The Six Step Beginner's Approach to Hybridizing

Daylily flowers are very easy to pollinate. All the parts that must be manipulated to pollinate are fairly large and can be easily handled. Because of this, getting started in hybridizing your own daylilies is very easy.

One question I am frequently asked is if seeds are available to grow a specific cultivar. Sorry, but the answer is no. Even seeds resulting from a plant that was fertilized with it's own pollen will not produce plants that are identical to the parent plant. While the likelyhood is that the plant will be quite similar, usually it will not bloom as well and sometimes the bloom will be completely different than the parent.

The following is designed to help the beginner get started. Once you start hybridizing, you will probably develop your own specific procedures.

STEP 1 - selecting the flowers you want to cross

While professional daylily hybridizers go through a very specific selection process when deciding which daylilies to cross, when just starting out, there is basically only one thing you should be aware of:

There are 2 types of daylilies, diploids and tetraploids. They are very hard to tell apart and pollen from one type will not set seed on the other. If you do not know which type you have, plan on crossing several different varieties in case some turn out to be different types and don't set seed.

When asked how she decided which daylilies to cross, the late Elsie Spalding, a famous hybridizer noted for her excellent form and pastel colors, replied ...I just put pretty on pretty. I recommend that beginning hybridizers use the same method. Just select daylilies that you like and make your crosses with them.

STEP 2 - make your crosses

Now you need to fertilize the flower to make seeds.

Stamens & pistils Coming from the center of the daylily flower are typically six stamens and one pistil (they should be easy to identify - there's 6 of one and only 1 of the other). The powdery substance at the ends of the stamens is the pollen and it should be taken from one flower and placed on the tip of the pistil of the other flower.

The best time of day to do this is just after the pollen has dried and become fluffy, usually about mid-morning. The later in the day you apply the pollen, the less your chances are for successful pollination.

You may want to keep records of the crosses you make as this will help you identify what works and what doesn't, but it is not necessary.

Do not remove the old bloom after applying pollen, let it fall off on it's own accord. If the cross was successful, there will be a tiny green pod right at the spot where the flower was attached. This pod contains the seeds and will continue to grow during the next few weeks. Note that in some cases there may be a green pod at first but will fall off after a short time. In that case, there were no viable seeds forming in the seed pod.

STEP 3 - harvest the seeds

Typically, the seeds take between 40 and 60 days to mature to the point where they can be harvested. You can tell when it's time to harvest, when the seed pods begin to split open. Sometimes I squeeze the pod gently to see if it is ready to split. This is OK, but remember that seeds harvested too early will probably not germinate.

Remove the seeds from the pods and let them air dry overnight. Then put them in small plastic bags or other containers and place in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 weeks. Seeds from dormant daylilies will germinate much better after refrigeration and seeds from semi-evergreen varieties also seem to germinate better after refrigerating. Seeds from evergreen parents probably don't need refrigeration to help germination. In any case, if the seeds cannot be planted right away, they should be refrigerated to preserve their freshness. I don't recommend that you freeze your seeds.

STEP 4 - plant the seeds

Seeds can be planted directly in the ground, or started in either flats or pots and later transplanted. Remember that seeds require fairly warm soil temperatures for good germination. Plant your seeds between 1/4 and 1/2 inches deep. A good rule of thumb for planting many types of seeds is to plant twice as deep as the seed is fat.

The best time to plant depends on what part of the country you live in. Here in the deep south, I plant in early September. That gives me three months for germination and seedling growth before the cool weather sets in. Further north, seeds are often started indoors and grown under lights during the winter months and then transplanted outside in the spring when the ground warms up.

Plant spacing is dictated by the amount of space you have and the number of seedlings you wish to grow. As I have only limited space, I plant fairly close together - plants are 4 inches apart in rows about 8-10 inches apart. If I had lots of room, I would plant about 12 inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart.

STEP 5 - Wait

Actually there is more to this step than just waiting. While you are waiting, you need to keep the beds weeded and water them regularly. Applying a balanced liquid fertilizer on a regular basis is also beneficial.

In the deep south, where there is a long growing season and the winters are very mild, well fertilized daylilies planted in summer or early fall will sometimes bloom the following spring. Those that don't bloom the first spring will usually bloom in the second. In the north where there are shorter growing seasons and long winters, it may take as long as 3 years for them to bloom.

Many consider waiting the hardest step because we want to see the results of our efforts immediately instead of waiting 2 or 3 years. To help combat this problem, you can have 2 seedling beds. One bed for plants that were just planted and a 2nd bed for plants that will bloom for the first time in the upcoming bloom season.

You could also have a 3rd bed so that you can leave the plants undisturbed for another year. Sometimes seedling blooms will look different the 2nd year they bloom. Sometimes they are better and sometimes they are not as nice as the first year bloom. Because of this, leaving them undisturbed until they have bloomed for 2 years can help you better determine if you like the daylily or not. In the north where it may take 3 years before some new seedlings bloom, a 3rd bed is probably a good idea.

STEP 6 - Enjoy

Now comes the time you've been waiting for. As the bloom season draws near, you will probably want to watch the progress of the bloom scapes, checking for good branching and bud production. The day before the first buds open will be filled with anticipation as the buds swell in preparation for their first display to the world. Early the next morning you will want to be at bedside to see your new creation. For many of us, this is the grandest moment of all, seeing these new daylilies for the first time. Some may be disappointing, but most will be very pleasing to the eye. A few may even be exceptional, but they all will be your creations.

Yes, it's true that not all daylily seedlings turn out to be super gorgeous flowers. In fact, I have heard said that only one in a thousand is good enough to register as a new cultivar. But from my own experience, I have found that many of these seedlings are actually prettier than some of the daylilies for sale in your local nursery. You can see some examples of crosses I have made and the resulting seedlings by clicking on the sample crosses in the index.