Simple Daylily Hybridizing for Us Simple Folks- Part I (un-edited)
Originally published in the Spring 2001 'AHS Journal' as "Daylily Hybridizing for Everyone"
By Tom Rood, Penn Yan, NY
(All daylilies in these articles are Hemerocallis )
The real fun in growing daylilies is the anticipation of blooming a seedling for the very first time and witnessing the event personally. If we made the seed with some forethought so much the better and higher the anticipation. Probably our first seeds collected and planted will be from selfs. Those are naturally made crosses either from winds or insects. Chances are these will be the least promising and result in disappointment leading to failure to continue with future hybridizing. That's sad, because there is a whole new world waiting out there and it is yours to discover.
Recent events have caused a lot of us to search within ourselves for some purpose or trust to hold onto. Our families are more important than ever right now. We can apply this inner search to our own world of daylilies through the love of creation. That is, in creating our own daylilies instead of filling our gardens with store-bought or catalog ordered plants. And then there is the threat of obtaining daylily rust and that is a subject we will skip around.
Often I have heard "Why hybridize? I could never catch up with the current hybridizers!" Part of that statement is true, conditionally. It depends on the condition or degree of dedication and perseverance. Anyone can begin today as a new hybridizer gathering the latest and newest introductions and begin a program that in less than five years competes world class. Of course there may be a divorce and/or a bankruptcy or both to contend with along the way but it can be done if one has the resources and tenacity.
On the other hand, there are we the simple folks who still want to hybridize a few daylilies but in between golf games or fishing trips. Then too, we do not wish to dig up the paved driveway for a seedling bed. If this sounds familiar then the ideas forthcoming in this series of articles are designed for you.
Ask a dozen experienced hybridizers for recommendations for a beginning hybridizer and you will receive a dozen and a half answers. Most of them will be good. A few will be great. And, if you were to follow all of them, it would be necessary to take out a second mortgage on your garden to purchase the recommended plants. Our simple approach is to first look at what we already have growing and growing well in the garden. Somewhere along the way it would be advisable to attend a set of garden judge workshops just to firm up what constitutes a good daylily in our minds.
The second thing to be aware of is what others are growing so we need to visit lots of gardens. The more daylilies we see the better we understand what constitutes a good daylily. It also opens our horizons to the possibilities awaiting us in the hidden gene pools surrounding us. During these garden visits, ask yourself "What's missing here?" Did you see a great pink, a good lavender, intense red or a nice double? Chances are one or more will be missing from most visited gardens. See? There is room for your creations. Visiting gardens is a sharing experience and forges lasting friendships as well. I think I learn something new every time we visit another garden. It is never too late for an old dog to learn a few neat new tricks.
One piece of advice, look at what the daylily feet are growing in and see if there is any supplemental irrigation going on in the garden. If you do not use heavy fertilizers under your daylilies and irrigate regularly then your daylilies may not perform as seen in those gardens that do. They may look great and are great but the average mom and pop backyard gardener won't be duplicating those conditions. This is something to consider when looking for those special plants to add to your own garden and hybridizing programs.
The third thing to accomplish is to plan plant acquisitions that move toward our goals. This is an important step. Look at what you now have and then determine if there is a need for a few other daylilies to round out your beginning hybridizing program. Remain focused while searching those catalogs. The beauty of color photos is akin to the ancient luring sirens of Ulysses's Odyssey. They can bleed us and divert our attention from predetermined goals. If it sounds like experience talking, we plead guilty. When we come right down to it, there are only three reasons to purchase a daylily. First, we must believe it is needed to move us forward in our hybridizing program. Second, there is a need for that particular cultivar in the garden either to complete a collection or color scheme. Third, we purchase the daylily out of loyalty and/or friendship with the hybridizer.
In the ever-forward-reaching search for the daylily that will bring fame and riches, major hybridizers do mostly what is called "short crosses." That is pollinating only a few identical blooms with a single pollen loaded anther or anthers. The resulting limited seed production is planted and bloomed. In Florida seed to bloom takes about nine months. Up here in the north, it takes two years. If there is a good seedling or two, they are saved for propagation while the rest are composted. Even if the cross shows promise the hybridizer may never make it again because to do so would mean moving backwards in time. Keep in mind that major hybridizers are in a race to keep up. The luck of the draw may lead to success for some while for others, careful planning with studied gene backgrounds hold the " keys to the magic kingdom" as Dan Trimmer is fond of quoting.
A single "distinctive" seedling, or two, is normal out of 1,000 seedlings. Often it is less and a few times every seedling will be a keeper but those finds are rare. In between are several great garden flowers waiting for us to discover and amongst them may be hidden one of those keys to the magic kingdom. One can never be sure of the gene pool quality from a "short" cross.
So, amongst the millions of possibilities in combinations of gene pools, there is a wealth of terrific daylilies passed by in the aforementioned race for us simple folks to discover. Most won't be barn burners but they will look really good with our grandchildren= s names attached. If they turn out to be great performers and have a decent chance to get around where garden judges may see them they have just as good a chance at becoming an award winner as the latest and hottest new intro from central Florida. Never forget that Stella D'Oro won a Stout Medal on performance and not for outstanding beauty. Consider the fabled tale of the race between the hare and the tortoise. The hare has every expectation of winning similar to leading edge hybridizers. But we, represented by the turtles, have jumped the tracks and are running in another race, our race, a race were we ourselves determine the winners. It' s that personal satisfaction in this race that counts!
It is okay to attempt to breed with spiders and unusual formed daylilies. However, as with tetraploids, their long carpels make the trip for pollen fertilization difficult. Expect disappointments from making these crosses but at the same time do not give up. Some crosses may produce good seed and the results are often worth the disappointments along the way.
You probably have heard about setting goals in hybridizing. Knowing where we want to go, what we want to achieve, is worthwhile and if we have the resolve to stick to those goals, it reduces the "running around in circles" syndrome of hitting every blossom with pollen when peak bloom hits the backyard. Select a few directions you would like to work toward. Forget that the field ahead of you has been well travelled. You are "marching to the tune of another drummer" and results will be your very own and have every chance of being as good and perhaps even better than what is out there. As the New York Lotto logo says, "Hey, you never know!".
Some simple rules to consider as you go though the planning stages are to select parents from among plants that perform well in your own geographic area. Use parent plants that show good characteristics such as decent bud counts, consistently well formed flowers, great year-round foliage from frost out to frost in, well-branched scapes with a pleasing relationship in the balance between scape and foliage height. As for blooms, things to think over are clear colors that appeal to you as well as your favorite shapes, forms and sizes. The list can get quite extensive and lead to trying to cover more bases than we have resources to handle effectively. Pay particular attention to the degree of hardiness needed for your own garden. I do not particularly care if the daylily is dormant or evergreen or somewhere in between as long as it performs well during our bloom season. There is too much attention on dormant versus evergreen these days. Performance for me is what counts and not what it does in the hybridizer= s garden perhaps hundreds of miles away and in another climatic zone.
Some hybridizers advise purchase of the best parents one can afford for a hybridizing program. While true in some sense, it leaves too much interpretation as to what is or what will be a terrific parent plant. Not a few great looking beauties have turned out to be poor performers. Some parent's seedlings hit the ground running such as Pat Stamile's STRAWBERRY CANDY (tetraploid) and Pauline Henry's SILOAM RALPH HENRY (diploid). SRH has been a difficult parent for us but nearly every seed set from its pollen is a keeper. As a plus, it has been noticed that when SRH is breed with a cold hardy daylily, the resulting offspring tends to be cold hardy too. This is a much desired trait for us in the north.
SILOAM RALPH HENRY as a pollen parent is powerful! Those lucky enough to have an extra $500 laying around have snapped up the few available tetraploid conversions and have been using it to set hybridizers' buzzing all across the country and obtaining good reviews at seminar slide shows. Our diploid version has been crossed with HEAVEN ALL DAY, TAHITIAN WATERFALL and SMOKY MT. AUTUMN. We didn't collect a lot of seeds because we didn't have a lot of bloom from it but what seedlings we bloomed have all been moved to a special incubator bed. We liked them well enough to save. We probably shouldn't mention this one as it is still selling for more than $50 and therefore may be out of the price range for beginning hybridizers. But if one were willing to spend a couple of hours weeding, someone might let a next-day-open bud go home with the weeder.
STRAWBERRY CANDY is probably one of the easiest tetraploid plants to hybridize, fertile both ways, and produces great offspring. It has tetraploid conversion SILOAM VIRGINIA HENSON as a pollen parent. TSVH, as I and others call the tet version, certainly was one of the keys to the magic kingdom when first introduced in 1990 while Pat was still living on Long Island. It and its offspring are probably the most hybridized plants in existence to date. The list of named seedlings from these two plants and their offspring has made a big dent in the check listing for named cultivars. And that includes many in the Stamile popular Candy series. There is no way the gene pool will ever be exhausted in plants like these when crossed with so many different parents. Sometimes the results are predictable and sometimes there are pleasant surprises waiting for us on first bloom opening mornings. I used SBC with Munson's ENCHANTED EMPRESS and got one pod with nine seeds. Two of these seedlings are going to be introduced and the rest are still under evaluation, they are definitely not compost material.
If anyone should object to using such "old" plants for parents, advise them that there are some top notch hybridizers, like Darrel Apps for example, who are still breeding with STELLA D'ORO and I know a couple who are using the tetraploid version as well. Why? So they can be the first to come up with a red, or pink, or purple that has the same reblooming characteristic as STELLA D'ORO. Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door and that path may be lined from June through September with bright red Stella kids.
A few near whites to consider are ARCTIC SNOW and WEDDING BAND both by Pat Stamile. Dan Trimmer tipped me off that ARCTIC SNOW had some lavender in its background. I researched it back through the check list and found that to be an understatement, it was loaded with lavender in its background. We use it heavily with every bloom that even remotely resembles lavender. This coming year we have high hopes to see some of these results. According to Mendelian theory those recessive lavender genes have to surface sooner or later. Of course we prefer to have them surface here first. WEDDING BAND has been heavily used. That means it is a powerful parent as well and you should expect some nice things from whatever you choose to breed with it.
Doubles are interesting and Pauline Henry introduced a number of now inexpensive ones to work with if you do not have one or two already. We found SILOAM DOUBLE FRINGE to be one of the easiest to work with. FRANCES JOINER and ALMOND PUFF are inexpensive to obtain and when crossed together in your garden will yield nice results you will be proud to display. Double sibling's KATHY ROOD and PAT NEUMAN are out of this cross. KATHY ROOD doubles one hundred percent of the time in our northern garden and is highly fragrant to boot.
One way to find a good parent is to spend a few hours sifting through the pages of the more recent check list. Now that these are on disk, it makes this search easier than going through a pile of a dozen or so AHS Hemerocallis Cultivar Registration check lists books. Searching through Sara Sikes' introductions, we discovered that several of her plants had her rose JUNE VALENTINE in the background. Since we love Sara's pinks we thought we would try to include JV in our program.
One of the plants we crossed with JUNE VALENTINE was CATHERINE WOODBERY (Childs). CW is a wonderful light lavender and older cultivar that holds up well even in light misty rain and on into early evening. It is on the tall side which is a direction many of us would like to see brought back into daylilies. Out of this one cross, and we have made many seeds producing a good near white, beautiful light pink and a nice lavender.
Plan ahead or you may loose your cool trying to get all those seeds planted. Consider that for every four crosses made only one (or two at the most depending on climatic conditions) may set seeds that survive to be collected. If you do both tetraploid and diploid crosses estimate eight or nine seeds per collected pod. If only tetraploid seeds are set, than the results may be half that. Or, if only diploid seeds are made the resulting collected seeds will be much higher in number. That's the easy part. When planting the seeds, if done properly, you should expect more than 80 percent germination in a spring planting, unless planted directly in fall then the germination will be considerably lower. Calculate a good four inches for seedling separation in each row with rows at least one foot apart. Closer seedling planting will make it very hard to remove one without disturbing the two adjacent seedlings. Planting more than three or four rows wide makes it very difficult to weed. We plant three rows and then leave a two-foot wide space to crawl down while weeding both sides.
In your planning stage a row of seedlings fifty feet long will contain 150 seedlings and if five feet wide, including two paths on each side, it should have room for about 450 seedlings. Do you have enough space? This is a major consideration and why we advocate remaining focused in your hybridizing program. It is just too easy to get carried away and over do the pollinating bit. You shouldn't have too much difficulty in crowding 200 seedlings in a three foot by six foot space, just about the size of the family picnic table.
Having a direction to work toward requires focus. There is still a lot of room for good clear pinks. We' re missing a good collection of clear lavenders as well and there isn't a lot to work with so if you can corner a few to start with this is a good area to consider. Many of us are working on better reds and there are some good inexpensive ones out there to begin with such as CHICAGO APACHE (Marsh), RED VOLUNTEER (Oakes), RUBY SENTINEL (Benz) and RUBY THROAT (Griesbach) all tetraploids. In diploid reds there is a large selection including Stamile's CRANBERRY COVE, App's CAROLINA CRANBERRY and ROYAL OCCASION and Henry's SILOAM RED VELVET. CAROLINA CRANBERRY is a bud builder for sure while CRANBERRY COVE has the depth of red I love most. We're working on bringing these last two together.
One of the hardest things to accomplish, after growing a few of your own "babies," is the ruthless act of discarding those that do not come FULLY up to your original expectations of success. Composting a seedling that you have patiently sweated over for two or three years is like tearing your heart out by it roots. Kathy, my loving wife and partner, has a difficult time with this and it sometimes becomes a bone of contention over available garden space.
Beginning hybridizing is like taking that proverbial first step on a thousand-mile journey. Even the lowly turtle doesn't get anywhere until he sticks his neck out. Your time has come. Plan to make a few crosses this year and for heaven's sake, label them with a piece of wire or small twist from a loaf of bread. Then write down the cross, in readable plain language, in a notebook large enough that can't be mislaid. Experience speaks wonders doesn't it?