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Time to check for semi-evergreen and dormant seedlings

Early January is when I check my seedlings to identify those that have semi-evergreen or dormant foliage habit. Dormant foliage completely dies back to the ground in winter while evergreen foliage continues to grow (at least here where we have mild winters). Semi-evergreen foliage is described as 'anything in between'. Because of all the cross breeding done in the daylily industry there is a high percentage of semi-evergreen daylilies. SEV's (as they're often referred to) typically grow well over a wider climate range than either dormants or evergreens.

Dormancy is typically brought on by cold temperatures, short daylight hours, or a combination of both. Here along the gulf coast we frequently have winters where we don't get below freezing. We also have more daylight hours during winter than most of the country with our shortest days can be around 10h 15m as compared to Chicago which is a little over 9h. This can often make it difficult to properly identify semi-evergreen foliage in my garden.

SEV's will typically lose some, but not all of their foliage. The plant will look more or less like the image below. Sometimes the center foliage will only be an inch or two high. It will remain this way for a few weeks and then start growing again. A warm spell will often trigger the regrowth.

Because most dormant daylilies do poorly here, I grow very few dormants. Also, few dormant seedlings ever get selected for the same reason. Both semi-evergreen and evergreen daylilies do equally well so the foliage habit is not a major issue with me. After all, I'm primarily hybridizing for my own enjoyment. The only seedlings I record the foliage habit on are those that I am considering registering.

Selecting crosses for the upcoming season.

When I first started hybridizing I would go out to the garden in the morning and look around to see what was blooming. Usually the prettiest bloom that day would be the most used pollen. I also never wanted to leave a good bloom unpollinated which sometimes resulted in some pretty strange crosses. True, I had fun and did get some seedlings that I liked, however I never seemed to get any that I though enough of to register. About the mid 90's I started learning about some of the practices used by successful hybridizers. First and foremost was to have a plan and to stick to it as much as possible.

Preparing a plan gives me the opportunity to think through the pros and cons of each possible cross in advance instead of trying to do that on the spur of the moment in bloom season. Only the best possible crosses make it into the plan. This has resulted in an improvement in the quality of the resulting seedlings.

A side benefit is that preparing the crosses is great fun during the time of year when the weather isn't good for gardening.

Setting up my stud sheet

Before computers were popular hybridizers would keep a 'stud book' where they wrote their planned crosses for the upcoming season along with notes of the results. I use Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the crosses I hope to make. I'm comfortable using computers and my handwriting is horrible so this works well for me however you can accomplish the same thing using the tried-and-true hand written notebook.

First I need a list of the cultivars I'm going to use for crossing (my breeding stock). To simplify this I export the cultivars marked for hybridizing from my Access database into an empty Excel spreadsheet. This list of cultivars is then sorted alphabetically (just to make it easy to find a specific cultivar in the list). With this completed I'm now almost ready to begin reviewing each cultivar to determine what cultivars I will cross with it.

There's no specific number of potential pollen donors that I might select for any given cultivar. Typically I like to select eight - four primary and four alternates. I only actually make a maximum of 4 different crosses because I only have four different color wires that I use for marking the crosses. The additional four alternates are in case I don't think one of my primary choices will be blooming at the same time as the pod parent (which happens more often than you would think).

Setting goals

One very important part of planning crosses is to set the goals you wish to achieve in making your crosses.

Early on I just wanted to create pretty daylilies and didn't really have any goals. Then I heard about the importance of having goals. Goals are basically a decision about what you want to accomplish in your crosses to help keep you focused. Large scale hybridizers categorize their goals into 'programs' and are usually working numerous programs simultaneously. Keeping to your goals when making crosses is important when like me, you have a limited amount of space to plant the seed. Planting only seeds from crosses based on your goals will usually produce better results and I can say it certainly holds true for me.

Unfortunately my first goal was too narrow. In the early 90's I decided I was going to exclusively hybridize with purple daylilies. My goal was to produce a round formed purple with wide ruffled petals that surpassed anything on the market at the time. I purchased as many purples as I could afford and my entire crop of seeds that year had purple parents. I waited 2 years only to see dismal results. I didn't have a single seedling that I liked. That year I decided that even hybridizing on the relatively small scale that I do, I should have multiple and diverse goals to avoid disapointment.

So what are my goals? Basically, my goals are what I like best in daylilies. I like large size daylilies with round form and I like my blooms to have symmetry. 'Edged' daylilies are my favorites especially those with 2 or more colors and I am partial to eyed daylilies. I prefer taller scapes but don't have any specific color favorite. Of course good bud count and good plant habits are always a goal.

As I make my cross selections I always ask myself if the expected results are keeping with my goals. If the answer isn't yes, then I don't make that cross. When making my selection of daylilies to use in my hybridizing I only include those which have something to offer toward my goals. Sometimes that can be a little tough because there are lots of daylilies that I really like in the garden but don't make it to my hybridizing parents list. The bottom line is to keep focused on my goals which helps prevent me from wasting my time with unproductive crosses.

The cross selection process

One of the parts of hybridizing that I enjoy most is deciding which crosses to make during the upcoming season. It's a process of visualizing the possible results from various crosses and selecting which ones you believe will give the best results. I don't try and rush the process. I put on my headphones with some nice relaxing music, get comfortable, open the stud spreadsheet and my visual aids and begin.

My visual aids showing Access database on the left with Windows Explorer to the right.

I have always been a visual person. Of course there are numerous other factors but when selecting possible crosses the first thing I like to see are both bloom faces side by side to help me imagine possibilities. Over the years I have tried different ways to accomplish this. The image above illustrate how I currently accomplish this on my computer. The left 1/3 of the screen is a form from my Access database. The right 2/3 of the screen is Windows Explorer with the window sized to fit.

In the windows explorer pane you can see the folder list showing the folders for each color group (see December where I posted about setting up these folders). The pane to the right of the folders has thumbnails of the images in the selected folder. Then by simply clicking on a thumbnail, a larger image displays in the right pane. I am using Windows 7 and you may not be able to set up Explorer to look this way in earlier versions of Windows.

Starting with the first daylily in the stud spreadsheet, I ask myself if I want to use the daylily as a pod parent. In most cases I don't like setting pods on newly planted daylilies. There's no rule against it but it's my personal preference not to. I want to give it a full year to get established before I give it the added stress of producing seed in this hot humid climate. I also don't like to use daylilies that are not vigorous growers or have low bud counts as pod plants. I know of no proof but there's wide speculation that a seedling will inherit traits like plant vigor and bud count more from the pod parent than the pollen parent. There are also some daylilies that are difficult to impossible to set seed on which rules them out. If the daylily doesn't pass these tests I just skip on to the next daylily.

Once I have decided to use a cultivar as a pod parent, I select the cultivar in the database form to display its stats and then click on the ~~best pollen folder to display the best pollen parent thumbnails. I then click on possible pollen donor thumbnail images to display the larger image on the right of the screen. With both images displayed it is relatively easy to visually imagine what the resulting seedlings might look like. But finding a good visual match is only the beginning. Next I consider more specific traits that might make the cross undesirable.

My visual aids showing only the Access database with three different forms open.

When I find a visually promising cross, I minimize the windows explorer window to show Access full screen with three forms side-by-side. The first form is the pod parent I'm reviewing and the other two are for pollen parents (registered cultivars and seedling pollen parents). I keep seedlings separately from registered cultivars in my database. I call up the possible pollen donor in one of the forms on the right side (depending on whether it's registered or a seedling). Then I consider more specific traits that each have that might not work well together. Scape height for example. If both have shorter or taller than average scapes the resulting seedling will most likely have shorter or taller scapes similar to the parents. Poorly branched scapes on both cultivars will usually result in poorly branched seedlings. I also try to avoid matching two cultivars where both have poor bloom substance or where both sometimes have difficulty opening properly.

A stark example of what can happen when these types of considerations are ignored happend to me many years ago. I crossed two daylilies that both had tall scapes with primarily top branching (buds clustered together at the top of the scape). The result was a shock. Most scapes were 5 feet or taller and the blooms were all at the top of the scapes. It probably would have made a good novelty plant but the bloom color was similar to... well, let's just say mud.

In addition to making sure I don't match two daylilies with the same weakness I also often make an effort to use a cultivar that has a specific strength or trait that I want to bring to the pod cultivar. One example might be a pod plant that has a great bud count, a nice double edge, good form, and a vigorous grower but the eye is faded and not prominent. I might consider using pollen from a plant with a large dark eye hoping that the dark eye would combine with the other good traits from the pod plant. Another example is intentionally crossing a similar short scape cultivar with a very tall scape one and hope the result is something in the middle.

Once I have finished reviewing the ~~best pollen folder, if I haven't selected at least 8 pollen donors I move on to the daylilies in the other folders. Having folders organized by color allows me to go directly to the folders that contain the colors that make sense to cross with.

One thing I try not to do is cross two similar looking daylilies. That usually results in a seedling that looks very much like both parents. I'd much rather get something that is relatively unique (at least to me) than another look-alike. I do make an exception when each plant has strengths that offsets weaknesses in the other, hoping for an improvement over both parents but I try not to do this very often.

As I select the crosses I want to make, I enter them in my stud spreadsheet.