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A typical day in the life of a hybridizer...

At this time of year my days are packed full. Daylilies are blooming everywhere and pollen needs to be spread so there will be seeds for next year's crop. Weekends are the most fun because I can take my time and enjoy the garden. Here's what my typical weekend day is like.

The first thing I do in the morning is to walk the new seedling bed to see if there is anything new and exciting blooming. There's no way to describe the feeling of seeing that first bloom on a seedling that you just know is going to be special.

Then I walk the evaluation beds. On average there are three years worth of seedlings under evaluation at any one time. I look at the ones I selected last year to see if they show the same promise they did when they were marked. I look at the two year olds to see which have become good performers. The three year olds are in the final year of evaluation so I'm looking to make a determination about what I will do with them in the fall. They'll either be registered, sold as garden plants in my yard sale, given away to friends and relatives, or in some cases sent to the compost pile.

Lastly I walk the hybridizing beds to see who is "struttin' their stuff" today.

Then it's time to check to see if the pollen is ready to start hybridizing. The pollen is ready when the anthers have opened and the pollen has dried. If the pollen is ready, I do my hybridizing next. Otherwise I take pictures first.

To pollinate, I take the pollination plan that I created last night and go to work making all the crosses and tagging the blooms with the colored wires. I like to pollinate as early in the day as possible because it gets more difficult to set seed as the average daytime high temperatures get warmer. Once daytime temperatures get into the 90's I usually give up pollinating entirely.

By the time the pollinating has been completed, most blooms are fully open and at their best so I grab my camera and head out for some serious picture taking. I start with the first year seedling bed taking pictures of all the best blooms marking the 'keepers' as I go (see April for details on marking seedlings). Every bloom shot is followed by a picture of the flag showing the number it has been assigned. This way it's easy to identify each picture without having to keep a separate list.

Next I move on to the evaluation beds followed by the hybridizing bed, again taking pictures of just about every bloom that looks good and the marker showing it's number or name. I take lots of pictures. Even if I already have pictures of a cultivar, if today's bloom looks good I'll take another. It can turn out to be a better shot and I like to have good pictures of all my lilies.

After lunch I upload pictures to the computer and change the file names to the daylily names using the pictures of the flags and marker names. While I usually take pictures of each daylily on different days I only keep the best pictures. After uploading the pictures I go through them and delete any that didn't turn out well.

In the late afternoon or early evening I may water if it hasn't rained recently. Daylily blooms are much better when the plants are well watered during bloom season. I also dead-head of all the beds. Dead-head means to remove all of the day's blooms as they will be dead by morning anyway and the dead blooms detract from the beauty of the garden. For the blooms that were pollinated that day, I use florist sheers to snip off the majority of the bloom leaving about 1" around where the pod will be forming. If I don't have time to completely dead-head the garden, I at least remove the blooms that will interfere with tomorrows blooms when they open.

The last thing I do each day is to make the rounds with my clip board and a new check sheet noting all the cultivars and seedlings that will be blooming tomorrow. From this list I prepare my pollination list for tomorrow (see April for details).

So as you can see, it's a full day but it's a happy time for a hybridizer.

Selecting for high bud count

Sometimes I mark a new seedling based on it having a high bud count. Of course it has to have a decent looking bloom. While I may pass over some attractive but not special looking blooms with only marginal bud counts, if it shows the potential for good bud count I often will mark it for further observation. These often make wonderful garden plants because of the number of blooms or the length of time they bloom.

Don't give up easily

Just because I don't select a seedling based on the first or second blooms, I try not to give up on it. It's easy to pass by a bloom that you've looked at before saying "Oh, I've already decided not to select that one". Some daylilies, especially new seedlings, may get better as subsequent blooms open. So don't be afraid to give those marginal seedlings another look.

Standout colors

A number of years ago, my wife (a non-daylily person) made an observation about my daylilies that while I didn't grasp it at the time, stuck with me and I eventually came to see that she was right.

She told me that I had pretty flowers but they were all about the same color. Of course I disagreed with her and pointed out that in addition to lots of light yellows and creams I also had pastel pinks and some of the creams had dark eyes. I even pointed out that I had some purples. What I was missing was the absence of impact colors. When looking at the overall garden nothing stood out. It took me a while but I eventually understood what she was trying to tell me. Since then I have been trying to add some better color to my seedlings.

So now before I go to the garden in the morning to check out the new seedling blooms, I first look at the garden from the kitchen window. I'm looking to see what catches my eye from a distance. I keep this in mind as I mark the day's new seedlings.

But having standout color doesn't always mean it's a keeper. In one case, when I looked out there was one bloom that was yelling at me from all the way across the yard... "Hey, come look at me!". It was a very bright gold with a red eye and the scape was tall holding the bloom higher than the rest. When I got to the garden I was disappointed to find the color was about the only good thing about the seedling. The bloom was only about 4.5" and the scape was poorly branched and way too tall for the size of the flower. Even the red eye had some imperfections.

"Passerby" seedlings

Not all seedlings are good seedlings (understatement!). Some have horrible color, some never open properly, some bloom way down in the foliage, some are just plain ugly, and there are many other reasons. But there is one group of seedlings that while they almost never get selected, they do bring a small amount of joy to my garden. I call them "passerby" seedlings. These are seedlings that have a pretty face but when you lift the petals to see how many buds the scape may be carrying, you find only 5 or 6 buds.

Over the years I have tried growing some of these seedlings to see if they would eventually develop a decent bud count very little success. Thus my name passerby seedlings - enjoy for the moment and then pass them by.

Don't be afraid to break your own rules

The previous post was about "passerby daylilies" (pretty faces with very low bud counts). Every once in a while I'll get a bloom that I really should pass by but the face convinces me to mark it anyway.

This bloom is one of those I just couldn't bring myself to pass it by. Not only was the bud count only 5 but it only had a 14" scape.

Still, I couldn't resist. Bud counts almost always get a little better (sometimes they get a lot better) so who knows? Maybe this will be the exception to the rule. I sure do like the face (smile).

Seedling 13-092

Sometimes keeping a 'passerby' turns out to be a good thing

Here's a seedling that should have been a 'passerby' but I kept because the bloom was special.

Much to my surprise found that the bud count had gone from 5 the first year when I selected it to about 20 the second year. Yes, this was one of those passerby seedlings that I just couldn't resist keeping and it now has a respectable bud count.

So there are exceptions to the passerby rule. Hopefully the seedling in the previous post will be one!

Seedling 12-049

Selecting for plant vigor

While a unique or distinctive bloom is probably my most sought after result in a seedling, I also look out for vigorous plants. Of course just because a plant is vigorous doesn't mean I am going to select it. It must also have a pretty face.

Vigor can be manifest in several different ways. When the plant produces large fans it's usually a good sign that the plant is a vigorous grower. Strong scapes with good branching and a high bud count can also signal a vigorous grower. Yet another good sign is a daylily that increases well. When a seedling exhibits all three of these traits it is usually a great grower.

When I find seedlings that are extra vigorous and have a pretty face, I almost always mark them even if the bloom is not all that distinctive. Even if these never get registered, they still make great garden plants.

Why I sometimes don't follow my hybridizing plan

Here in Houston the period of time I have where I can successfully set seeds is dependant on the weather. On the best of years, the spring will be mild and the high temperatures will be late in arriving. That gives me a nice long time in which I can make my crosses and set seed. I think the longest period I have seen is about 5-6 weeks.

On the other extreme is when the spring stays cold into late April and when it does warm up, it gets real hot fast. One year I had barely over 2 weeks between when the daylilies really started to bloom and when the 90+ degree days came and stayed. It's this type of situation that forces me stray away from my hybridizing plan.

When the season starts real late I have to set seeds on every bloom possible as long as there pollen available that makes any sense at all. It's either this or not have enough seeds for the coming planting cycle. In the year where I only had a couple of weeks to make seed, I was able to produce about 750 seeds using the 'pollinate every bloom regardless' method. This compares to a typical seed crop of at least 2000.

Another reason for not following my plan is that occasionally, I see some potential that I completely missed while I was making my plan. If this happens, I don't hesitate to make the occasional unplanned cross.

And then there are those "I wonder what crossing those two would produce" crosses. I try to keep these crazy crosses to a minimum because I just don't have that much space for seedlings but sometimes I just have to make some (smile).