Our Hybridizing Program

Creating a Daylily - The First Step


The actual process of pollinating a daylily is extremely simple. The pollen from one of the six daylily stamens, referred to as the pollen parent, is dabbed on the pistil of another daylily, known as the pod parent. (see sketch) The pollen, when ripe, is bright yellow and fluffy and will easily attach to the tip of the pistil, which is sticky. Although the actual pollination is really easy, every other aspect surrounding the process, is not. One of the hardest and first decisions is which daylily to cross with which daylily. As I look back on my first season of hybridizing, I have to laugh. I literally ran around my two acres, from one garden to the next, pollen in hand, crossing and tagging everything with everything. Fortunately, at the time, I only grew maybe thirty to thirty five different daylily varieties. Still, have you any idea how many different combinations can result? ..many, way too many! That first season I harvested hundreds of seeds - all neatly tagged and stored ready for the next phase of my new venture of hybridizing. Upon realizing I couldn't possibly find space for all those seeds, I learned my first important lesson - you must be selective in the crosses you make and you DO NOT dab pollen just to see if a pod will form.

Planning Crosses

Thus I arrive at the very first step in creating a daylily, and one which I find the most difficult, not to mention challenging, is the planning of crosses. To plan crosses, you must first set goals and once set, stay focused on those goals and not stray from the planned crosses. I might add, this is very easy to say, but I have yet to pass a season and stick with my own rule. It is also very important to keep records - records of the crosses planned, and why or the goal seeking with the particular cross. Take my advice and do not trust your memory - write it down and tag each bloom that you have dabbed at the time that you dab.

Record Keeping

It seems there are as many methods and systems to keeping records and marking crosses as there are hybridizers. This is the tagging method I have found to be the most effective, least expensive, and most accurate. I use 1 1/2" white sale tags with the string attached and a black permanent felt tipped marker. In large letters, I mark BOTH sides of each tag with the pollen parent initials. The tag itself goes on the pod parent so noting that parent is not necessary. For example, if I dab pollen from ABOVE AND BEYOND on ALL EYES OPEN, my tag will read AAB and looped around the base of the open bloom. The proper written format for crosses is to list the "POD PARENT X POLLEN PARENT" in which case, my example would be written "ALL EYES OPEN X ABOVE AND BEYOND". I note this because it is very easy to forget and the reverse will very quickly ruin your record keeping - been there, done that. If a pod forms, and they don't always, the spent bloom will fall off leaving the tag, which is held in place by the pod that is forming amazingly fast. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a pod will start to form only to abort, or die out. A healthy pod will be green and grow as seeds form inside. This process generally covers approximately eight weeks.


Pods will be different sizes and forms and will have any number of seeds inside. I have had as few as one healthy seed in a pod to as many as thirty something in a single pod. The size and shape of the seeds will vary also. Mature and healthy seeds will be black, shiny, and firm. I pitch seeds that are questionable as there is no point in spending time or using space on such seeds. When a pod is ready to harvest, it will usually, but not necessarily always, turn brown. You will know it is time to harvest the pod when it shows signs of opening, at which point, you pluck the pod along with its tag - ready for dry storage until it is time to proceed with germinating.

Daylily Seed Germination

I am in my 12th season of daylily hybridizing and have used the following methods successfully - This is NOT to say, it is the only method or even the best method, just the method I have used and I outline it here for your convenience and reference.

Harvest - Dry Refrigeration

Seeds are harvested as the pod ripens as described above. (Note: Upon occasion, I have had pods broken off prematurely - had a puppy who thought it her duty to tug at the tags until the scape broke!! So I was forced into an experiment with prematurely plucked pods. I discovered that IF the scape is placed in water and the pod allowed to mature on its own - 1 to 2 weeks only, there is no harm done to the seeds and germination rate was no different than pods that matured normally.) I place them in a plain white envelope, marked with the cross identification. I leave the envelope at room temperature with the flap open so any moisture on the seeds will dry. After a couple days, the seeds will be thoroughly dry and somewhat shriveled (which is quite normal), I seal the flap and place the envelope in a zip lock bag and place in the refrigerator for what I call - dry refrigeration. The seeds stay in this condition until mid December.

Wet Refrigeration

First I prepare the water in which I will be soaking my seeds. I use distilled water - 1/2 gallon with 6 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide. There has been extensive discussion on the use of hydrogen peroxide for germination purposes and after listening to both the pros and the cons I conducted my own study. My conclusions from this study were 1) hydrogen peroxide used in this proportion most definitely encouraged better germination 2) seeds soaked in this solution but NOT refrigerated did not have as good a germination rate as those soaked in this solution and placed in the refrigerator 3) Seeds need NO LESS than 3 weeks of wet refrigeration whether using hydrogen peroxide or not.

Approximately 1 month prior to planting, I remove the envelopes from the refrigerator and place each individual cross in its own 1 1/2" x 2" plastic zip lock bag (any office supply store will have or can get these bags). Using a waterproof marker, I mark the cross info on the plastic bag. I then add my water solution filling the bag approximately 1/2 to 3/4 full then close the bag. (It is amazing how fast the shriveled seeds plump up when in contact with water). After all my crosses are bagged, I put them all together in a tupperware container that has a tight lid. I pour the remaining water into the Tupperware container and close the lid tightly. I use the Tupperware container as a backup for two reasons - 1) just in case any of the little bags leak - if they do, it will make no difference as the water is filling the container therefore the seeds will remain soaking in it and 2) to keep any leaking bags from soaking your refrigerator.


I like to use a good germinating mix which can be found at most garden supply stores. I prepare my planting containers by adding the mix and using a brick to tamp down to prevent air pockets. I have experimented over the years with various plainting containers and have found that the 2'x 3' x 8" deep plastic storage boxes found at Wal Mart work best. I drill 1/8" holes in the bottom and use the lids for trays underneath. Once my containers are filled I place them on their lids and begin watering from below so the soil is nice and moist before I plant. After at least 3 weeks of wet refrigeration, I remove the seeds from the refrigerator and plant. I use a pencil to score the planting holes about 1/2" deep and 1" apart, drop in the seed and pinch closed.

Once all seeds are planted, I drape each container loosely (do not want to "seal" just lightly cover) with plastic (I use the kind that is for covering windows during winter - again, found at Wal Mart). This part of the germination process is very important as it causes a greenhouse-like atmosphere needed for good germination. Place container in a sunny south window or under growing lights - both methods have worked well for me - in a 60 to 70 degree room. Using the plastic helps keep the soil moist so usually don't need to water during this time. I have had seeds germinate in as few as 3 days up to as long as 1 month or more. Once the majority are germinated, I take off the plastic and water as needed. Once every couple weeks, I use a very weak solution of rapid grow or miracle grow - maybe 1/5 the normal mix. When danger of frost is past - usually mid May in Indiana - I take my containers outside and first place them under trees so they get some sunlight but not 100% direct sunlight. After a few days, I move them to an area of direct sunlight and transplant into my seedling beds as time and space allow. Ideally, they will all be transplanted by June.

First Bloom

I almost never see bloom this first season and if a seedling does put up a scape it is usually very late in the season and the bloom is not at all true to the real bloom. Most will bloom for the first time the following summer as long as I transplanted the seedlings into their location in the seedling beds in May or early June. Seedlings transplanted later than this, usually don't have first bloom until the next season. So, a cross made in the summer of 1998 will be started in January of 1999 and transplanted outside in May of 1999 and will most likely bloom in 2000, and if not transplanted until later in the 1999 season, then first bloom will probably be in 2001.

Louise B. James 2/24/2003

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