Monday, 29 September 2014

How not to hybridise dahlias



This is definitely NOT one of those 'how to' posts, and is probably more of a 'how not to' ! This is about an absolute novice, groping blindly in the dark, hoping that somebody who DOES know, will come along and give good advice!

My brand new obsession is learning how to hybridise dahlias ... with only the internet as my guide !

I regularly give thanks for the internet, and I gave them again, when finding that knowledge of the alchemy of hybridisation was only a click away. I read that dahlias are a good plant to start with as they are so easy. Easy! Organising plant sex for unsuspecting plants is certainly not easy!



The first step, according to the various websites I consulted, is to identify dahlias which have a characteristic you like.The advice is to breed for only one defined attribute.  After a wander round the garden looking at all my dahlias, the choice of two special ones was made easily. Out of the packet of 'Bishop's Children' seeds I sowed in Spring, there is a plant with wonderful orange, stripey flowers which has caught my eye all season (see photo at the top of the post ). I like the stripe and would like to enhance that characteristic, but feel that the colour is a bit washed out, so ideally would like a stronger, darker colour. The other dahlia is a lovely rich magenta with very dark foliage, which I think is 'Magenta Star', but I couldn't swear to it. The colour just zings, and contrasts so well with the yellow stamens. If you look at the petals carefully there is a stripe of darker colour down the ribs, which I hope will become much more marked if there are any offspring. What colour do you get if you mix magenta and orange ? Probably a sort of muddy beige, knowing my luck! I shall have to wait and see, like the total novice I am !



So, once the parents have been selected it is a little bit like IVF I suppose ! A male flower has to be selected with very visible stamens and pollen, on a fully open flower. Once that is picked, with a nice long stem, it needs to be labelled with its attribute (i.e. 'stripy'!), and taken indoors to have its petals removed. It is taken indoors to stop the pollen being taken by insects and/or contaminated with pollen from other plants. The selected flowers have to be at different points in their development, in that the male flower needs to be fully open with visible stamens, whilst the female flower should not be completely open.


I tested this male flower by touching it gently with a cotton bud to see if there was a lot of pollen on it, and there was!



Poor things look so denuded !


The next step is to select the female flower, and I chose it with the same attribute as before - 'stripey'. My internet notes state that the female flower should not be fully open when selected.  The female flower is not cut, but is covered by a little hood, to shield it from pollination by insects. The hoods can be made from nylon tights, pop sox or stockings which allow light in, but keep pollinating insects out.


Once the female flower is completely open, and the stigma are showing, then the little hood comes off, and all the petals are removed.
 (nb The female flower in this photo is not yet open enough at this point - one of my early attempts doomed to failure !!)



Then comes the plant sex, where the male flower is pushed into the female, and the stamens are rubbed, both ways, across the stigma. As much pollen as possible should be transferred at this time.  The hood is then replaced to stop further pollination from insects and the whole process is repeated the following day.

After three or four weeks the seed head should have formed, all being well, and it should have turned from green to a light straw colour. The seed head can be removed at this point, and when it is completely dry the seeds can be removed by hand, prior to planting the following March.

The back end of September is not the best time to develop a sudden interest in hybridisation of dahlias, as, firstly, there are fewer flowers now than there were earlier in the year, and secondly, everything is soggier than it was, so there is more chance of mould and rotting.  I don't think my chances of developing a new and wonderful dahlia are very high at all, but it has whetted my appetite for next season, when I will have more time to practise these new dark arts !



28 comments:

  1. What fun! Look forward to seeing the magenta and orange offspring. Probably best to see how they turn out before moving on to IVF?

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    1. Ha ha ! My money is on beige, if anything! However, I am pretty sure the seed heads will be a soggy mess, as it is so late in the year!

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  2. What an interesting idea - I had never really considered how the different colours were achieved or even realised where the seeds came from - I hope it works - it will be really fascinating to see the end results - fingers crossed. I only grow them in containers and one or two this year have rotted, very disappointing - they seem to do better if kept a little drier. Oh well, live and learn eh.

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    1. Hi Elaine, I love them, they are fantastic! I have no clue about how the colours are achieved, but will hopefully learn through bitter experience as time goes on!!

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  3. It sounds fun Jane! Hopefully your pollination is succesful and now that you've had a taste of doing it the motivation will be even bigger for next year. Interesting to see what crosses you'll come up with :)

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    1. I tried it last year with Hellebores ... and it all came to nought!! I do hope this works, if not this time, then, as you say, next season. It must be a fascinating area to get into.

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  4. You have such talent that I know you will do something amazing as you start hybridizing plants! It'll be fun to see what your Dahlia hybrid looks like! Then....who knows! You may conquer a variety of plants!!

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    1. Ah, too kind Flower Freak! I would be delighted to get any results at all, at this stage!

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  5. Dear Jane, how cool is that, that you dare to approach hybridizing dahlias! I sure hope that something nice comes out of it. You deserve it for your braveness alone. I myself have been tinkering with the idea of hybridizing roses, but never had the gut to get started. I once read how many crosses David Austin does, if I remember correctly, it was a number in the thousands, to release roughly six new varieties each year. I felt so discouraged that I thought it is not worth me trying, too, but on the other hand you never know, you might get lucky...
    Christina

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    1. Hi Christina, I would love to have a go with roses, that would be fantastic. Go on, have a go, then we can compare notes, and learn together!

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  6. How exciting! I don't think I am patient enough to do something similar, but I admire your willingness to try this new 'love arrangement'! Good luck Jane!!!

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    1. Hah! 'Plant love'!! Patience, I have, Tatyana, expertise, I have not !! But I'm willing to learn and everyone has to start somewhere!

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  7. You might discover a hitherto untapped market for beige dahlias!! Sounds great fun, I wish you luck with yourplant pimping. And you can read that in several ways ;-)

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    1. Ha ha ha ! Dahlia pimping ! Is it a criminal offence ? Sounds as if it should be !

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  8. I wish you luck Jane, you never know what will emerge. Optimism, patience and tenacity, you have to raise and flower numerous plants to assess what you have but you never know till you try. You have picked 'Bishop's Children' which as a strain is extremely variable to start with, the other thing is that 'striped' Dahlias are also very variable even with named cultivars which should give you some really interesting results

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    1. Hi Rick, you sound like the voice of experience, so I will listen and learn! So ... how do I know when the female flower is ready to receive the pollen ? What signs should I look for please ?

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    2. Hi Jane, not that much experience believe me, it is difficult to detect on many plants but basically the stigma becomes sticky and receptive to pollen a couple of days after the flower is fully open and is good for a couple of days after that which I am sure you already know. The true practitioners of the black art seem to develop a sense about these things through experience.

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    3. Thank you very much for that advice. there is nothing to beat experience - Google can't tell you things like that. does it ! I will have to wait until next season to try again, as everything is far too damp and soggy now.

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  9. Last autumn, I sowed my very first seeds (ever!). This autumn, I have taken my very first cuttings, way too late for success I suspect. Mayybe next year I'll progress to giving this a go - now what can I hybridize, since I don't grow Dahlias.
    Well done on having a go Jane, you never know you one of your babies could become the next superstar in our gardens. Wishing you the best of success!

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  10. Aw thanks Angie ! Bet you are now addicted to both seed sowing and taking cuttings - I can't stop doing either! What did you sow, and was it successful ?

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    1. Not something I've tried so it will be interesting to see what you end up with

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    2. Hi Sue , if I just get some viable seed I will be ecstatic !

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  11. Good for you! I've never tried this, but I think it's wonderful. Apparently, my paternal great-grandfather was a plant fanatic, and experimented with hybridization, grafting, and so on. He crossed a wild rose with a tea rose to create a unique cultivar that we pass along among the family to this day. I look forward to finding out how your Dahlia cross performs next spring. Cheers!

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    1. What a fantastic great-grandfather! Did you ever get to meet hime ? What a lot he could have passed on. And a lovely family tradition to pass on the rose - have you named it ?

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  12. Looking forward to seeing what you get! I got some seeds in a trade once; one parent was reportedly lavender and I ended up with beautiful dahlias every color of the rainbow.

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  13. Hi sweetbay, it must have been exciting watching those dahlias all flower for the first time ! have you still got any of them ?

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  14. Did anything ever come of this? I'm just about to start trying myself :)

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  15. Did anything ever come of this? I'm just about to start trying myself :)

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