How to Cross Pollinate Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

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Daylilies…or the Latin Hemerocallis, which means “flower of a day” because the blooms last only 24 hours, are a garden favorites in many areas.
Almost everyone loves daylilies…they’re hardy, they come in countless colors and sizes, and they grow in almost all regions of the United States.
One of the reasons there are literally thousands of named varieties of daylilies is they lend themselves easily to cross-pollination and hybridization. You can even do this in your own garden and maybe you can create your own unique variety of daylily.
It’s a simple process, and ideal for kids to take part in. You need only a few simple pieces of equipment and a little attention to detail.

Difficulty:
Moderate

Instructions

Things You’ll Need
  • Notebook
  • Tags on string, sold in office supply stores
  • Soft lead pencil
  • Cotton swabs
  • Plastic zipper bag
  • White envelopes
    1. Stamens with pollen and pistilThe picture here illustrates the parts of the daylily you’re going to be paying attention to. You’re most interested in the six stamens (the male part), which hold the yellow pollen, and the pistil (the female part), which is where the pollen needs to go.

      Pollen travels down the pistil to the ovaries of the flower, where, if pollination is successful, seeds will form.

      You’re going to be transferring the pollen of one cultivar of daylily to another.

    2. Assemble a kit of your tools so you can make a quick tour of the garden on your pollination journey. You can toss everything into a plastic bag, or zippered plastic case, something that’s waterproof since it’s going to be in the garden with you.
    3. Daylily ‘Joan Senior’Before you start gathering pollen and playing Mother Nature with the flowers, take a minute to see what’s blooming and which might make good parent plants. Most modern day lilies are the result of years of cross-pollination and hybridization programs, so in your garden, you probably have plants that are related.

      The white daylily in this photo, Joan Senior, was created in 1977, and has been in the mix for hundreds of other lilies. She has excellent characteristics that help enhance many other cultivars. Some of her descendants may be in your garden as well.

      Look for the flowers of various varieties, and the plants themselves, that have characteristics you might like to see carried on: large blooms, a large numbers of buds, strong scapes (the stems that hold the flowers above the foliage), lots of branching on the scapes, or ruffled edges on the flowers.

      Also, look for flowers that will be open on the same day. You can cut the stamens from a flower that’s open today, save them in a film canister and use them on an open flower the next day, but if you’re trying to keep the process simple, stick with blooms that are open the same day.

    4. Basic notebookKeeping records is part of hybridization, but how much you want to record is up to you. Detailed record keeping is crucial, if you’re at all interested in tracking your resulting flowers for possible submission to the AHS (American Hemerocallis Society) for registration.

      If you just want to see if you can cross pollinate plants and get new flowers, then really detailed record keeping is not necessary. It is helpful if you get a flower you like, that you have some idea where it came from.

      For basic record keeping, and so you don’t end up running around the garden with cotton swabs and no plan in mind, make a list of matches you want to make. The proper order for writing down the parents is pod plant x pollen plant. You can record that information in a notebook or on a spreadsheet. It’s fun to look back and see how many crosses you’ve made, if they resulted in any seeds, and the eventually result of growing those plants.

    5. Blank tagsWhen you’ve made your list, make a plant tag for each cross you’re planning to make. Write with a soft lead pencil on the tags; permanent markers, ironically, fade in the sun, as does ink. You can also cover the writing with a piece of clear tape to protect the paper tag from rain.

      You can do this the night before so you’re ready to hit the garden in the morning. Write the pod plant name, the pollen plant name, and the date. If you don’t know the names of your daylilies, just write unknown and the color of the flower.

    6. Gathering pollenYou’re ready to start! Collecting pollen is easy with a cotton swab. The best time to collect pollen is about mid-morning, after the pollen has ripened but before it starts to deteriorate or blow away.

      Using a fresh swab for each flower, gently brush the swab across the stamens, getting a fair amount of pollen on the swab.

    7. Pollen being placed on the pistilMove to the flower on a different variety you want to pollinate. This is the plant where the seeds will form. Hold the flower gently by the stem and rub the pollen across the pistil. You don’t need a heavy hand here; be gentle and let the pollen adhere to the sticky surface of the pistil.
    8. When you’ve made your cross on the pod plant with the pollen, hang your information tag on that flower. Be gentle; you don’t want to snap the flower off. Attach the tag and continue making your matches.
    9. Fading and dried flowersDaylily flowers will be faded and withered by the next morning. Don’t snap off the faded flower, as you would if you were deadheading, or you’ll probably snap off the developing seed pod. Resist the temptation. Let the dried flower fall off on its own accord.
    10. After a few days, if the pollination was successful, you’ll notice a swelling at the base of the dried flower where the seed pod is developing. That pod will continue developing over the summer. Leave it alone and let it develop.Occasionally they will dry up and fall off, meaning something happened to the seed pod that prevented it from developing. That’s why the more crosses you make, the greater chance you have of success.
    11. Dried seed podsSo, you’ve patiently waited all summer for the pods to develop and the seeds to ripen. This can take any where from 40 to 60 days. What you’re going to be looking for is the seed pod starting to split at the end. That indicates the seeds inside are ripe. You’ll be able to see the shiny black seeds inside.

      Carefully remove the pod. It’s easiest if you snip it off with a small scissors rather than breaking the stem. Sometimes the stems are tougher than they look and jarring the pod can dislodge the seeds.

    12. Envelopes with notesCollect the pods, with their tags, in individual white letter envelopes. You can take them to one location, write the recording information on them, and put the seeds inside. Throw out any seeds that are mushy, or shriveled. Remember to copy the information from the tags, and then add the date you picked the pod and how successful the pollination was by noting the number of seeds. But don’t seal the envelope yet.
    13. The next step is to prepare the seeds for storage. Dry the seeds in their envelopes for a day or so. Check them again for any moldy seeds and toss them.
    14. Seal the envelopes and rubber band the envelopes together. Place them in the refrigerator. In most areas of the country, seeds spend the winter under the ground, frozen until spring, so the refrigerator works. If you live in a part of the country where you can plant in the fall, keep the seeds in the refrigerator for at least 6-8 weeks.In the spring, you’ll be able to plant your seeds and see if your efforts will bear fruit…or, in this case, flowers.

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