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Backyard Hybridizing for Adults and Children

Hybridizing for fun is a great way to get your children interested in science, nature, and botany. It’s easy and inexpensive. All you need to purchase is soilless seed starting mix and two different daylily plants. Both must be either tetraploid, a daylily with twice the number of chromosomes, or diploid, a daylily with just one set of chromosomes. If you have daylilies which you know the name, you need only go to the internet and do a search to see what type of daylily it is. That’s the hardest part of this process. If you don’t know what type of daylilies you have, go ahead and make the cross anyway, you may just get lucky and seeds may develop. Refer to the drawing below for the different parts of a daylily plant. Select the two daylilies which you want to cross and remove the stamen with it’s pollen, which is the yellow fluffy particles located on the anthers of the stamen, of one of the daylilies. I remove the whole stamen and take it to the daylily plant I want to cross pollinate. Just dab the yellow pollen on to the stigma, which is usually longer than the stamens, of the plant you want to cross. This is best done between 7 and 10 am to beat early morning pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and best pollination occurs during cooler morning temperatures. Within a few days you should see the pod begin to develop. Whatever you do don’t remove the dead daylily blossom on which you made your cross!! Leave the pod to grow to maturity which will take several weeks. Once the pod starts to turn brown and starts to break open, remove it and place it in a paper cup or on a napkin to dry for several days. It’s important to do this step or the seeds will mildew when placed in the refrigerator. Once the pod has dried out, break open the pod and remove all the big black shiny seeds. These large seeds are what’s so great for children. When you are ready to plant them, they are easily handled by little hands and can be seen readily when placed into the soil. Now that you have the seeds out of the pod, place them in a ziplock sandwich bag and store them in the refrigerator for several months. A lot of daylilies are hardy varieties and benefit from several months of cold temperatures.

While the seeds are taking a cat nap in the frig, start saving the plastic containers in which strawberries, salad greens and sometimes grapes are packaged. I find these containers are great for potting up my seeds because they have drainage slits in the bottom and ventilation slits in the top. Once the daylilies are planted and watered, close the lid and you have a miniature green house.

After several months, it’s time to take your sleeping seeds out of the refrigerator and plant them. Fill your containers with the soilless seed mixture. The containers need to be place in a large pan without holes. I use large aluminum roasting pans. Water your containers thoroughly and let them drain so they are nice and moist but not dripping wet. Pour off any excess water from the large pan. You don’t want your containers to be sitting in standing water for long periods of time. This will keep the soil too wet and your seeds will mildew or rot. You can either take a pencil and poke individual holes for your seeds or make a long depression in the soil depending on how many seeds you have to plant. Cover the seeds with more moist soil pressing down to remove any air pockets. Close up your containers and place your whole pan of containers in a room which gets at least eight hours of sunlight or place them 3 inches from suspended shop lights. Temperatures should stay around 65 to 75 degrees. Depending on the daylily plant the seeds came from, you could see sprouts in 7 to 10 days. Certain varieties may take a few weeks. Let your plants grow for a few months so they can develop really good roots before planting them in larger pots.

When it’s time to plant your baby daylily plants outside, after all danger of frost is over, first place them in their pots somewhere where they will get an hour of morning sun. Increase their exposure to the sun until they are in it a whole day. I transplant my baby daylilies in a section of my vegetable garden and let them grow until they can fend for themselves in a flower bed or my hybridizing bed in the meadow garden. Keep them well watered and mulched until they become firmly established. It will take one to two years before your creations bloom but when they do every day is like Christmas morning, as you run down to see your creation unwrapping itself for the very first time. This is what’s so great for children, to see their creations and the wonder of Mother Nature.

If you want to be a little or a lot more serious in hybridizing new plants with a specific characteristic, say a lot of ruffles, color combinations, or petal form, you will want to keep track of the parentage of your crosses. There are several methods to do this. I suggest you search the internet for “hybridizing daylilies” and read several methods. Also, go to the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) at www.daylilies.org for great information. I would suggest becoming a member of AHS so you will receive that most wonderful and beautiful publication, The Daylily Journal magazine. It is very informative, helpful and inspiring.

Good luck and happy hybridizing

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