to prevent seed set and those few pods that were set may not have remained on the scapes until seed harvest. Nevertheless, even in drought conditions, there are positive things to look for in the garden. Some blooms just seem to roll along and look wonderful while others seem to fall apart by late-morning. We should use these conditions as a means of selecting hardy drought resistant cultivars. BOLSHOI BALLET (Moldovan'92) comes to mind as one outstanding plant that rides through the drought like an Arabian camel on a long safari. The foliage looked wonderful all summer, streak free, upright and dark green. The scapes were well branched and held an ample supply of blooms. The light pink blooms may not be barn burners as pink daylilies go but its extended bloom and drought resistant characteristics place it on the list for good hybridizing plants. It is pod fertile as well. We crossed it with our best pink seedlings and a few of those seed pods as still hanging on as this is being written.

As the beginning hybridizer adds to his/her collection of selected seedlings, new vistas are ready to be opened. In the beginning it was necessary to cross named varieties with other named varieties. Two new avenues will open up that were not available earlier with selected seedlings soon to be on hand. We can of course still continue to cross named cultivars with other named cultivars as before. However, now we have the option to use our own selected seedlings as parents. We can cross seedlings to seedlings and seedlings to named varieties. If the seedlings are still rather small, it might be a good idea to use the pollen only and forego setting pods on them thus allowing the seedlings energies to be directed towards stronger plant growth. The more seedling pollen we use the more our hybridizing program becomes truly our very own. More importantly, no one can ever duplicate our work. If you make a few right moves here and there, soon you will gain recognition for your work. Remember to take color slides and volunteer to lend them to regional meetings and national conventions for slide shows. A duckling can not swim before it sticks its foot in the pond so do not feel your work is unimportant or uninteresting. Every single hybridizer was once just like that duckling and just like you. Jump in and let others know you are starting out. We all love to see hybridizer's slides as that is where the real fun is in raising daylilies.

Out-crossing, using non-related healthy parents, provides the best options for increasing plant hybrid vigour. Here again the AHS Checklist may come to our rescue if the hybridizer listed parents on the registration form. It can not be expressed too strongly the importance of looking up parentage of proposed named varieties to be used as parents. This research will pay dividends as we search for hidden characteristics of those recessive genes and every plant has them. Some noted hybridizers will back cross onto a parent or sibling having a desired strong characteristic in hopes of bringing out more strongly that desired characteristic in the next generation. It works, sometimes, and probably should not be done more than once in any given series of crosses. However, it might be better for plant vigour to search for a parent that is not related that has a similar desired characteristic. In general, using similar characteristics such as: edges to edges, eyes to eyes, forms to forms, matching colors to colors in your breeding programs is the safest beginning bet. More elaborate out-crossing may lead to more disappointments but occasionally great surprises as well. Always keep in mind the need to bring more branching, increased bud counts and season extenders- both ways- into your programs. It may take several years to breed vigour and performance into a plant with a beautiful bloom sitting on top of a scape and foliage with poor habits. Better to begin with a similar cross with a better parent. Always keep track of each seedlings parents with good labelling. It will come in handy later.

Selecting seedlings is a very difficult task to anyone who has ever had more than a few. Most often a walk through the seedling beds is disappointing. Then, there are surprises waiting from time to time that make the whole process worth while. Pretty soon, as the beginning hybridizer gains experience, ideas form as to what works and what doesn't. It may take a few seasons of walking seedling beds to begin to increase our abilities in parent selection. The trick is to be brutal in seedling selection or we will become buried with ho-hum daylilies that only the maker could ever love. It is hard to evaluate seedlings as they are just beginning to show their stuff. The Junior Citation award is a great way to achieve recognition for the hybridizer but does little for the seedling itself except to mark it for future observation. It takes 10 Garden Judges to agree for each Junior Citation Award so always encourage Garden Judges to visit your seedling patch. Unless growing conditions are above average in soil amendments and irrigation, seedling increase (vigour), bud counts and branching may not be evident during the first few seasons. However those that do excel in all these points should be set aside in a special bed where they can be evaluated over time and have pollen taken for hybridizing other plants. Remember to put that brown bag over the bloom to focus on "what's under the hood" in your seedling evaluations. Evaluating seedlings in evening as well as morning is important to learn which ones hold up all day long. Some of our better selected seedlings are from both seedling parents.

A few additional thoughts about what to use as parents might be in order as our supply of options increases with time. Avoid the tendency to use the same family of cultivars as both pod and pollen parents which can introduce weakness caused by inbreeding. Unless you know for sure the parents are not closely related, using both pod and pollen parents from one hybridizer, who may be line breeding, can also introduce weakness into the seedlings. A few of our best performing seedlings came from crosses made with pod parents bred in New York and pollen parents bred in Florida and Louisiana. Most of the seedlings are semi-evergreen and northern hardy to at least USDA Zone 5. It is not a good idea to cross southern bred plants with other southern bred plants if the hybridizer lives in the north. The results are almost sure to be on the tender side. Conversely, northern bred hardy dormant daylilies have a tough time surviving in the deep south because they lack the period of dormancy winter provides. If a northern hybridizer wishes to breed with southern beauties, they should be crossed with good hardy northern bred plants. Keep in mind that in early spring, evergreen and semi-evergreen foliaged daylilies will probably look like cooked spinach. This is objectionable to some growers. In our garden, as long as these recover by late May, we are willing to accept the early foliage bad habit in order to enjoy the later beautiful bloom they provide.

Take part 2 of the Garden Judge Workshop even if there is no desire to become a garden judge. It will advance your ability to determine seedling distinction as well as what constitutes a good garden cultivar. Visit as many daylily gardens as possible just to see "what is out there." Seeing many daylilies will increase knowledge that will be of great use in your own seedling selections. A seedling may be useful in advancing a breeding program without ever being registered as a named variety. Some times these are referred to as bridge plants. In this case, please do not give these seedlings garden names. It only causes confusion and if it ever gets out of the garden it will eventually cause an identification problem, you can count on it!

In this series of articles we have talked about selecting inexpensive plants for a typical beginning breeding program, freezing pollen, how the pollinating process works, collecting and storing seeds, planting seedlings, evaluating seedlings and a few ideas about using pollen. The field of hybridizing is not an exact science and further, what appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Find your own nitch, whatever appeals to you, and begin. I can safely say, that the real fun in growing daylilies is that morning walk though our own selected seedling beds. Every morning is like a trip to the maternity ward for our first born. There is no other heart stopping experience like being the very first person to see our own future Stout medal winner, the one your spouse or family fights to have named after them. Go for it!


Contents  Award Article  Hyb Article 1  Hyb Article 2  Hyb Article 3