If you’re a gardener who plants a few impatiens beside the front door, hangs up a geranium hanging basket and calls it a season, then you can stop reading now.
But if you’re a gardener who wants new daylilies and hosta, and doesn’t want to spend a lot of money. If you want to have perennial flowers your neighbor doesn’t, then you may want to think about what I’m doing in my own garden right now.
You see, I need a lot of plants for my new garden; the scope of it seems to be expanding as fast as my imagination can allow but is lagging behind my budget. I want great plants, I want lots of them and I want my garden to look stunningly different without having to spend a ton of bucks.
So here’s what I’m doing on two easy fronts: breeding and seeding
To start with, I love daylilies and the more of these plants that are in my garden, the better. I went to Bonibrae daylilies in Prince Edward County a few years ago and took a ton of pictures of the introductions of the noted Canadian daylily breeder, Brian Mathie. I loved his spider-flower forms (big time) and would have brought every one of them home until I realized I was talking around $75 per plant for these new plants.
He had a ton of other plants he wasn’t keeping as breeding stock and these were much cheaper than normal garden center prices so next year I’m heading over there again to stock up on those (and maybe bring one of the new introductions home as well he says with a grin).
But in the meantime, I interviewed him about how he goes about breeding his daylilies.
The Basic Mechanics Are Simple
If you look at a daylily flower:
- You’ll see one kind of flower part that has a swollen yellow pad on the end – the yellow is the pollen.
- You’ll see another flower part that looks like a straw – with no pad or swelling on the end.
Gently break off the part with the yellow pollen and rub that pollen over the end of the straw-like part until you can see the straw-like part is yellow on the tip. Tweezers help if you have big hands like me. That’s it. You’ve been a bee.
I’m told it makes no difference if you hum in a buzzing way or not because daylilies are tone-deaf.
The fun part of this is to take the pollen from one color or flower form of plant and use it to pollinate a different plant. I’ve been using the pollen from reds and purples to pollinate the yellow spider flower daylilies and the spider-flowering yellow daylily pollen to pollinate everything else.
In a few days, the bottom of the pod will start to swell and you’ve got developing seeds. About 6 weeks later, the pod will be brown and the small black, round seeds will be ripe. You’ll know the pod is ripe when it starts to wither and looks like it’s going to split. Take those blacks seeds, put them in an envelope and put the envelope in the refrigerator. That’s it for this year. Oh yeah, write “daylily seeds” on the envelope so nobody eats them.
Sow Your Seed Outdoors Next Spring
- Next spring, you’re going to plant those seeds outside as soon as you can work the soil.
- Barely cover them and they’ll germinate when they’re ready.
These are tough seeds and don’t need to be started indoors. I’m building a special bed for mine this fall so next year I’ll be able to keep them growing in nice rows by themselves.
They’ll flower in their third year if you feed and water them.
And that’s when you can decide if you like your own plants. You keep what you like, you give away the others and now you have your own daylily plants. You simply keep breeding and selecting the plants you like and before too many years, your garden has a distinctive “look” that can’t be duplicated or replicated by anybody else.
Too Much Shade For Daylilies?
If you’re muttering away about having shade and not being able to do this with daylilies, then let me suggest you do the same thing with Hosta. They produce scads of flowers and will have all kinds of seeds.
You can breed your own hosta exactly the same way.
- Take the pollen from one plant and transfer it to another.
- Save the hard black seeds in the fridge and sow them next spring outdoors.
- Grow for two-three years to see if you like the leaf colors and flowers and then decide to save ‘em or toss ‘em.
And yes, I know that the offspring won’t resemble their parents because the parents are hybrids. But I don’t want the parents, I want new plants and I’m willing to save my seed, plant them outdoors and wait to see the flowers I get. Then I’m willing to save the ones I like and pitch the ones I don’t like. Yes, it will take me a few years but I’ll start having new flowering plants after two years and then new flowering ones every year after that. I’ll also be buying new hybrids and introducing their genetics to my own garden but I’ll be buying far fewer plants every year because I’ll be growing my own.
Saving money, saving seed and having a distinctive garden. Easy when you think about it, isn’t it.
So what’s stopping you from starting your daylily and hosta plants?